Michael Dorf, founder of the Knitting Factory, was the Chairman and CEO from 1987-2002.
He no longer has any operational or ownership ties to the organization.
Our club was and still is a for-profit business, in contrast to most avant-garde or alternative performing spaces, which are non-profit and receive funding and grants from corporations or the government. Our first experience with “major” corporate sponsorship started with the Bigelow Tea Company. My dad helped arrange for Bigelow to give us $200 for the printing of posters and 5,000 tea bags for free tea at the club during a festival called “Tea and Comprovisations”. Most of the artists who
appeared in this festival – in June 1987 – still seem to work at the club today. In August of our first year, I took my first three days off and went camping. As soon as I was out of the woods, I called New York and found out might mistake him for a smelly bum who looked like Jerry Garcia. Yet he has taken more than a million photos in his 68-year life, mostly of the great jazz artists in New York clubs from the late forties into the sixties. Clearly an eccentric, mad artist, he has piles of photos and negatives all over his apartment, scattered among the six inches of newspapers and magazines that cover the floor. He is obsessed with electronics and has 30 or so radios in his living room, antennas hanging out all over the place. Crazy is too simple a word. Anyway, his presence in our building made us feel somehow closer to the spirit and history of jazz, and we felt the need to befriend or at least respect this man. The major problem is, if you start to taIk to him, he will describe in great detail the inside of a stereo or list for you all the various transistors they’re selling at the local Radio Shack. However, in an effort to connect to all the jazz greats he had photographed in his time, we put together a photo show with hundreds of his pictures. From intimate shots of Miles Davis backstage at the Five Spot in 1950, to pictures of Count Basie playing at Town Hall, the black-and-white photos covered our walls for a month. They definitely added to the spiritual vibe that was starting to take over the place.
Ray could chat your ear off about the tiniest things, but he could also scream like no one I’ve ever heard. Around this time, we had to work on the building’s electricity. The electricians we hired to bring in more power told us the juice would be turned off for an hour in the morning. At 11:13 a.m. Ray came downstairs screaming that all 23 of his digital clocks-on his three VCRs, on his assorted electronic timers-had shut off. He promised to kill the person who’d made him have to reset all the clocks. We tried to calm him, apologized for the electricians, and told him to wait the hour till they finished. He climbed the stairs back to his apartment cursing and foaming at the mouth. At about 12:15, the electricians turned on the juice for about a half hour, then had to disconnect it for a second to do something. All of a sudden Ray came down the stairs with a butcher knife in his hand screaming, “I’m gonna kill someone, and it’s not going to be me!” We quickly closed our doors with the electricians behind us and waited for him to go back upstairs. Our building’s circuit-breaker panel hasn’t been off for a minute since.
Ray shared his talent with us once more after his exhibit. During a sold-out Sonic Youth concert, I was standing in back and saw the stage door/entrance open and Ray approach the stage. The band was extremely loud, and I saw guitarist Thurston Moore look over for a second at this bearded man who was foaming at the mouth and screaming his head off and shaking his fists in the air. You couldn’t hear a word, just see his mouth move. For all the audience knew, this was just another exuberant fan making a move on the stage.