Origin: Vancouver, British Columbia
Black Knight formed in the early spring of 1981 in Vancouver, Canada. The original line-up consisted of: Chris Hopkinson - lead vocals, Stuart Duffy - drums, Gary Quaye - lead and rhythm Guitars, Mick Dianno - lead and rhythm Guitars, Glenn Hoffmann - bass and vocals.
Initially, Stu, Glenn, and Gary were a 3-piece band seeking a lead vocalist. Mick had been working with Chris for several years so he decided to call their ad and try to sell them on the idea of an additional guitar player. It worked! The audition went well and the band seemed to have a strong musical chemistry from the very beginning. A common musical ground for everyone was a love of BLACK SABBATH, JUDAS PRIEST, and eventually IRON MAIDEN.
Gary's guitar work was strongly influenced by VAN HALEN, whereas Mick was more old school and emulated players like Jimmy Page, Johnny Winter, and Andy Powell of WISHBONE ASH. Eventually, searing double lead solos became a signature trademark sound of BLACK KNIGHT's guitar army. Their sound was a hybrid of some of the earlier double lead approaches taken by WISHBONE ASH and the more Modern Metal duelling guitar masters. On almost any BLACK KNIGHT track you can hear searing melodic double leads, fiery solo trade offs, VAN HALEN tapping, whammy bar dives, and bluesy riffs with feel to spare.
Choosing a name for the band was no simple task. After countless rejections of names like VALHALLA, THOR, BLACK ANGEL, BELZEBULB and BLUE WARRIOR, Glenn came up with a hit. As "The Hammer" recalls, "One night at practice we were all arguing for our own favourite name. That's when it came to me. I'd been listening to this great DEEP PURPLE album, and there was a song on it called "Black Knight". It had everything we were looking for a medieval theme with imagery of wizardry, witchcraft, battles, evil, and dark forces." The band also wanted to build a huge stage show so BLACK KNIGHT had real possibilities. When I said to everyone, "How about BLACK KNIGHT!" You could hear a pin drop. Within a minute there was total agreement and a ton of enthusiasm. Now we had a name, a direction, and the start of a real unique sound.
About six months after BLACK KNIGHT formed they played their first gig at Charles Tupper High School. Stu, Gary, and Glenn had all gone to school there a few years earlier so it was a real event. As Mick recalls, "We built a 24 dummy, 4 X 12 Marshall type cabinets and a huge drum riser. Gary and I looked like guitar gods with these dummy stacks behind us even though we were only playing through a single or combo amp. I thought the band looked great with Stu towering over us and everyone taking turns jumping on and off the drum riser. We looked like a million dollars even though we could barely afford the truck rental to get the equipment to the gig. And then there was Glenn and the pyrotechnics. It seemed he had a real knack for explosives; he made his own special mixtures to create different colours and patterns. Glenn also made his own detonators so he was able to set off all the explosions from the stage while we played. The dry ice was a real showstopper as well. We used it in our Metal ballad "Black Knight" and it was great watching the fog roll off the drum riser and slowly move off the stage into the audience. It looked like a medieval graveyard on stage and with our colourful warrior like stage clothes, the image was fantastic. The gig went over like a big time concert and there was a huge buzz around town about this new Metal band that played all their own music."
"The Hammer" remembers, "Back then, there were no all original bands in Vancouver. You had to come up through the club scene playing cover tunes like HEART and TROOPER did initially. If you were a great cover band, agents came out to see you and listened to the band's original tunes if they had any. We thought the hell with that we're going to develop our writing early on and not get trapped playing top 40. However, we were scorned by the local agencies and getting gigs was no easy matter. But we had a vision, a plan and a belief that we could do it despite all these barriers. That's when we put together our first self-promoted show. We rented the West End Community Center Hall and sold tickets. Two other bands were on the bill, they mostly played covers of PRIEST, VAN HALEN and BLACK SABBATH. We literally blew them away and almost ourselves in the process. You see, we hired this sound guy, Ed and we let him do the mixing and the pyrotechnics. Ed was a little over zealous and decided to load the explosive containers up with twice the amount required. When we hit the opening chord to our first song, "Screamer", I almost collapsed from the force. It felt like I broke all 6 of my guitar strings and most of the light gels that were 20 or 30 feet above us started to fall from the explosion. However, I think the band took the majority of the blowouts, but the audience still moved 20 or 30 feet back from the stage until our third song. Ed ran up on stage and emptied out the extra powder so the rest of evening went ahead as planned. We did a great show that night and had some good laughs over the atom bomb opening. However, Ed didn't pay much attention to the possible danger he created. This was something he would pay for in an upcoming show when he received 2nd degree burns by being careless with the dry ice machine."
By early 1982, the first band member change occurred as a result a knee problem Stu had from a hockey injury. Unfortunately, it was either quit the drums or risk being in a wheel chair a few years down the road. Stu remained good friends with the band and helped recruit Ken Beckthold, a killer drummer from ANVIL HAWK, a local cover Metal band.
