Q&A with roots musician Davy Knowles - blues and Americana, with poetic songwriting and soulfully emotive vocals

"First and foremost, to move people. The impact (and of course all of this is my own view) should be both an emotional and an intelligent one. Emotional to hopefully inspire, and an intelligent one to lead to their participation in it. To spread the idea that blues, and any folk music, is a story of a people. It’s a human story. It can be brutal, and it can be beautiful, but at all times it must be human, and it must be sincere."

Davy Knowles: The Next Big Roots Act

On his aptly-titled Provogue Records debut "What Happens Next", out October 22, roots singer-songwriter and guitarist Davy Knowles boldly steps forward with timeless and cohesive songwriting; sleek modern production; and a lyrical, play-for-the-song guitar approach informed from soul, folk, rock, and blues. The 12-song album is just as influenced by The Black Keys, Fantastic Negrito, Gary Clark Jr., as it is Muddy Waters, Junior Kimbrough, and R.L. Burnside. Produced by Eric Corne (John Mayall, Joe Walsh, Joe Bonamassa), What Happens Next is something of a departure from Knowles’ fired-up and reverent take on blues and Americana, featuring poetic songwriting and soulfully emotive vocals that steal the show. The 12-song body of work offers forth a peaks-and-valleys album experience winding through brawny riffs, jazzy blues balladry, and vintage soul. Davy Knowles first burst onto the scene in 2007 with his band ‘Back Door Slam’, garnering rave reviews, national US television appearances (Jimmy Kimmel Live, Good Morning America), extensive triple-A radio airplay, and two top 5 Billboard Blues charting albums.                                                (Davy Knowles / Photo by Timothy M. Schmidt)

Since then, Knowles has independently released two more studio albums, 2014’s ‘The Outsider’ and 2016’s ‘Three Miles From Avalon’, which also hit the top 5 on the Billboard Blues chart. An EP, ‘1932’, showcasing his talents on acoustic guitar, specifically a 1932 National acoustic guitar, was released in early 2017. An extensive tour schedule has ensured he has put in more than his ’10,000 hours’ on the road, including appearances with The Who, Jeff Beck, Gov’t Mule, Lynrd Skynrd, Kid Rock, Joe Bonamassa, Sonny Landreth, Peter Frampton, Joe Satriani, and the Sammy Hagar-fronted supergroup ‘Chickenfoot’ among many others. “It’s your job to be the worst player in the room, and absorb like a sponge” says Knowles of sharing the stage with his heroes. And it’s not just his heroes he’s played for, in 2010, he became the first musician in history to play live directly to the International Space Station from Mission Control in Houston.

Interview by Michael Limnios         Special Thanks: Jason Whittington (LUNATICWORKS)

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Music has been very good to me in that through it I have met some wonderful people. It’s people and experiences that influence a view on the world and I think music is a wonderful avenue to take to bump into both of those things. It’s given me a home where without it I may have been lost. Musical culture influenced me immeasurably because of this. I wouldn’t have met my wife, I wouldn’t have travelled so much, I wouldn’t have done any number of things. However, I know that even without the luck I have had, I would still unquestionably be playing music.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

I think I’d like to answer your question in reverse. Creative drive fuels all the other things you mentioned. Mine seems to come from other people’s music. I am an absolutely rabid music collector and fan, and find that investigating other people's work and approach in writing really inspires mine. Not in a plagiaristic way, but in an inspiring way. Stepping out of your own head for a minute. Does you good. In that sense, I feel like my style and sound shifts and changes.  Whatever it is, I hope it’s honest to wherever I’m at in that moment.

"Music has been very good to me in that through it I have met some wonderful people. It’s people and experiences that influence a view on the world and I think music is a wonderful avenue to take to bump into both of those things. It’s given me a home where without it I may have been lost. Musical culture influenced me immeasurably because of this." (Davy Knowles / Photo by Timothy M. Schmidt)

Which meetings have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

'Don’t expect anyone else to believe it if you don’t’. That has stuck with me. I’m not sure who gave me that gem, but I treasure it. It can also be a tough one to live by. Sometimes you swear you believe in something, when you’re really just trying hard to convince yourself. It’s hard to recognize that sometimes.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

I filmed a documentary a few years ago on the way songs travel around the world with people. How they are shared and how they develop.  One day during filming I met with an old-time style Fiddle player in Eastern Tennessee, Charlie McCarroll. Charlie had the onset of dementia, and was having a hard time looking after himself. He lived in a tumbled down shack, which was uninhabitable, just in a dreadful state. He had had a hard life doing manual labour and only ever played fiddle for local dances and himself. Maybe a couple of recordings here and there. He couldn’t remember what you had asked him 30 seconds ago, but ask him to play a song he hadn’t played in 30 years and he was off like a greyhound. The joy sprung back into his face and he came alive. It was magic to see the power of music on the human spirit there right in front of us. Here was a man who didn’t play for recognition or money. He played for the sheer love of it.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Exactly what I talked about above. I fear what we see on a daily basis, people chasing trends for 15 minutes of viral fame on the internet, the dreams of grandeur. All facade and no house. My hope is that people learn and honour the past - do their homework- but apply it to their own individual experiences and do something with that that makes them emotionally proud. Paying no attention to what is popular. Contribution and participation.                                (Davy Knowles / Photo by Timothy M. Schmidt)

"Just to keep my eyes and ears open, there is so much out there to be inspired by. Good and bad."

What were the reasons that made the UK to be the center of Blues/Folk/Rock researches and experiments?

I understand that the UK had a unique situation post-war, and the stationed American GI’s brought a huge influence to the youth that grew up to be the big names we know now. It was reimagined and it was re-worked and was re-sold to America (and the world), which rekindled a love for music that was forgotten, or flat out frowned upon, on it’s own turf. This is an artistic enterprise, of course - but also a commercial one. Please don’t get me wrong - it's one I am a massive fan of! It certainly brought back awareness of this incredible music to the mainstream. However, I’m not sure I agree that the UK was the center for 'researches and experiments'. Look at Alan Lomax, Bruno Nettl or Charles Seeger, or any number of American musicologists and ethnomusicologists who were very active in this time, and previous, both in the field and in print. They knew what cultures were cooking up in the States, and were out to inform, preserve, protect and promote. Musically, Ray Charles (who was the first black artist to chart on the American charts), Elvis, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Pete Seeger… All of these American musicians were immensely popular, influential and well regarded, all drawing influences from American folk and blues music’s. I think for any one side to claim to be at the center may be a disservice to many other factors.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Just to keep my eyes and ears open, there is so much out there to be inspired by. Good and bad.

What is the impact of Blues on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

First and foremost, to move people. The impact (and of course all of this is my own view) should be both an emotional and an intelligent one. Emotional to hopefully inspire, and an intelligent one to lead to their participation in it. To spread the idea that blues, and any folk music, is a story of a people. It’s a human story. It can be brutal, and it can be beautiful, but at all times it must be human, and it must be sincere.

Davy Knowles - Home

(Davy Knowles / Photo by Timothy M. Schmidt)

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