What blues guitarist and singer-songwriter Davy Knowles has accomplished in a few short years is what many musicians spend their lives dreaming of. Davy has spent thousands of hours on the road, both with his band Back Door Slam and as a solo artist, playing some of the biggest festivals in the U.S.-Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, ACL, and SXSW-as well as live TV performances on Jimmy Kimmel and Good Morning America. He has worked with Peter Frampton, played hundreds of gigs, and has toured with Jeff Beck, Buddy Guy, The Who, and many more.
Catching up with Davy, you’re bound to find him in the middle of a tour. His road life is rigorous and constant, but his energy is seemingly unflagging. Yet in spite of all the hard work he has put into his craft, he doesn’t feel that any of it has been a burden. “It’s been a complete dream come true more than anything,” says Davy. “At the end of the day you just kind of sit down and think, ‘I’m a professional musician, this is what I do.’ You get to play music every night of the week. I’ve been very, very lucky, and I enjoy every second of it.”
Davy’s story starts on the Isle of Man, growing up amidst his father’s vast record collection in the green hills by the sea. He heard Dire Straits’ “Sultans of Swing” for the first time during a car ride with his father. “When I heard that guitar solo at the end, I knew that’s what I really wanted to do, to make that noise,” he says of that day. “And then I kind of became completely obsessed with playing, and tracing records back-from Clapton, realizing I needed to listen to Freddy King, and on and on.”
He started playing the guitar when he was 11 on the condition that he started with acoustic guitar before electric. “My dad said if I wanted to stick with it, I had to play acoustic first. So my first guitar was a ¾ size nylon string guitar, but it was great. I think that really stood me in good stead.”
He certainly stuck with it, playing guitar religiously, passionately-“to the point I really had no life outside of it,” he says. By the time school exams started, his manager, Bob Miller, persuaded Davy’s parents to let him take a gap year. “I moved to the middle of England and by the end of the year, I got a record deal out in the States. I was 19.” He hit the road heavily in the U.S., based in LA, where Davy lived for years before moving to the buzzy blues scene of Chicago.
Davy’s signature sound packs powerful energy in his live performances, something that he draws into his albums. It’s a process stemming not only from his own experience but from the influence of the musicians he grew up listening to. “All my favorite records are live-sounding records,” Davy recalls. “I’m a big fan of Rory Gallagher, and his whole approach is to take what he does live, and put it in a studio. And that’s what I like to do as much as I can. The reason I play music is to play it live.”
A major force behind that live element is the gear he chooses, and Davy has been relying on Audix for many years. “Our sound engineer on the first tour was from Portland, and he suggested that we check these mics out,” Davy says. “We were blown away. It’s very, very difficult as a singer because the sound of the microphone has a lot to do with how you perform, and straightaway, it was a noticeable difference. We settled on the OM7 [dynamic vocal microphone] for my vocals because it has that wonderful clarity to it-it’s a beautiful sounding microphone. Also, it rejects a lot of the guitar sound coming from behind me, and it rejects a lot of the cymbals. That is still a massive part of our touring rig. It goes everywhere with me, that microphone.” For guitar, Davy uses the Audix i5 multi-purpose dynamic instrument microphone, to get the most natural sound possible-“your stage sound, louder,” as he puts it.
“The best gear is the gear that disappears,” says Davy. “You know it’s doing its job, and you can rely on it. And what Audix has done for us is give us a reliable stage sound that we can take anywhere in the world. I know that we’re going to get the sound that we want. It’s really given us reliability and consistency. I think that’s so valuable.”
With his powerful work ethic, passion for performing live, dedication to the road, and inexhaustible energy, Davy has had from the very beginning an honest and refreshing appeal, creating new vibrancy in a legendary genre. His advice to newcomers? “Do it for the right reasons. I think if you don’t have an absolute joy and love for what you do, you won’t really do much with it, so it’s got to absolutely be sincere. How can you expect someone to believe in what you do if you don’t?”