The first of many rock operas by Mr. Knott. This album is a classic. Heavy music with a heavy message (presented with plenty of irony and humor). This was pre-grunge explosion music influenced by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and other Seattle pioneers. The “story” told on this opera closely follows real life events within Michael Knott’s church at the time. Due to problems with Blonde Vinyl’s distributor going under, this album was also fairly hard to find for quite a while (now available digitally online).
In 2020, Lost in Ohio Records ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to re-issue a remastered version of The Grape Prophet on CD, Vinyl, and Digital. This version will have new paintings by Knott, as well as a bonus ep of new recordings of four songs from the album with a string quartet accompaniment.
This is the story of Ellis, an orange picker from the groves of Southern California. Ellis worked for Colonel Peckesen, the orchard boss, and was instructed to oversee all of the hired hands for the Colonel. One day, early in the morning, as Ellis was picking oranges before the hired hands were to awake, the Colonel climbed up the ladder Ellis was picking from and handed him a letter. The letter stated: “We the pickers have heard the call of the Grape Prophet and have chosen to leave the orchards and work on the grapevines up north.” After much coaxing by Colonel Peckesen, Ellis decides to travel to the grapevines to find out more of this Grape Prophet in hopes of returning with the hired hands before the orange crop spoils.
This album was scheduled to be re-released in the late 1990’s on the Lion Communications label, but they went out of business. Re-released independently on CD-R format in 2003. It was also released digitally on BandCamp in 2010.
|Label:||Blonde Vinyl Records|
|Genre:||Grunge/ Alternative Rock|
|Caryn Colbert:||Background Vocals|
|Brian Doidge:||Lead and Rhythm Guitars|
|Steve Hindalong:||Percussion, Voice of Grape Prophet|
|Michael Knott:||Vocals, Guitars, Additional Bass|
|Dan Michaels:||Saxaphone on “Back to the Orchard”|
|01)||Ellis in the Orchard||4:32||Knott|
|04)||Wino of the Red is Stained||3:53||Knott|
|05)||The Grape Prophet Speaks||2:18||Knott|
|06)||English Interpreter of English||3:45||Knott|
|07)||Ellis Converses with the Prophets||3:13||Knott|
|08)||A Group of Prophets Predict the Picker’s Future Without Them||3:36||Knott|
|10)||Back to the Fold||4:39||Doidge|
Kansas City Prophets
For more information on the Kansas City Prophets that this album in exposing, see these articles:
- Documentation of the Aberrent Practices and Teachings of Kansas City Fellowship (Grace Ministries) by Pastor Ernest Gruen (1990)
- Seers in the Heartland. Christianity Today January 14, 1991 (preview only, subscribers can see the whole article)
- Ernie Gruen and Mike Bickle’s Joint Statement of Forgiveness from May 16, 1993
- False Prophets: Do We Keep Smiling and Say Nothing? by Ernie Gruen – paperback book released October 21, 2018
- Banner Ministries Index of All Kansas City Prophets Articles
(When Knott was originally going to let Joshua Lory do the Grape Prophet vinyl re-issue in 2019, I started some liner notes. I never really finished them or told anyone about them – until now.)
On another version of Earth out there in the multi-verse, someone much more famous than me is writing a few thoughts about the album that single-handedly saved heavy alternative music from going down the grunge-clone path: The Grape Prophet. You see, in this universe, a small Christian distribution company called Spectra stayed alive long enough to get a few more Blonde Vinyl Records releases on the shelves of the Christian bookstore music scene. This led to the “secular” sub-label of Blonde Vinyl, Voice of the Youth, getting enough momentum to get those albums into a few key stores outside of the bookstore ghetto. A couple of random radio DJs hear an album by a band called L.S.Underground that breathes fresh life into the already stagnating grunge rock music, and the rest is history….
…in another universe that is. Sadly for us, the spastic and twisted brilliance that is The Grape Prophet almost didn’t even make it out of the manufacturing company doors. The problem wasn’t with Blonde Vinyl or its leader Michael Knott (also conveniently the main force behind L.S.Underground). Knott often spoke about how well Blonde Vinyl was doing because of the popularity of acts like Breakfast with Amy, Deitiphobia, Dance House Children, and his own musical creations. But… when your distribution company disappears overnight, leaving you with no way to get several new releases on the bookstore shelves… what is one to do? This was 1992 – well before most of us were aware of the Internet.
The Grape Prophet soon became the fodder of legends, fueled by stories of Knott’s live antics that were already making the rounds. People in the know told tales of how you could find Knott and company in clubs, performing art with bands like Idle Lovell, or alternatively unleashing rock ‘n’ roll rebellion with bands like Bomb Bay Babies. Stories of people painted white like statues, random objects and/or food substances flying constantly through the smoke-filled air, and Knott swinging from the rafters were told in hushed tones around churches by those that didn’t want to get in trouble for associating with “devil” music.
However, copies did get out. The band quickly followed up the somewhat “release” of the album with the apocalyptically legendary “Cookie Monster” performance at the Cornerstone Festival in 1993. In many ways, this show was the culmination of every live trick Knott had learned through the years up to that point (minus the rafter-swinging – it was a mostly outdoors festival after all). You can find videos on YouTube, so I won’t spoil the surprises if you haven’t watched them yet. Suffice to say: new fans were made, old fans were blown away, and a hundred new accusations of “Satanic music!” were leveled as a result of that performance.
Knott was no stranger to controversy with churches (he found out the hard way that some religious people don’t like shaking hips with an earlier band). People getting freaked out by his live antics was also nothing new. But The Grape Prophet seemed to touch a few different nerves that people weren’t ready to expose just yet. On one hand, Knott takes an unflinching look at corruption in churches that many pretended did not exist. On the other hand, people that were unfamiliar with charismatic church conventions found the depiction of events in the album lyrics with a mixture of offense and horror:
Why would anyone let a roving band of prophets that just travels from one state to another speak in their church without vetting?
Who would sit there and let one person “interpret” the words of another person… in the same language?
Why would people put any stock in the random “prophecies” of someone they never met?
How could church leaders allow such chaos to reign in the flocks that they were charged with caring for?
In many denominations, these are certainly things that would never be allowed due to strict church structures. For those that have spent any time in churches that lean more towards the “charismatic” movement, these events are all too familiar.
You see, in search of greater “blessings” from God, many churches are constantly on a constant quest to bring in new people with “fresh anointing” to bring about another “revival.” This leads to a revolving cast of guest speakers in churches – some people have heard of, others they have not. At some point, you learn that often the pastor is inviting people based on word of mouth instead of any personal vetting.
But these guest speakers are not always pastors at other churches. They are professional traveling guest speakers (even though they go by position titles like “apostle,” “evangelist,” and, yes, even “prophet”). All they do is go around to whatever church they can find to get people emotional and fired up about serving the Lord. They collect a rather substantial “gift offering” once the plates are passed, and move on to the next church.
So a group of prophets like the Kansas City Prophets coming to a church near where Knott lived was not out of the ordinary. What was a miracle was that Knott took notice of the bizarre ways this specific group of prophets conducted themselves (the lyrics to The Grape Prophet are real life stories, if you didn’t know that. Yes, even those really weird ones). He asked hard questions. He put his foot down and didn’t join in. He stuck with his moral convictions… and lost all of his friends because of it.
If only more people in the Church would have this same level of conviction and fortitude.
As he usually does, Knott channeled his pain and questions into his music, and we are here to celebrate… well, his social excommunication from the Church. Yay, I guess?
(hopefully some day I can finish this)