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Prodigies grow up so fast: Davy Knowles goes out in a blaze

Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Davy Knowles plays on a 1932 National Steel guitar at the Crystal Bay Casino. A native of the Isle of Man, Knowles played a cover of Rory Gallagher’s cover of Tony Joe White’s “As The Crow Flies.”
Tahoe Onstage photos by Tim Parsons.

Lake Tahoe had a final look at the young gun Davy Knowles on Friday.

Blues fans are always on the lookout for great, young talent. The next sensation that’s going to bust out like Stevie Ray Vaughan. Knowles, who comes from a small island between Ireland and Scotland, is the quintessential triple threat: virtuosic guitarist, soulful singer and captivating songwriter.

But, alas, the next time he comes to town it just won’t be the same. Because next month he will no longer be a prodigy. It’s true. Davy will turn 30 years old. Perhaps we will have to start referring to him as David Knowles.

Tahoe Onstage/ Tim ParsonsKnowles’ third appearance at Lake Tahoe was his first in the Crystal Bay Casino, and the 100 or so music fans who witnessed the Red Room show were treated to an exceptional show. The room has been the venue for artists such as Gatemouth Brown, Michael Burks, Carolyn Wonderland and Tinsley Ellis. Knowles belongs in the pantheon. Regardless of age, he’s an undeniable blues great.

Knowles first appeared at Tahoe in 2009 with his trio from the Isle of Man, Back Door Slam. It opened at an outdoor arena concert for Chickenfoot, whose acclaimed guitarist Joe Satriani exclaimed Knowles is “my favorite modern bluesman.”

A year later, Knowles went on tour as a sideman with the Rhythm Devils, headed by Grateful Dead drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann. When his bandmates moved back across the pond, Knowles settled in Chicago and went solo.

He’s produced a couple of outstanding albums – “The Outsider” and “Three Miles From Avalon” – and is days away from releasing an all slide acoustic EP, “1932.”

Knowles second Tahoe appearance was a June 2016 stop at Squaw Valley’s Bluesdays. When he stepped onstage in the Red Room, it was clear he hadn’t had a haircut since.

Young Davy wore shoulder-length hair, a Lightnin’ Hopkins T-shirt and a flowery hippie strap that held a beat-up 1966 Strat.

Before his third song, Knowles played a slow arrangement of “Garbage Man.” The older blues fans smiled and bobbed their heads in happy approval. Knowles no longer fronts a conventional blues trio; the band features Andrew Toombs on organ, and he and Knowles traded riffs during the jam.

“I like to solo,” Toombs said between sets.

Knowles shares the spotlight, celebrating the song rather than showing off his guitar musicianship.

“Way up in the mountains, we can’t hardly breathe,” bassist Marvin Little said before the band went into Knowles’ best-known hit, “Coming Up For Air.”

The song, the title track of a Back Door Slam album produced by Peter Frampton, has metamorphosed over the years, and it spurs comparisons to another former young gun. Jonny Lang has basically played the same set list for nearly two decades, exploring and refining the songs to immaculateness. Using what he learned from his time in the jam-band realm, Knowles has transformed “Coming Up For Air” into a blues-jam hybrid that slows and hushes into almost a complete stop before it crescendos into sonic rock ‘n’roll ecstasy.

“We are always looking for new ways to make it interesting,” drummer Michael Caskey said afterward. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s all part of the journey.”

The journey in the Red Room lasted nearly three blissful hours.

  • Davy Knowles
    March 31, Crystal Bay Casino
    First set
    1 – Ain’t Much of Nothin’
    2 – Riverbed
    3 – Garbage Man
    4 – Gov’t Row
    5 – Coming Up For Air
    6 – Falling Apart
    7 – Never Gonna Be the Same
    8 – Outside Woman Blues
    9 – Tear Down the Walls
  • Solo acoustic
    1 – First Words of a Changing Man
    2 – As the Crow Flies
  • Second set
    1 – Come Home
    2 – Catch The Moon
    3 – Hoochie Coochie Man
    4 – Heavy on My Mind
    5 – Oxford, Ms
    6 – Unknown
    7 – Ain’t No Grave (Can Hold My Body Down)
    8 – Overload
    9 – Work a Little Harder

    Tim Parsons/ Tahoe Onstage

    Andrew Toombs solos in the Red Room.
    Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

    Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

    Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

    A rhythm section with a big sound: Marvin Little, bass, and Michael Caskey, drums.
    Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

    Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

    Michael Caskey

    Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstge

About 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.

One comment

  1. Nice article about a great band. Thanks for the good photos!! They brought down the house in Sutter Creek!! Can’t wait for them to come back.

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