Davy Knowles breaks out the jams at Bluesdays

Davy Knowles
Davy Knowles and drummer Michael Kiskey play for a packed Village at Squaw Valley on June 21.
Tahoe Onstage photo by Tim Parsons

When a talented young artist comes to town, it’s good idea to catch the show because you never know if and when he will be back. Hundreds of music lovers took advantage of the rare opportunity to see Davy Knowles and his band perform Tuesday at Bluesdays in The Village at Squaw Valley.

Knowles has his own sound, which is blues based but far from straight-ahead blues. It took a while for the blues-loving concertgoers to warm up to Knowles, who won it over with superb original songs, an engaging singing tone and brilliant licks on a well-worn 1966 Fender Telecaster.

“It barks, it bites, the whole thing shakes when you play it,” Knowles said. “I’m not worried about bringing this thing on the road either. In its 50 years it’s seen a lot more than I have, and I’m not going to be the one who puts it in a cupboard at home, just to say I have one. No. This bugger is going to be played and played.”

Knowles is from the Isle of Man, a small island between England and Ireland. He now lives in Chicago. At 29, Knowles said he is still developing his unique style.

“My favorite artists have always taken a roots genre like the blues and elaborated on it,” he said. “People like Rory Gallagher, for instance. He played blues but he was an Irishman and he had this Celtic inflection to whatever he played. A combination of influences created what might be your style. It’s certainly a work in progress. It’s not like I’ve found it and this is what I do.”

Knowles’ blues has an edgy rock sound. He played in a quartet at Bluesdays.

“We have an incredible B3 player named Andrew Toombs from Cincinnati,” he said. “He’s an outstanding player and it’s great to have keys in the band. It adds an extra dimension to things. Michael Kiskey is on drums, Marvin Little on bass. It’s a great band.”

During the opening set, Knowles played one of his best-known songs, “Coming Up For Air,” which was appropriate considering the high-altitude venue. Between sets, Knowles noted the dry air, not its thinness, was what he most noticed. Knowles speaks with a high pitch and a thick Manx accent. But his singing voice has a low tone. During the second set, the band lengthened the songs, and fans, who by then were up and dancing, reveled in the musicianship of Knowles and the keyboardist, Toombs. It doubtless will be a Bluesdays highlight in a year that is loaded with outstanding bands.

For Knowles, the Tahoe show was be part of an ambitious summer tour.

“Ambitious is a pleasant way to put it,” Knowles said. “I’m exhausted already. But I absolutely adore being on the road. It’s been a long time since I’ve toured extensively. I really missed it. I really am looking forward to coming out West. It’s long overdue”

After he had just released his first solo album, Davy Knowles played at a 2009 Lake Tahoe show headlined by Chickenfoot, whose esteemed guitarist Joe Satriani described Knowles as his “favorite modern bluesman.” Seven years later, Knowles finally returned to the area on the Summer Solstice, Tuesday, June 21, to make his Bluesdays debut at The Village at Squaw Valley. What has Knowles been doing all that time?

His debut solo album,“Coming Up For Air,” received critical acclaim, as did the 2014 follow-up “The Outsider.” This summer, he will release another album, “Three Miles From Avalon.” He also introduced himself to the jam-band world by playing with Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart’s band the Rhythm Devils and he later toured with Jeff Beck.

“The Rhythm Devils was a marvelous project,” Knowles told Tahoe Onstage. “It was nice to step back and be sort of a side guy. It was an amazing experience. I had to learn a lot of songs. It was a different world but one that draws a lot of parallels to the one I was used to. It was a great education.”

He also learned something by opening for Beck: “That I will never be as good as Jeff Beck.”

Although he’s just 29 years old, he’s been playing professionally for a decade. His first band was called Back Door Slam, named after a tune recorded by Robert Cray, who inspired him to learn guitar.

“The goal for me in music from Day 1 is just to keep doing it,” he said. “There’s never been any dreams of grandeur so the fact that I am in the 10th year into my career and I am still playing music and calling it my job, I am a very, very lucky man.”

Knowles is as self-deprecating as a blues player and as talented as the greatest of rock stars. A writer listed him No. 6 top guitarist among modern blues players.

  • Bluesdays 2016
    6 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays in the Village at Squaw Valley, free
    June 14 – The Blues Monsters
    June 21 – Davy Knowles
    June 28 – Carolyn Wonderland
    July 5 – Chris Cain
    July 12 – Shawn Holt & the Teardrops
    July 19 – J.C. Smith Band
    July 26 – Dennis Jones Band
    August 2 – David Jacobs Strain
    August 9 -Lloyd Jones
    August 16 – Joe Louis Walker
    August 23 -James Armstrong
    August 30 – Mark Hummel Band ft. Little Charlie Baty, & Anson Funderburgh
    September 6 – Kenny Neal

ABOUT Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons
Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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