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...

Mark Knopfler. Hearing the "Sultans of Swing" was a turning point for me. It was then that I decided I wanted to play guitar.

-Davy Knowles


Besides, Rory Gallagher, he cites an eclectic mix of influences. "Mark Knopfler. Hearing the 'Sultans of Swing' was a turning point for me. It was then that I decided I wanted to play guitar," offers Knowles. "Also early Eric Clapton and John Mayall. He was a really aggressive guitar player, different to the style of Knopfler, who was very laidback. When I found Rory it was a huge thing for me. The guy had everything – the acoustic folk, the Celtic influence, the rock."

Back Door Slam by Dave Armstrong
These influences are clearly heard on the band's debut. There in the classic blues longing of "Real Man" to more mellow, Clapton-esque acoustic numbers like "Too Good For Me" and "Roll Away." The album is predominately a demonstration of Knowles' songwriting abilities but a gritty, rollicking version of Blind Joe Reynolds' "Outside Woman Blues" is a standout - all wailing licks that spur you to dust off your air guitar and best frontman grimace.

However, it's not all down-and-dirty blues. Live, their sound is driven but the album suggests they're comfortable playing acoustic, too. "I love playing the acoustic guitar. It's such a pure instrument. What I like about it is that if you screw up everyone hears you. You can't hide behind distortion or effects," Knowles says.

Being a live band first and foremost, they struggled a bit to transfer their sound to the studio. "It's very difficult. We've done our best but there's definitely room to improve," says Knowles. "It's really hard, you've got to concentrate and try and get the same adrenaline buzz. A relaxed environment helps. The best thing is when we're confident and know what we are going to go in and do. It comes off best then."

Their sound appeals to older blues music enthusiasts, while their age should attract younger fans that may be unfamiliar with Stevie Ray Vaughan. "Absolutely, it's the nature of the music that older fans are drawn [to it]. It's the kind of thing they're into," comments Knowles. "We're lucky where we've been playing to quite a mixed, fantastically varied audience, but we have to be kind of careful not to lose the younger side."

His humility stems in large part from the impact the death of two friends in a car crash in 2004 had on him. The day we chatted would have been the 21st birthday of Brian Garvey, the original rhythm guitarist. In the aftermath of that tragedy he wrote the acoustic "Stay," an emotional, heartfelt tribute.

Back Door Slam by Dave Armstrong
"It was horrible. It changes everything. They were two of my best friends. It's a very emotional song for me still. We've been playing it for three years and it has never lost its meaning. Ever," comments Knowles. "It made me grow up and realize that if I want do something I have to go ahead and do it. I've got to do it and work to do it because as quickly as it has come about it could all go. It has helped put things in perspective."

Music is often at its best when it offers us a comforting shoulder; a place to rest when life is mean and it seems no one is around for us. His ability to transmute his life, even at its hardest, into music shows Knowles understands this. "I'm still feeling my way, really," he says. "I've been playing guitar now for nine years, singing for four, but writing is still fairly new to me. I'm still trying to get better."

It's not all tough though, judging by the band's manner on stage, they're enjoying the journey.

"It's definitely good times. The novelty does wear off, being cooped up in a van, but it's good fun," offers Knowles. "I got to meet Steve Earle backstage at ACL. I was carrying my mandolin and he said to me, 'Is that a mandolin case, boy? Are you sure you want to play that? 'Cause you're never gonna be rich and you'll always be out of tune!'"

Knowles has many years of the grind ahead of him before he'll be considered a great but his talent and nature suggests it's just a matter of time before Knowles can quote Cray's lyric from the track that inspired their moniker: "And when I play guitar, they all know my name."

"We want to go on creating our own sound and gathering a fan base so that we can make a proper living," says Knowles. "That's what we're working towards."

Back Door Slam tour dates available here...

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jambeatnik Tue 12/18/2007 08:00PM
-1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


just found out about these guys a month ago... knowles is nasty guitarist and has good pipes... rest of the band i think brings him down but his talented enough to completely carry the band despite the drummer and bassists shortcomings.. REMEMBER THE NAME DAVEY KNOWLES

HoodooVoodoo Tue 12/18/2007 08:15PM
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I saw the name "Davey Knowles" etched into the lid of Davey Jones' locker.

