Q&A with Manx blues roots guitarist/songwriter Davy Knowles, music and song based on his life experience

"If we want future generations to obsess over what you or I may class as ’blues music’ you need a more commercial and accessible ‘host’ to open that door. People like Jack White from the White Stripes. Or The Black Keys did it for a whole legion of folks. Took it to the mainstream. You see it with John Mayer too. But just to go out and play (wonderful!) Albert King covers or the like… it’s not going to achieve that same level - no matter how incredible that music is. Change, evolution. Thats what keeps folk music alive. Always has done."

Davy Knowles: The Wander's Soundtrack

Davy Knowles first burst onto the scene in 2007 with his band ‘Back Door Slam’, garnering rave reviews, television appearances, extensive triple-A radio airplay, and two top 5 Billboard Blues charting albums. 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, Joe Bonamassa, Sonny Landreth, Peter Frampton, Joe Satriani, and the Sammy Hagar-fronted supergroup ‘Chickenfoot’ among many others. 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. On his Provogue Records debut What Happens Next (2021), produced by Eric Corne (John Mayall, Joe Walsh, Joe Bonamassa), 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.                      (Davy Knowles / Photo by Michael Coakes)

Manx blues guitarist and singer Davy Knowles released his new album If I Should Wander (2023).  The collection of 11 songs represents Davy’s most honest and pure work to date. Stripped back, raw and emotional, the album was written, recorded and produced by Knowles entirely, down to the album artwork which features his first foray into film photography. Davy says: "If I Should Wander feels less like an album and more like a diary to me. I couldn’t be more honest or more open to my own thoughts and feelings at the time I wrote these songs. There was no hiding, no skirting around the subjects. In keeping with the way these songs were written, and what they were written about, I decided to record these at home, on my own in my little music room in the flat I live in. Close, personal, intimate. More like a confessional than a recording. No frills, no trickery and just one microphone. I have owned the instrument I used to write and record this album (a National Triolian resonator built in 1932 for those who may be interested) for 15 years, and have played it onstage all over the world, nearly always in the Delta-Blues style this guitar is synonymous with."

Interview by Michael Limnios                   Archive: Davy Knowles, 2021 Interview

Special Thanks: Davy Knowles & Ever Kipp (Tiny Human)

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music? What has remained the same about your music-making process?

I think the biggest difference in my music now is it is more based on my real life experience, when I was younger it was more about putting myself in other peoples shoes. I’d like to think the one thing that has remained is the total joy I get from it, and the constant desire to make more of it.

You’ve one more release recording with your National Triolian resonator. How did your relationship with the Delta-Blues come about?

Really it came from reading the liner notes on the electric blues records I started off listening to, tracing that music back. I’ve always loved the raw, emotive aspect of solo voice and guitar.

"I think coming out to the USA with my first record label. They were so nurturing, and really everything I have done since has been built on the work I did with them. I met my wife out there, we have 3 beautiful children, and I am grateful to have a beautiful life as a result. My private life wouldn’t exist without my career, and vice versa." (Davy Knowles / Photo by Michael Coakes)

Do you have any interesting stories about the making of the new album If I Should Wander (2023)?

Its was recorded entirely at home, and all on one guitar, my 1932 National Triolian, and all in the one tuning too - open D. Those songs are very personal, each one of them address things I was experiencing and struggling with at the time.

What's the balance in music between technique skills and soul/emotions?

I think technique exists only in order to convey emotion. If you can get across what you are feeling, then you have all the technique you need. Of course, if you want to play Mozart you may need to study more technique than if you want to play The Clash, but emotively I believe they’re equally as valid. 

Why is it important to we preserve and spread the blues?

I have a strange opinion I think when it comes to the ‘preserve and protect’ portion. I think it has already been preserved, in the multitude of fabulous recordings that we have at our fingertips at any given moment. I’m not concerned about the ‘librarian’ part of it. It’s already done, documented and curated magnificently - and far more honestly now in regards to the oppressive nature hat this music was born from. As far as how important it is to spread it? I think the only way to spread ANY folk music, be it blues, old-time, or Bulgarian folk music, is to adapt it, mess with it, and make it relevant to the current generation. Just like Son House did, like Muddy did... Stevie Ray, or Clapton. People we label as ‘Blues’ now, were not necessarily immediately accepted as that by the generation preceding them. For it to spread, grow, and survive it has to adapt, and we have to keep an open mind.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I think general snobbery, Folks who dismiss any music based on a surface level perception. All music is valid.

"I think technique exists only in order to convey emotion. If you can get across what you are feeling, then you have all the technique you need. Of course, if you want to play Mozart you may need to study more technique than if you want to play The Clash, but emotively I believe they’re equally as valid." (Davy Knowles / Photo by Michael Coakes)

What moment changed your music life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

I think coming out to the USA with my first record label. They were so nurturing, and really everything I have done since has been built on the work I did with them. I met my wife out there, we have 3 beautiful children, and I am grateful to have a beautiful life as a result. My private life wouldn’t exist without my career, and vice versa.

Do you think there is an audience for blues music in its current state? or at least a potential for young people to become future audiences and fans?

I think this comes down to what I talked about earlier. If we want future generations to obsess over what you or I may class as ’blues music’ you need a more commercial and accessible ‘host’ to open that door. People like Jack White from the White Stripes. Or The Black Keys did it for a whole legion of folks. Took it to the mainstream. You see it with John Mayer too. But just to go out and play (wonderful!) Albert King covers or the like… it’s not going to achieve that same level - no matter how incredible that music is. Change, evolution. Thats what keeps folk music alive. Always has done.

Davy Knowles - Home

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