Thursday, September 2, 2010

Gil Snyder and the Mystic Knights

Mystic Knights from Jambase

The Mystic Knights came together as pick-up band formed in 1984 at The Decade, a byegone Oakland venue once known as the area's "Home of the Blues." Dom DiSilvio, the owner, approached Warren King to form an "all-star" band to pump up the club's slow Monday nights.

The result was indeed a Pittsburgh all-star jam band, composed of King (Houserockers, Diamond Reo, The Silencers, Red Hot & Blue), vocalist/drummer Ron "Byrd" Foster (The Igniters, Roy Buchanan's Band, the Houserockers, the Silencers, Kingsnake Allstars), guitarist Bryan Bassett (Wild Cherry, Molly Hatchet, and Foghat) and keyboardist Gil Snyder.

Eventually, the lineup changed and the band became "Warren King and the Mystic Knights of the Sea." Formed in 1984, they've had some changes and more top flight members; guys like Chizmo Charles and Guitar Zack Wiesinger have played with the band.

And thanks to Rev. John Wilson, we know how they picked up the Mystic Knights of the Sea moniker: "The name comes from Warren's nickname 'Kingfish.' In the old Amos and Andy radio/TV shows, the Kingfish was the Grand Poobah or whatever of the lodge 'The Mystic Knights of the Sea'." (Tim Moore played conniver George Stevens, aka The Kingfish, who held the MKOTS title of "Great Supreme Kingfish." So Warren King's nickname and his band's name are explained in one fell swoop.)

Now the band is made up of Snyder, vocalist/guitarist Craig King, drummer Joe Cunningham and bassist Harry McCorkle.

King is a Pittsburgh native, and growing up in the Hill provided him an opportunity to hear and see the talented players gigging at the Crawford Grill. He listened to everything from Motown to Zappa. His influences on the ax were Jimi Hendrix, George Benson, BB King, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

He's fronted or performed in several bands over the years, such as Andrea Pearl and Mo's Black Magic, played in local clubs and bars, and opened for national acts coming through Pittsburgh like The S.O.S. Band, Con Funk Shun, Molly Hatchett, Bernard Allison, Carl Weathersby, Jimmy Vaughan, Buddy Guy, George Clinton & Parliament, Funkadelic and Martha Reeves & the Vandella’s.

Beside the MKs, King fronts the band King’s Ransom.

Harry "Alley Cat" McCorkle, the vocalist/bassist, has played with Big Walter Horton (harp player for Muddy Waters), Louisiana Red and Sugar Blue (harp player for the Stones). He's recorded with Rocky Fuller (Chess Records) and sat in with the backup band for Detroit's Capitols of "Cool Jerk" fame.

McCorkle also gigs with Gary Belloma & the Blues Bombers, Alleycats, Jaminators, Wil E Tri & the Bluescasters, Chizmo Charles & the Rhythm Aces and Jimmy Adler, while a session player for the Mon Valley's Bonedog Records. Busy dude - and he had bypass surgery in 2007!

Max Woodhall fills in on bass when McCorkle is jammin' elsewhere. Woodhall is a 50 year-old freelancer, and sits in with Jimmy Adler, Dave Iglar, Chizmo Charles, James Daugherty, Norm Nardini, Wil E Tri & the Bluescasters, King's Ransom, Jimmy King, Jill West & the Blues Attack, Sherry Richards, Sweaty Betty, Angel Blue & The Prophets, and The Real Band Deals.

Joe Cunningham, the drummer, is from Youngstown, and has been playing in bands since age eighteen. He works with Bon Ton Roulet, Chizmo Charles, and James King & the Usual Suspects.

But the glue man and last of the founding fathers is keyboardist and songwriter Gil "The Duke" Snyder. He not only writes and plays, but schedules gigs, too.

Snyder started as one of the original Iron City Houserockers (he played in the Brick Alley Band). He played on the debut album, “Love” and his name appears as the writer of six songs on the Houserocker's second album. "Have a Good Time, But Get Out Alive."

He's worked both in the studio and on stage with Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Little Steven, Steve Cropper and Mick Ronson. Snyder is a member of the City's Music Hall of Fame, an honor bestowed on area artists achieving three consecutive "Best of Pittsburgh" wins (he has four). He joined Walt Harper, Joe Negri, Tommy James, Kenny Blake and Porky Chedwick in the Hall of Steel City All-Stars.

His first paying job was as an organist; he played the 11:00 mass at St. Regis in Trafford. But his love was the blues. Porky Chedwick introduced him to the music of Muddy Waters, Hound Dog Johnson, and Howlin’ Wolf on WAMO.

That eventually led to him hooking up with Joe Grushecky. When that gig went south - Snyder blames the ownership change at Cleveland International Records, their label, when Little Stevie sold to a Japanese conglomerate - he moved on to White Hot and Blue.

Jeff Ingersol of Bonedog Records approached him after the Houserockers broke up. He had already put together WHB and offered him the job with the brass-driven R&B act. Snyder later joined Bon Ton Roulette, and then in 1984 the Mystic Knights of the Sea formed.

Snyder is also a talented film dude, too. He has a degree in cinematography, and won an academy award nomination in 1976 for an animated short called "Ooze.” A year or two later, he produced another short called "Space Infection." Warren King and Snyder created the soundtrack, and named themselves the U2 band. Should have kept the name, hey?

He has an extensive library of old films, 16mm, 8mm, and super 8. Snyder says that he'd like to do a film night somewhere if someone would give him a shot.

But he does more than lead a band and dabble in cinema with his time; he also operates, since 2007, a "Blues Power" open mike night in Irwin for starting bands looking for a venue. He runs them out of the Irwin Eagles or Shafton Firehall every Thursday. Snyder gets a special guest host every week, usually a band member but sometimes a guy like Norm Nardini will show up.

Which leads us back to band. The Mystic Knights have compiled no fewer than 10 In Pittsburgh magazine awards, won City Paper honors and made numerous local TV appearances. The Knights have also appeared in a number of Iron City Beer commercials featuring their tune "Spread Yourself Around."

In keeping with that theme, the MKs have frequently gigged pre-game at Heinz Field, pumping up the Steeler fans, and have performed for the Pirate crowd at the Hall of Fame Club at PNC Park.

The Knights are a lot more than a beer and ballgame warmup. They've opened for acts like BB King, Johnny Winter, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Mayall, Koko Taylor, Robert Cray and John Hammond.

They give 200+ performances a year, from the clubs to festivals, and have at least a couple of CDs out, 1991's "Live Blues Breakout" and "Heart of Steel."

The Mystic Knights have been pumping out the blues and R&B for over 25 years; we wish another 25 on them.

"Lucille" by the Mystic Knights live in 2008

2 comments: said...

Great article. Thanks. A little correction: the name comes from Warren's nickname "Kingfish". In the old Amos and Andy radio/TV shows the Kingfish was Grand Poobah or whatever of the lodge "The Mystic Knights of the Sea".

Ron Ieraci said...

Thanks - we added that to the post. The movie cited referred to that lodge, so it all fits in.