Clapton, Beck, Page, Knowles–Knowles? That name doesn't register in the pantheon of British guitar gods, but just wait, because 20-year-old Davy Knowles is a picker on the fast track to stardom. Why else, when the singer-guitarist for the Isle of Man's Back Door Slam rings up the Straight from L.A., would he be en route to a recording session with producer Eddie Kramer, famous for his work with a guy named Jimi Hendrix? Knowles is the real deal; he's taken pointers from the very best.
"Rory Gallagher is my absolute idol," he declares. "I mean, it's funny, 'cause I heard somewhere that he sold 40 million records, but still he doesn't get the recognition. He's like a player's player, I suppose. Clapton has said before in interviews that he [Gallagher] got him back into the blues. He's incredibly underrated."
Knowles got the guitar bug at the age of 11, after hearing Dire Straits' "Sultans of Swing" on his dad's car radio. "From then on I just thought 'Yeah, I want to do that.'" More recently, Knowles was given encouragement by Pete Townshend, whom he and his band encountered last March at Austin's South by Southwest music festival in Texas.
"We snuck onto his tour bus," recalls Knowles. "It must have been a bit crazy to have three kids running up to him shouting, 'Mr. Townshend! Mr. Townshend!' but he was real nice. And then we got to support The Who back on the Isle of Man in front of, like, 6,000 people."
All but one of the tracks on Back Door Slam's debut CD, Roll Away, were penned by Knowles; the sole cover is of Blind Joe Reynolds's "Outside Woman Blues". In the company of bassist Adam Jones and drummer Ross Doyle, both 20 as well, Knowles cranks his Strat to channel the spirits of Gallagher, Hendrix, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. This kind of electrifying music could put the Isle of Man on the musical map.
"The music scene's really good there, for such a small place," Knowles says. "It was a great place for us, anyway, to get kick-started, because the venues are pretty supportive. I'm not sure, really, if we were from slap-bang in the middle of London that we would be touring the States right now."
As well as the choice booking at SXSW, Back Door Slam recently scored a spot on Lollapalooza in Chicago. Knowles says that Eddie Vedder was rumoured to be in the audience, but what about your regular Lollapalooza patron? Aren't those kids more into the latest emo or punk-pop sensation than bands committed to carrying Rory Gallagher's blues-rock torch?
"I'd like to think that if there's good music in front of them and they're listening, most people are open to anything," Knowles says. "One thing that doesn't work to our advantage is the fact that a lot of people stereotype blues as kind of depressing and all the same, when actually it really isn't. Blues is an incredibly wide genre."
Back Door Slam plays the Yale Hotel on September 6.