The Devils and Davy Knowles
Photo by John Patrick Gatta
After traveling hundreds of miles to play the first seven dates of the first leg of the Rhythm Devils summer tour, the members take a break from the press and sleep in. This includes 23 year old Davy Knowles who has made a distinct impression with a ferocious blues guitar that nods to his predecessors yet maintains his own singular style.
“It’s been pretty intensive,” said Knowles two days later when I get him on the phone just as the tour bus heads off to San Diego. “We came out of rehearsals and straight away on the road for three weeks. There’s a lot of travel, there’s a lot of not sleeping as well, but it’s been an awful lot of fun.
Although he apologizes for his state of mind, the exuberant Knowles is quite coherent. “This is monumentally early for me, I’m afraid. Little bit groggy and sleepy and not quite with it. (laughs) If we get up early and go to the hotel. I try to stay in my bunk as long as I can.”
Knowles discovered music as a pre-teen and, as a quick learner, began playing in his homeland, the Isle of Man, located between Ireland and Great Britain. The death of a friend encouraged him to make more of each moment and pursue music with all the passion that’s now found on the two albums by the band he fronts, Back Door Slam, and in the group’s live performances. Fortunately, his enthusiasm and obsessive interest in his work also marks a young musician who has toured the world and shared stages with Gov’t Mule, the Who, Jeff Beck, Buddy Guy and Chickenfoot butalso has remained grounded. For him getting on the bus with the Rhythm Devils is just another step in the learning process of a career musician.
JPG: Before we talk about the Rhythm Devils I want to step back and let you know I first saw you play at last summer’s ROTHBURY Festival. People told me to check you out. I happened to be walking towards the Sherwood Court Stage and I must say I was quite impressed. It was blues rock but there was a degree of freshness to it.
DK: Thank you very much. Thank You. That was a fun festival. A different breed of festival. It was wonderful.
JPG: Were you able to stick around that evening and see the Sherwood Forest?
DK: Yeah, where they light up all of the forest. That was beautiful. We left fairly early, but we got to do that.
JPG: When you hear a lot of electric blues players one thinks of someone like B.B. King or Stevie Ray Vaughan or Robert Cray. But while I could hear an echo in there with you, it seemed that you were taking it somewhere else. Is it a conscious thing or natural?
DK: Absolutely, it’s a conscious thing. I have nothing but respect for people like Stevie Ray Vaughan and B.B. King and the people who have gone before and have really done incredible things. They’re heroes, but the fact is no one wants to hear someone just go out and religiously copy that. That’s not a gratifying thing to do, to go out and religiously copy, so I think it’s important to combine your influences and try and make something more of it. Try and put your own spin on it. See, who influenced me is a guy called Rory Gallagher. I grew up in a great Celtic place and when I hear him play guitar —- he was Irish — and to hear him playing jigs and reels and that was the first time that I realized that you can combine the blues with different things that you grew up with, and that was a really cool thing.
JPG: I love Rory Gallagher! Have just about everything he’s put out and I was lucky enough to see him at a small club in Cleveland. It’s nice to see that his stature is slowly growing. In talking about Rory you alluded to growing up on the Isle of Man, so let’s go back to the beginning. I was reading in your bio how you were turned onto music when you heard Dire Straits’ “Sultans of Swing.” How does someone listening to that become the fiery blues guitarist who has more in common with Rory or Steve Ray than then the tasteful style of Mark Knopfler.
DK: Well, that was the thing that first got me going. I was 11 years old. That was just the thing, that rapid fire guitar break at the end. I just became obsessed with Dire Straits, but after about a year I think my parents got a little bit pissed off hearing Dire Straits all the time. They wanted me to switch to something else. My dad had John Mayall, the Bluesbreakers records with Eric Clapton, with Peter Green, with Mick Taylor. So, I was hearing that stuff. The first one I heard was the Eric Clapton “Beano” album. It was nicknamed the “Beano” album. Eric Clapton was reading a “Beano” on the front of it. The comic strip.
It had this Otis Rush song and then there was Freddie King, there was Ray Charles on it. All of those songs by different people. I read the liner notes and said, ‘Hey, this song was written by Ray Charles. I like this song, maybe I should listen to Ray Charles or this song was written by Freddie King. I’ll listen to Freddie King.’ And it kind of happened like that, more and more and more. I just got deep into blues from there; all the way back to the Alan Lomax stuff with the Library of Congress field recordings. I just became completely obsessed with it. Still am. Love it. Love the local folklore behind it, too. Every folk music has a story whether it’s wonderful or awful. And more often than not it’s awful. But it’s massively interesting. That’s what I like.
JPG: Listening to you go deeper and deeper into the history of the blues, it’s interesting, and maybe it’s a result of you being on one side of the Atlantic and those of us being on the other side. I think about that because I interviewed Joe Bonamassa years ago and he said that his style developed with a different flavor to because he was influenced by the English blues rock acts and English blues players such as Clapton.
DK: Yeah, the basis of that, a lot of the Chicago blues, a lot of the Texas blues I think they’re trying to copy it and got it wrong and at the same time got it right. It was more aggressive and that appeals to guitar players somehow. That’s one of the reasons.