Once a rocker

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Entertainer Nick Knowlton, whose rock album came out 25 years ago this month, recalls his stab at stardom.

LEWISTON – Midway through “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Nick Knowlton threw his head back and kicked up the volume, singing out as if he were performing for a crowd of 40,000.

Yet, when it was over, no one in the small crowd clapped.

The 300 or so people – many of them police officers – seemed not to know whether applause was appropriate at the inauguration of a new sheriff.

People smiled and Knowlton himself seemed pleased with the pitch-perfect rendition.

“I’m always afraid I’ll turn into a Robert Goulet at events,” said the 55-year-old singer, known chiefly for the dozens of weddings he performs for every year. His Web site address is www.originalweddingsinger.com.

But 25 years ago this month, Knowlton was a rocker.

That’s when he recorded the album, “Hardcore Rock n’ Rolla” with the band Katahdin. The band and the album were meant to make him Lewiston-Auburn’s answer to Steven Tyler, the lead singer of Boston’s Aerosmith.

Knowlton’s image, with curly hair beneath his shoulders, was on the album cover.

Katahdin formed in 1979. Knowlton sang lead vocals. Greg Vokey played lead guitar. Michael Guimond played bass. John Hart played drums, while Peter Nadeau and Rich Gebert shared time on keyboards.

They drew air play on local radio stations and began working at some of New England’s bigger clubs.

The group ascended as high as the New York office of an Atlantic Records executive before it fell apart.

When the members began having too much fun, Knowlton fined musicians who missed rehearsals or showed up late for the ride to the next gig.

And with a wife and baby at home, he had trouble being on the road.

He’d sometimes drive home to Lewiston after a show in Burlington, Vt., and drive back for a show the following night.

“The other guys would give me a hard time about it.” he said. “I wanted to be with my baby.”

There were fights with Vokey, whom Knowlton described as his “nemesis.”

Finally, it fell apart.

“It was the attitude of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll,” Knowlton said. “It broke up because I couldn’t discourage 30-year-old musicians from taking drugs.”

By 1983, Knowlton’s best chance to find the fame he’d sought since he saw the Beatles play for Ed Sullivan was gone.

“It was my last hurrah,” he said.

He talks about the old days with a mix of pride in the music and happiness for the choices he made.

“Playing in bands was generally pretty nonprofitable,” he said.

Years earlier, he had to pay several thousand dollars when he stepped away from Katfish. In 1975, they’d scored a place on the Billboard charts, hitting number 52 with a cover of the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence.”

In the years since Katahdin, Knowlton has worked lots of jobs – from retail to restaurants – but he’s always sung.

“Now people think of me as Barry Manilow-ish, sort of ‘contemporary commercial,'” Knowlton said. After all, he created the jingles for the Lewiston Maineiacs and Marden’s (“I should have bought it, when I saw it …”)

He’s done karaoke and lots of weddings. Last year, he booked 61. He’s on a pace to do as many this year.

As long as he’s singing, he’s all right.

“I have an infinite passion for singing,” he said. “My blessings were what my mother said they were.”

The thought choked up Knowlton.

“Maybe this was my destiny,” he said.

Does he still have dreams of fame?

Sure.

He’s become an addict of “American Idol” and has even called Fox TV with his own idea for a show, “Golden Idol.”

Still fit and energetic, Knowlton takes issue with the age cut-off for contestants on the popular show: 28.

“There are a lot of older people who have dreams,” he said. “A lot of people have talent and energy.”

He’d compete in a second, he said.

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