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Master of Strings

Knut 1976When he was ten, Knut Reiersrud recorded Miles Davis and Mikael Urbaniak from the radio on his sister's cassette player. Two years later, he and his brother bought themselves guitars after seeing Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters on TV. At eighteen, Knut became an overnight sensation when the same Buddy Guy and Otis Rush, having heard him for the first time, embraced him and immediately invited him home to Chicago.

Knut Reiersrud (1961) is known to most people as a guitarist. It's now thirty years since he had the honour of playing with his legendary heroes. Since then he has played at 6,000 concerts, made more than 300 records, and 10 under his own name, and in between times learned to master ten different string instruments. The problems arise when you try to explain what kind of guitarist he is. A man who always travels around with eight guitars because they have been tuned differently according to where the music comes from is versatility personified.

Playing with Buddy Guy and JR Wells. 1979
photo: Erik Lindahl

Reiersrud's unique talent shines out through allthis versatility. In some inexplicable way, he creates an aura around the notes that is pure Reiersrud, whether he is playing African, Indian, Norwegian or American folk music, whether he dwells sobbingly, dances with cat's paw virtuosity over the strings or is downright noisy. It sometimes sounds as though he is giving birth to the notes right there and then, possibly as a result of his never using a plectrum because he wants to be close to the strings. His playing seems to find the essence; it evidences fundamentality, understanding and a sense of origin. All this is due to his insatiable curiosity and enviable openness. On the other hand, he can also be surprisingly conventional, as when he maintains that modern blues consists of good and less good copies of the great masters.

The blues were his entrée to an unusually varied career, difficult to define but undoubtedly that of an innovative stylist. With the Four Roosters, he recorded From the Rooster SessionRooster Blues in '82. The following year he jammed with several of his idols in the immortal Chess Studios in Chicago. That was the beginning of the Chicago Blues Meeting group, which released Snake in My Bedroom in '88. During that period, Knut Reiersrud was a concert attraction and a public favourite. In beret, check jacket and extra long guitar wire, he spent much of his time at overheated concerts dancing with the audience while impeccably performing solo after solo on guitar or harmonica. In actual fact, he was a down-to-earth student who financed his studies by playing the clubs. When he discovered that he was a member of six different bands at the same time and was due to take an exam in Kant's moral philosophy, he finally realized that he was a musician.

The advantage and disadvantage of being such a specialized musician in such a Tres Amigos. With Lynni Treekrem and Jonas Fjeld.1990small environment as Norway is that you have to go out and play to make a living. Reiersrud became, and still is, a favourite studio musician and has always spent a lot of time on the road. He believes he is lucky to be able to play with so many good guitarists better than himself and will never stop learning. He has worked with many different stylists, such as Buddy Guy, Dr. John, Joe Cocker, Rick Danko, Sultan Kahn, Stevie Ray Vaughn, David Lindley, the Five Blind Boys of Alabama and El Subramanian. He has also delved into Norwegian folk music in an unusual combination with Iver Kleive's church organ.

Finishing up Betlehem recording with Sondre Bratland,Iver Kleive and Paolo Vinaccia. 1992Their cooperation resulted in Blå koral (Blue Chorale, '91) and Himmelskip (Heavenly Ship, '92), both of them milestones and works of reference in terms of genre, musical potential and recording technique. Blå koral contains Norwegian folk music and hymns recorded directly on a master tape in St. Knud's Cathedral in Odense, Denmark, at dead of night to avoid background noise. They also had to stop playing before the church bells rang every hour.

On the follow-up record in the same place, also at night five years later, they further developed the interface between European church music and folk music in cooperation with Danish folk singer Povl Dissing. Neither Christians nor non-Christians had ever heard hymns and folk songs performed like that before. When the guitarist and organist toured the churches, they caused mass migrations the like of which had only previously been seen at Christmas and Easter. Music was suddenly back in its origins, practical church music reinforcing a message and providing solace and strength for the congregation.

Reiersrud's spellbinding charm has in no way diminished over the years. His body language and mimicry are still extraordinarily expressive as he communicates and dedicates himself to something even greater and more powerful than the music itself.

The paths Reiersrud chooses to take can hardly be called changes but rather With Henry Kaiser and David Lindley. 1994extensions of style. From the sounds and intellectualism of the churches, it seems only natural for him to begin investigating the instinctive aspect of rhythm. On Tramp ('93, released in the US the following year under the title Footwork), he wanted to honour the most common musical instrument in the world, the foot. The music was largely newly composed, but based on traditional music from Norway, West Africa and America.

The idea for Klapp ('95) came after the the Voss Jazz Festival in '94, when the applauding audience clapped in time to twelve singers and musicians from three continents. It plays around with all the forms of expression that can be created by the hands, continuing where Tramp left off with newly composed music and arranged traditional music from all over the world. The ultimate leap without a safety net came in the form of Soul of a Man in '98. Here he has both rhythm and blues on a complete R & B album that was never fashionably hatched out at a recording company office but re-experienced from stages, dressing rooms, waiting rooms and endless nighttime journeys.

With BB King. Mississippi 1997He daringly mixes his own melodies and Jeff Wasserman's lyrics with six songs by Dr. John/Doc Pomus, Curtis Mayfield's "I Can't Stop" and Cole Porter's "(Let's Do It) Let's Fall In Love". The smile and the sorrow go hand in hand and it is quite obvious that blond-haired Knut was really born in Louisiana.

