By: Ryan Dembinsky
By now, the story of the skinny white kid from the Isle of Man is old news. Word has spread fast about Davy Knowles and his band Back Door Slam, the young seminal blues prodigy who, despite his fresh-faced appearance, U.K. accent and quiet demeanor, routinely lights up rooms with his bellowing vocals and hair-raising guitar solos.
Nothing has changed in that department. In fact, Knowles' star continues to rise as he sets the gearshift for the heart of the sun, but otherwise a lot has changed. With the new album, Coming Up for Air (released June 16 on Blix Street Records), the supporting tour in motion, and a continuing line of high profile dates on the horizon, Davy Knowles & Back Door Slam may claim to be "coming up for air" but you certainly wouldn't know it.
"Throwing my heart to a stranger was never something I could do" (from "Amber's Song")
The new album shares a producing credit with a rather recognizable name, Peter Frampton. Having heard from a mutual friend that Frampton was interested in doing co-writes on new material, Knowles jumped at the opportunity to collaborate. As with so many things in the music business, it's a name dropped here, a meeting there and next thing you know Frampton took the reins, producing essentially the whole thing, save for a couple tracks self-produced by Knowles.
In the end, it took about a year before Frampton and Knowles wound up in a room together to talk about the co-writes and their goals for the collaboration, but things really took off from there. "We wrote three songs together and I asked him if he wanted to produce those tracks and he agreed," Knowles says. "Naturally, as we were talking through what we wanted those tracks to sound like, I realized that is what I want the whole album to sound like."
Working with a longtime hero, the age discrepancy presented no impediment to Knowles and Frampton hitting it off. "We're really good friends. When you're working with someone on something as personal as music, it's so important," Knowles says. "He is just such a really nice guy."
Davy Knowles & Back Door Slam|
(l to r) PK, Knowles, Barci
"Doing what I could for someone else, didn't know that I was saving myself" (from "Saving Myself")
The biggest step forward for Knowles & Back Door Slam - including the name change with Knowles' name now on the "door" - was rooted in a very tough decision. Knowles parted ways with former bandmates and lifelong friends, Ross Doyle (drums) and Adam Jones (bass). While at face value, this looks like a business decision straight out of Almost Famous ("Frankly, your looks are becoming a problem"), but having seen the new band live, it's clear that this was the right decision. Obviously, any decision to part with original band members will rub some people the wrong way, but this new band with Steve Barci on drums and PK on bass is better. There is a lot more interplay and a noticeable uptick in jamming as opposed to what used to be a band all about Knowles with a heavy burden on near-nonstop soloing.
"It's so important to keep learning and keep progressing," Knowles offers. "It is not at all about the caliber of musicians. Just look at Cream, they were the best band in the world. I think it is important to learn from as many different people as you can. The sound of the band and on the album hasn't changed too much, and no disrespect to Adam and Ross, but this has really opened a lot of doors. I think you just have to crack on, keep your head down and don't look back too much."
It's almost ironic that the band name now highlights Knowles as opposed to simply Back Door Slam, because the live show actually involves a lot more input from the other members, particularly with the advent of a keyboard player. The band doesn't have a solidified permanent keyboardist in the lineup, but Benmont Tench (longtime member of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers) played on most of the album tracks and the band has been implementing keys on the road, bringing Ty Bailie out for the live shows. "I always wanted a keyboard player. I love playing with a keyboard. In fact, the only reason it was ever a three-piece in the first place was because we couldn't afford to bring out a keys player," says Knowles. "It sounds really strange, but it actually creates a lot more room. Having someone to fall back on means I don't have to always keep playing."
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