Meet Jimmy Knobs: Huntington Beach Guitarist And Palm Tree Artist

Every man has a story. Jimmy Knobs, however, has several. Tracing his life path fuels a bumpy ride from Connecticut to Reno to Salt Lake City to Las Vegas to Huntington Beach, set to the strum of his guitar and the sound of his voice. Armed with a shield of optimism, his music and fallen palm tree fronds, the talented musician-painter has called Surf City home for nearly a year, and his work here has only just begun. His vocal and guitar chords have sung to Surf City Nights crowds, and his brushwork has exhibited at the HB Downtown Art Walk. 

Slated to showcase his sustainable palm art at the October 17 Art Walk, Knobs will show and sell for the third time during the monthly event—which is where we were fortunate enough to meet him in September. His display of characters, ranging from abstract faces to lighthouses to wild animals, caught our eyes outside the International Surfing Museum, and we couldn't leave without bringing his baboon home with us, its wise face painted onto the thick base of a palm frond. The memory of Knobs' warm, witty presence also accompanied us home, prompting us to sit down with the character behind the characters.

Knobs has been playing the guitar since age 8, when his uncle handed him a guitar with just one string. Flash forward a few decades, and he's played for crowds of all sizes, from overwhelming arenas to passersby on the street. "Music is my first love," he says, adding that his passion influenced his son to pick up a guitar years ago. Known by his stage name, Jonny Smokes, Knob's Seattle-based son now travels the world as a one man band. It wasn't until just five months ago that Knobs discovered a new love: paint.

During a walk with his furry, four-legged companion, Dini, Knobs glanced down at a fallen frond and saw a face in its base. His wife of 20 years, Cathie, suggested he paint the piece of palm, despite his blank history experimenting with the medium. Apparently, he's a natural, and he's proven this much: One palm tree's debris is Jimmy Knobs' treasure. Having originally painted with watercolors reserved for the grandchildren, Knobs now brings his work to life with acrylics. His process begins with a walk or ride after a windy day, and once a dozen or so pieces have been collected, he gets to work cleaning each one. Then comes the hard part—finding the visage, structure or creature already existing on his canvas. His work beautifully builds with each stroke at his outdoor studio in Huntington Beach, and he has one piece of advice for novices: Don't stop until you're done. A customer likened Knobs' work to Pablo Picasso, a compliment that matured into motivation for the budding painter. After studying a few of the Spanish master's work, Knobs decided, "Hey, I can do that!"

Knobs has dabbled in a range of professions over the years, from high-end neon signage sales—think Vegas—to firefighting to installing doorknobs in multi-million dollar homes. The latter lent itself nicely to Knobs' stage name. Naming Neil Diamond as his greatest musical inspiration, Knobs currently jams as a folk-acoustic one man band and covers tunes by numerous familiar acts, like Blake Shelton, Crosby Stills & Nash and Lynyrd Skynyrd, as well as original pieces, including "Run, Johnny, Run," the story of a near-fatal accident involving his younger brother, and "Pretty Ballerina," a song he wrote for his daughter years before she was born. Dishing up a heavy dose of nostalgia, his seasoned guitar strums, relatable lyrics and inviting presence have the ability to move just about any listener.

Life in HB for Knobs and his wife began on New Year's Eve in 2012, following a devastating incident in the Caribbean that left the couple's bank account and dream of sailing the seven seas broken. With the wind knocked out of their sails, they moved between Utah and Nevada until Cathie, a gourmet chef, announced HB as their next and possibly final stop. Excellent choice, Cathie.

HB's art scene craves diversity and abundance, and Knobs' contributions are happily welcomed. In fact, his work has been welcomed into homes across the country, and he's even taken on a few commissioned projects. Playing on the Halloween theme of the upcoming Art Walk, Knobs has crafted a few spooky pieces, deeply dipping into black and orange hues. He'll also be singing and selling at the first annual West Grove Handmade Fall Craft Show at The British & Dominion Social Club in Garden Grove on Saturday, October 19. Knobs says one of the biggest challenges of his craft is figuring out what designs people will buy. Pieces usually sell for around $20.

Knobs' future plans hardly focus on celebrity. He simply wants to entertain you, HB, and we hope you love his prose and painted palms enough to keep him here for years to come. Be sure to seek him out at the October Art Walk, and don't be afraid to chat—he'll hardly bite. He'll likely tell you stories for hours.

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