As a studio musician, he is not merely a guitarist on an hourly rate producing sounds to order. Many assignments develop so much that he might just as well have been included on the cover as co-composer, co-producer or co-artist. He has also composed the music for four Norwegian movies and, with Iver Kleive, took part in the opening ceremony of the Olympic Winter Games in '94. They did the quiet bit.

Much of Reiersrud's strength lies in his comprehensive knowledge, thanks not only to his years of experience but also to his interest in music theory. With fellow radio DJ Harald Are Lund.1991He is so incredibly curious! He has systematized his knowledge to such an extent that he is today an authority on older traditional music, not least in the radio program Blå minutter(Blue Minutes) with Harald Are Lund, Norway's John Peel. He defines himself objectively as follows: The expression is blues, the packaging is typically West European Beatles tradition and the sound is oriental, Indian and African folk music mixed with the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle!

He is as flexible and accessible as his guitar. Music consists of three variable elements; the rhythmic, which is the pulse, the melody, which is the heart, and the harmony, which is the head. Time and time again he stresses that his base is intuition and emotion and therefore stands for the heart. No-one out here in the darkness of the concert hall has ever been in any doubt about that.

- Jostein Pedersen


Since the time of the writing of the above piece on Knut much has happened. He now is co-host for a weekly radio program on the Norwegian Broadcasting Corp. called "BluesAsylet" (The Blues Asylum). The show presents an extremely wide spectrum of Blues, Jazz, World & traditional folk musics in old and new musical settings.

Album releases include SUB (1999) - an ensemble of songs and compositions from the last near 20 years.

In early 2000, continuing Reiersrud and Iver Kleive's collaboration and adding Danish vocalist and national treasure Povl Dissing; the album "Den sigende dag" (The Blessed Day) was released. All of the song texts were written by Danish poet, N.F.S. Grundtvig (1783-1872). An author of over 1,000 songs, his poetry and political beliefs impacted both Danish and Norwegian culture. 2000 also saw the release of "4G" , a project that put together four of Norway's best guitarists.

Detail from the "Sweet Showers" coverIn 2001, the release of yet another Knut Reiersrud solo album, Sweet Showers of Rain. This album following in the Reiersrud tradition of musical Blues evolution.

During a tour in India and Nepal with The Funky Homosapiens Knut was reunited with Vajra, a band working to keep the folk music of Nepal alive. After three concerts at the jazz festival in Kathmandu, poetically called “Jazzmandu”, they walked over to Studio 2000, sat in a circle, took one microphone each, and let loose. Nepalese music possesses a beauty and depth that are difficult to describe with words. It is reminiscent of the sounds of the more prominent Indian and Pakistani cultures farther to the south, but its form is more “folky” and is based more on short, catchy melodic phrases. For many years, the area where this little country surrounded by huge mountains is found has been associated with Shangri-La. This name has become the symbol of paradise on earth since James Hilton wrote the book Lost Horizon in 1933, about a mysterious, legendary land hidden in a valley deep within the Himalaya Mountains. The people who lived in this land enjoyed exceptionally long lives in perfect harmony, peace and happiness. The music of Nepal runs like a murmuring brook through this landscape of goodness. The CD, Himalaya Blues, was released in January 2004.

In 2004 Knut also recorded his Norwegian Grammy Award winner Pretty Ugly CD. Still with the highly acclaimed indie KKV label - he went back to church with pipe- organist Iver Kleive and recorded their third album, Nåde Over Nåde, in 06 - which received a Danish Grammy Award.

In 2007 Knut traveled to Teheran, Iran - arranged music for The Vahdat Sisters and actually recorded a live CD, Songs Fom A Persian Garden, which made quite a splash in World music circles - as public singing is forbidden for women in Iran. Knut also wrote and produced an album of love duets between Mahsa Vahdat and legendary soul/blues singer Mighty Sam McClain - SCENT OF REUNION. This album was released in Europe on kkk.no records and Valley Entertainment in the states.

VOODOO WITHOUT KILLING CHICKEN - Knuts 7th solo album - was released in 2008. The band from this session (an all star lineup of young players from well known bands such, as Jaga Jazzist and Big Bang) was to become Knuts touring band.
The year after Norwegian Jazz entrepreneur and pianist par excellence Bugge Wesseltoft produced a true minimalist instrumental album focusing on Knuts acoustic playing. The project was very well received and resulted in Reiersrud's eighth Norwegian Grammy nomination.

In 2011 Knut and Mighty Sam McClain went back into studio - to record an "old school" soul album. The album is out on KKV (kkv.no) in Europe and on Valley Entertainment in the US. "One Drop Is Plenty" - as it is called - received overwhelming reviews internationally.

Once again breaking new ground, in 2012 Reiersrud recorded an exceptional and innovative “blues meets 19th century classical music” album with his band and the famed Trondheim Soloists. This critically acclaimed album was entitledInfinite Gratitudeand stunned audiences with their live performances.

In the summer of 2013 Knut desided it was time to go back to the source of his musical cosmos. Recording a 100% solo album, AftonBluescontain the 12 first blues and rags  he learned in his early teens. Several of these songs arealso available on YouTube.