Back Door Slam: They All Know My Name

By: Eamon Foley

"Fame? We don't have any fame!"

Back Door Slam by Adrian Cowin
That was the chuckled response of Davy Knowles, lead guitarist and singer of Back Door Slam, a precocious, young blues band with a fast-growing reputation. Drawing comparisons to Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, they demonstrate a maturity and skill that belies their average age of 20 years.

They hail from the Isle of Man, a Celtic island nestled between Ireland and England, and take their name from a funky Robert Cray track from 2003's Time Will Tell. Along with bassist Adam Jones and drummer Ross Doyle, Knowles is part of a trio of talented young musicians with a sound that suggests an altogether older band. Over the last few months they've been promoting their debut album Roll Away (released June 26 through Blix Street) with heavy touring across the United States and at home, including a gig supporting The Who.

Knowles is the undisputed star, backed by a solid rhythm section that underpins his fast, nasty licks. After a few years spent gigging, they're a tight unit that's gradually building a following.

"We're a live band more than a recording band. It's where we feel most comfortable, what we've been doing the longest," says Knowles. "All three of us have been gigging for a long time. It's where we are represented best and where we get the biggest kick."

"We all went to school together. I had been playing in bands since I was 14, always as a member of other people's bands but I wanted to have my own band. Ross, I knew was a jazz drummer, and I thought that was close enough! The original bassist left the band in order to attend university, and that's where Adam came in."

That might sound haphazard, where three friends got together to pursue the dream of being rock stars, but they've worked hard developing their sound and putting in the long, lonely miles on the road.

Davy Knowles - Back Door Slam
By Adrian Cowin
"Music has always been my focus, always my dream," offers Knowles. "So it was an incredibly easy decision. I've been fortunate enough to work with people who improved me and still do. I'm incredibly fortunate to be able to do this. A lot of kids ten times more talented than me don't get this chance, and it's sad."

This humility - and a fine sense of humor - shone through during our chat. Knowles is excited and is clearly enjoying the ride he's on. On more than one occasion he mentions being grateful for the opportunities he's had and this past "incredible year." On stage, he acknowledges applause with genuine, almost sheepish appreciation, delivered in a mumbled, English brogue. It's almost as if he struggles to grasp his situation and how he's gotten there, despite his obvious talents and the energy he's invested.

"I was lucky and launched into it straight out of school. We took a year off to get our head around things and see if we could do it. Me, Ross and the original bassist moved to England, moved in with our manager and toured for four months. After that things took off for us."

BDS has set out to do it the old school way, clocking up live gigs while slowly building a reputation and a core of fans. Unlike the many bands winning run-of-the-mill competitions and getting lucky on the web, it's nice to see a group busting their balls and getting success from having worked for it.

I first came across BDS while wandering the grounds at the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Liking what I heard I stopped to check out a song or two and ended up watching their entire set. They have an amazing, honest energy that grabs you upon first listen and refuses to let go. That day, in the unforgiving Texas heat, they jolted me from my lethargy better than any coffee hit. Their set-closer was a powerful, fresh version of Hendrix's "Red House" (a regular part of their live repertoire), which they rammed home in a way the man himself would have approved of.

Onstage, there's more than a hint of stated influence Rory Gallagher in Knowles' lightning fast fingers, and Hendrix is present in the unpretentious focus on his craft. Having said that, he's not the flashiest frontman around, lacking the panache of either Jimi or Gallagher. Instead he keeps it simple, letting his vocals do the talking and his fingers glide all over his strings. For such a young man, his vocals convey a surprising depth, emotionally vivid like Ten-era Eddie Vedder.

Continue reading for more on Back Door Slam...

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