Static KUSF Music Director Jason Knuth loved free jazz, Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, and Cecil Taylor. He could talk endlessly about the Sun City Girls or Matthew Shipp. Lee "Scratch" Perry and anyone else who made serious, challenging music thrilled him. But more than any other band, the Friday afternoon DJ was fanatical about Sonic Youth; so incessantly did he play, listen to, and talk about the New York art rockers that his friends at KUSF called him Sonic Knuth. No one knows why, but sometime between Friday, Feb. 27, and Monday, March 2, Jason Knuth hanged himself in his bedroom. "It's so shocking," says Program Coordinator Toby French. "I saw him on Thursday and he was just Jason. Nobody saw it coming." Close friends say that Knuth didn't seem depressed. According to Promotions Director Larry Short, Knuth had stepped down from his position two weeks earlier to make room for a new student director, but he had known about the transfer for more than a year and was "comfortable" with the switch. On Feb. 27, when Knuth didn't show up for his Friday shift, friends just assumed he had left town for the weekend, as he was apt to do. By Monday, those close to him began to worry. Police pronounced him dead in the Castro home that he shared with other KUSF DJs at 6:40 p.m. on March 2. The KUSF new music staff spent most of the following week mourning his death, talking about him on the air, and playing songs in memoriam. "The passion he had about music amazed me," says French. "He was adamant that he was going to play the records he was going to play." Knuth, who would have turned 33 this year, was born in Grand Rapids, Mich. He moved to San Francisco and began volunteering at KUSF in 1989. Sometimes known on air as the Friendly Red Squirrel, he became more and more involved with the station, eventually assuming the job of production director. In 1996, Knuth -- who also worked on computers at a local animation production company and who favored ripped bluejeans and white T-shirts -- became the KUSF music director, the person who determines the sound of the station. "He was always challenging us and trying to get us to listen to new music," says KUSF DJ Jet, who does not use a last name. Knuth was emphatic about playing diverse music and developed a policy that all DJs had to spin three genres of music per hour, says French. The decision subtly altered the sound of the station and listeners seemed to appreciate the change: Staffers announced that ratings had tripled at the last station meeting. At the Friday, March 6, memorial service -- commenced at 3 p.m., when Knuth was scheduled to go on air -- friends, family, and KUSF volunteers played bits of Daydream Nation and said goodbye. Jason Knuth is survived by a small family scattered about the West, a cat named Blue, and the enormous record collection that he acquired for KUSF. (J.S.)
Free Ink Cowboy folk singer Ramblin' Jack Elliott plays a free in-store show at Tower Records on Columbus at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, March 20. (J.D.P.)
Newz Last November, the Invisibl Skratch Piklz -- the local DJ collective of Mix Master Mike, Yoga Frog, D-Styles, Q-Bert, and Shortkut -- agreed to let the Asphodel record label issue two 12-inch singles. Now that the deal is done and both records have been cut and released, the Piklz say it's going to be tough for any label, even Asphodel, the New York independent label that has pressed discs by reputed turntablists like the X-Men and DJ Spooky, to get a future piece of them. DJ Q-Bert says the crew has rebuffed other deals in favor of starting an independent label of their own. "Well, right now we're trying to work out the details," says Q-Bert. "We haven't even really settled on a name, but we've been thinking about calling it Furious Ostrich Trax. It should come together this year." (The name might seem a little strange but it's right at home next to already released songs with titles like "Camel Bobsled Race," the tune that Q-Bert remixed for DJ Shadow, and "Klamz UV Deth.") One of the first issues from the emerging label will be the Piklz's long-awaited debut full-length. "We've been working on it for a while and the record should be out on our label later this year," says Q-Bert. Until then, fans will have to wait until the Beastie Boys release their new full-length sometime this summer to hear the Piklz on wax. The project features Mix Master Mike laying down scratches throughout the album. Q-Bert says the Boys approached the fellow Pikl about contributing a few months back. "They've known each other for a long time," says Q-Bert. "Mike doing all the scratching on the album was out of friendship." (R.A.)
No Queremos Taco Bell Quote of the weekend, from Gas Huffer guitarist Tom Price, after his band was pelted with leftovers from the Incredibly Strange Wrestling matches that preceded Gas Huffer's set last Saturday at the Transmission Theater: "If I get hit in the face with one more tortilla, this show is over." (H.W.)
It's a Benefit L.A. funkateers Weapon of Choice play a $10 benefit for the Mission High School music department -- where the student-teacher ratio hovers around 1,000-to-1 -- on Saturday, March 21, at Broadway Studios. (J.D.P.)
"C'mon. Get in time with us.": Robert Arriaga (R.A.), Johnny DiPaola (J.D.P.), Karl D. Esturbense (K.D.E.), Jeff Stark (J.S.), Silke Tudor (S.T.), Heather Wisner (H.W.), and Bill Wyman (B.W.). Send Bay Area music news, band stories, or petty gripes to firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail it to Riff Raff, c/o SF Weekly.