Once Ken was aboard, intricate speedy triplet sections and marked time changes became another powerful aspect to the BLACK KNIGHT sound. Ken's machine like sense of time and his desire to be in the tightest Metal band around drove the band into piston like performances. When opening for NAZARETH a few years later, BLACK KNIGHT played a near perfect set without any monitors. As Mick recalls, "No one could hear anyone else except for sounds coming off the drum set and the resonance of Glenn's bass amp. Gary and I played all these complicated double leads almost flawless without hearing each other. And that's because Ken had us so well trained. We used to say we could put Ken in the building next door and he'd still keep us in time."
By 1983, the band was developing their own hybrid Gothic Metal sound. The group already had dozens of original songs and made demo recordings of BLACK KNIGHT, "Battlefield" and an early version of Metal Screams called "Victim". "The Hammer" recalls, "BLACK KNIGHT was our first serious attempt to write a Metal ballad and it went on to become the show stopper in our early years. Two 8-foot shields were suspended over the band. One shield had the word Black in gothic letters and the other the word Knight. When we came to the chorus of BLACK KNIGHT, the light man would light up each shield, in time, to the words of the chorus. I think the lights; the whole stage set and the shields really added a great element to the shows. The audiences would always join in and sing the chorus to what had become our first theme song."
Now everything was in place except for one thing. BLACK KNIGHT had developed into a great sounding band, but the original vocalist, Chris Hopkinson, couldn't quite keep up. With singers like Bruce Dickenson from IRON MAIDEN setting new industry standards, it was a real competitive market. The band started to get feedback from record companies that they had to find a new singer. As Glenn recalls, "Chris was a good singer, but I don't think his voice was all that well suited to the Metal sound we were creating. I think he always wanted to be much more commercial than where we were heading. In the end, Chris decided to leave and went on to form some really good projects that were more suited to his personal musical tastes. However, I must say that he had a great sense of melody and wrote some pretty cool lyrics."
In retrospect, Mick concluded that we should have let Glenn step up and front the band. His voice on "Arraigathor" is incredible. People don't realize he did that song in one take... no overdubs. That was Glenn live and real. I loved playing that song in concert and the audience always went crazy. Sometimes, it was hard for Chris or Lori to come back on after Glenn ravaged the concert hall. Of course having Glenn take over the lead vocals would have altered the style and song writing approach of the band. But in some ways, I think we would have gone on to be more like what became the METALLICA/MOTORHEAD sound of the late 80's. BLACK KNIGHT went on to audition about 20 or 30 singers and eventually found Lori. She had a powerhouse voice and was able to capture the essence of the band's Gothic Metal style. As Glenn recalls, "Finding someone with a good range and attack was tough. Some of the best singers in the world come from Metal bands. Klaus Meine, Rob Halford, Ronnie James Dio, Bruce Dickenson and David Coverdale are outstanding! We couldn't find a guy who could sing at that level and Lori wanted in and always gave 100%."
Mick recalls, "We took a lot of flack for bringing a woman into BLACK KNIGHT. After all, at the time Metal was a guy's thing. It was sort of like inviting a girl into a boy's clubhouse. We lost some fans but gained others. Still, the record industry was unsupportive and suspicious. Attic Records showed some pretty strong interest in us on the onset and then backed out. The same thing happened in New York with Warner Brothers. Robert Zemsky, SAVATAGE's Manger, tried to land us a good deal with WB, but they had this lingering doubt about a female fronting a Metal band. Other female fronted groups like LEE ARRON, BLACKLACE and SARAYA weren't selling enough records. And because the record industry is about profit and sales, we weren't all that appealing to the record company executives.
According to Zemsky, it came down to the wire and it could of gone either way. "Looking back it now, I think it was too bad, because we needed financial and touring support to keep it going. I always talk about QUEENSRYCHE, because they were based in Seattle, about 200 kilometres from where we were in Vancouver, Canada. We were at the same initial level as they were. Both bands had self-released EP's and were timely in their musical styles. Of course QUEENSRYCHE got signed on went on to develop their sound and they became huge. Unfortunately for us, being Canadian at the time and having a female vocalist eventually got the better of us."
Mick recalls, "As the 80's moved on, BLACK KNIGHT simply got left behind. It was getting more and more difficult to get record companies to listen to our music and the huge wave of signing new Metal bands was over. With a lack of cash, support and a unified direction, the band finally called it quits."
Glenn and Mick went on to work in a number of other projects and even did an early 90's USA tour with a band that played some of the BLACK KNIGHT classics. "I remember playing some of the songs from the EP and the crowds loved it," said Glenn. "We were shocked that people kept asking us where they could get a copy of "Born To Rock", "Arraigathor", "Day Of The Wizard" and lots of our other songs. Even now when I listen to our old recording, I still appreciate the Gothic Metal style that we emulated. It's great other people still want to listen to our music! I think the only reason we stopped writing Gothic Metal was because we thought no one wanted to hear it, or really liked us all that much. It was a real surprise finding out that we have fans in Europe and Greece, especially after all these years. Perhaps we'll get a tour going and get to play live again to people who never had a chance to hear us live."