DaMule starstarstarstar Wed 12/19/2007 05:48PM
-1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Saw these guys twice at ACL, first show was at stubbs and the second at the fest. They are a real solid unit, and knowles is probably one of the best upcoming guitarists I've seen in years. His voice is far deeper than you would think for such a young guy but all together the band is amazing live and definately worth a trip to see.

remoterec Wed 12/19/2007 10:23PM
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What a phony - I was right there with knowles when that happened backstage at ACL, and he didn't even know who Steve Earle was !! He had to be told...he had never listened to Steve Earle before, had no clue who he is, and certainly couldn't name a single song of Steve's.

Keep it real, young pup.

galenpg Thu 12/20/2007 03:15PM
-1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


who cares that he didnt know steve earle- the kid can feakin rip. by the way, someone needs to mention the name "michael kang" to steve earle if he is actually stupid enough to feel that way about the mandolin

remoterec Thu 12/20/2007 06:18PM
-2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

The point is, he referred to meeting someone that he had no idea who it was until he was told later. He tells the story like it was a two-way conversation between him and Steve Earle( it wasn't ).

So, if he hadnt been told who it was ( after the fact ), he wouldn't be telling the story later on.

He's a phony - who cares if he can rip.

remoterec Thu 12/20/2007 06:33PM
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Galen...FYI - Steve Earle has been playing the mandolin for a lot longer and sold quite a few more records than Michael Kang - he's pretty much qualified and free to comment on the instrument any way he feels....

GratefulHokie Fri 12/21/2007 08:48AM
-1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


remoterec ~ Relax man. Just because you say it doesn't make it so. Perhaps you're forgetting the fact that this kid is only 19. I bet you 90% of college students today have never even HEARD the name Steve Earle

Furthermore, you need a lesson in 'reading in context'...Is the conversation between him and Steve not in fact a two-way conversation? Am I missing some sort of sign language interpreter, announcer, or intermediary between them? Just because someone had to introduce him to Steve Earle, doesn't mean he's a phony.

remoterec Fri 12/21/2007 10:30AM
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Again, I was there- that is what happened. The mandolin thing was a passing comment as Earle was quickly walking by, not a conversation. Knowles though Earle was just a festival attendee or something, and didn't even acknowledge him after it was said. After he was told that it was Steve Earle, it became a " story " he tells people.

Maybe it's you that need the lesson in reading comprehension....

A conversation requires two people conversing and acknowledging each other - not just one person making a comment to another one without reply.

roberto767 starstarstarstarstar Fri 12/21/2007 04:32PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


who the hell is steve earle? i guess i'll have to google it.

tourfan Sat 12/22/2007 11:20AM
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Shame that you guys gotta spend so much time commenting on something one person said to another, rather than talking about what a great band this may or may not be ...

I Streamed through the CD on Itunes. It's OK .... Sounds like any other modern day rock band played on hits radio these days with a hint of the blues added as a gimmick to try to make them sound unique - which they really don't.

That said, I do like the fact that jambase is adding streams to features. Good to have a something to listen to while you're reading about an act. The best written review/feature will never be clear enough to tell you what the singers’ voice sounds like, how the guitars sound, whether or not they actually do play the blues. But the streams are a nice touch. Like to see that done with CD reviews as well.


Sustaining starstarstarstar Sun 1/20/2008 12:29PM
-1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

At the end of the day everyone is entitled to like/dislike the band...but why get so petty on whether he knew Steve or didn't know Steve - it's a write up of an interview...who knows exactly what Davy said/didn't say in the interview anyway (i.e how he worded it).

Sounds like you spend a lot of time with Davy if you know it became a 'story' that he tells people? I just think that comment is irrelavant and a personal dig at Davy as opposed to commenting on the article/band.

lisaw_ut Mon 6/23/2008 08:08AM
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Too much whining about what was conversational and what was not...! The kid at this date is now 21 and still learning tons. DO give him a listen. Better yet, see him live! I discovered BDS when I wasn't looking for them, going to see another band and BDS was the opener. I wasn't paying attention but once they started playing Davy, Adam and Ross pulled me in and haven't let go yet. They are amazing live! The kid is the real deal. Yeah, others came before him, some he might not know their name. Big deal. There's still time for learning. Why quarrel over small potatoes? Enjoy some kid reaching for the stars. And betting some day Davy, then an old man, will walk by some new kid. The new kid might not know who Davy, Steve Earle, Rory, Hendrix, Stevie Ray, Clapton, Trower and all the ones I'm not including are. Who cares?!? Enjoy the music!