Davy Knowles is heading out on the road, paying tribute to Rory Gallagher as part of the Band of Friends tour.
For those who follow Davy Knowles, you’ll have noticed that there is rarely a time when he isn’t out on the road touring. That being said, this time he is taking part in a new venture. As a lifelong fan of Rory Gallagher, Knowles is the perfect choice to be part of the Band of Friends, A Celebration of Rory Gallagher tour, in honor of the late, great guitarist joining up with Gerry McAvoy and Ted McKenna.
Before hitting the road, Davy caught up with National Rock Review to discuss the upcoming tour and the work that went into making this dream a reality.
NRR: Taking it back to when you first wanted to learn guitar, I read that you heard “Sultans of Swing” by Mark Knopfler and that made you want to pick up a guitar. So when did Rory Gallagher first come into the picture for you?
Davy: I was probably about 13 when it came to Rory. I’d seen him in the guitar magazines that I’d already picked up. There was one record store on the Isle of Man that was HMV, which is now gone, there’s nothing now. There was a VHS video of the Irish tour. I’d just heard so much about him reading the magazines, I thought well he’s a guy I really ought to know really, and I was like “alright, well I’ll get it” and I put it on at home and just absolutely fell in love with it. The opening thing is halfway through “Walk On Hot Coals” and he was just dripping with sweat. It comes on halfway through the song and immediately I just went “oh my god, that is amazing!” So yeah, it was really through that and I kind of became obsessed with him then. For me, it was being a Celt. Having that Celtic flair to his playing, I really related to it. I grew up hearing traditional music quite a bit but dismissing it because it was old fuddy-duddy music to a kid at the time and you just didn’t want to be associated with it. I wanted big loud rock n roll American blues-influenced stuff and to me, Rory Gallagher was this amazing revelation that the two things could be combined and with a lot of personality. He was a big turning point for me.
NRR: I have some of his albums and I always think it’s a good sign of an artist if you gravitate more towards live albums than the studio albums. Stage Struck – that album is unbelievable from the beginning to the end.
Davy: It’s stunning! And that’s Gerry and Ted who’s going to be on Band of Friends, the same guys. I brought that album to rehearsals and I was like “Ah!” – fan moment! And they immediately said the tempos on that record are way out, they’re ridiculous. We’ve got to slow it down just a little bit. Even for the time, it was crazy.
NRR: In terms of putting this together, how did it happen? I read on the Band of Friends website that you met Gerry on the Isle of Man a long time ago.
Davy: I never did! He met my dad. Gerry was in Nine Below Zero and my dad went to see him. He knew that Gerry played for Rory and that I was a big fan, and he met Gerry and he was all like “I’ve met Gerry and you didn’t!” So I knew that Gerry knew about me because my dad had talked about it. Then it wasn’t until I did something on Facebook for Rory’s birthday, saying how he had influenced me that Gerry saw it and got in touch and said “Hey, we should do something. We’d like to come over to the States and we know that you’re a big fan and we like your playing. We’d like to do something”.
NRR: I hadn’t realized until it was publicized that you were doing this tour, that these guys had been doing this for a long time, with Marcel. I’ve watched some of their stuff on YouTube and Marcel’s some player as well!
Davy: He’s a monster! He’s incredible, he really is.
NRR: So, in January, you were over in the Lake District in the UK rehearsing. How did it go? First off, what was it like just getting in a room with them and playing for that first time?
Davy: First of all, they’re just the most disarming, lovely people. They are really, really good fun. No ego, lovely people. When you meet your heroes, it’s always a worrying thing., right? But they were just really lovely. It was this place called Seathwaite in the Lake District and it’s just a pub, a B&B, a house and an old school hall. It’s just perfect. It was really idyllic. Gerry picked me up from the airport and we drove into the Lakes and rehearsed in this really beautiful village, and had a lovely time. It was just brilliant. First of all, Gerry had brought his old fifties P Bass that he used to play with Rory, so when he opened the case I was like “Oh my God!” And he plugged it in, and similarly with Ted when he started playing I was just “Oh my God! There’s that sound!” It’s so hard, I imagine, for guys like Gerry and Ted, who were an intrinsic heart of that sound, that all of the credit goes to Rory. Rory was this driving force, but …. Similarly, with my band on a smaller scale, you owe and you lean on those musicians tremendously to represent your music, and they did it for so long and so well. I don’t think that they really get the recognition that they should.
NRR: A thing I always notice when we see you guys, like recently when we saw you in Schubas, Chicago, which was the first time in a while, is that the four of you have that thing going on where you all know what each other is doing. I heard a guy say to his friend, “Wow, Davy gives Andrew a lot of space to play.” I was thinking “Why would he not?!” Seriously, Andrew Toombs that night was unbelievable! But I know what you mean, for the band that’s there all along and it’s one guy’s name that’s at the front, that must be pretty tough in certain circumstances.
Davy: I’m sure it is. And look, they wouldn’t say anything about it, and I don’t know if they feel that way but as a fan, getting to play with Rory’s band, that still have a huge part of what made up that sound. That’s a really inspiring thing. And just a total joy. So yeah, it went great. The rehearsals were fabulous. Obviously, I’ve grown up with this music and it’s a big part of who I am. There’s also something that comes with that, you don’t want to religiously and slavishly copy what’s already happened. The idea is to pay tribute to and play these songs, but obviously, there’s going to be things that differ from the recordings whether they’re live or otherwise.
NRR: I think that makes it what it is.
Davy: Yeah, hopefully, yeah.
NRR: How long did you rehearse for? Was it a week?
Davy: It was four days.
NRR: Just morning to night, pretty much?
Davy: Yeah, pretty intensive.
NRR: For the tour, will you do anything different gear wise?
Davy: Yeah, I’ve got a Rory Gallagher Custom Shop Strat. It would be absolutely ridiculous not to play that. So yeah, there’s that, I’ve got my Telecaster. Mine’s a ’66 and Rory used to have a ’66. I didn’t buy it for that reason, it just happened that way. He played a lot of the slide tracks on that ’66 Telecaster so that’ll be almost a spare and a slide guitar thing. I’ll bring my Melody Maker for some other tuning things, it’s great for that. Amp wise, I’m going to use my amp, just because again I’m not going for the slavishly copying thing. Rory changed his gear around constantly. It was Vox’s, it was Bassmans, it was Marshalls for a while. He used Ampegs for a little bit. The idea is not to put on a wig and become Rory. The idea is to play his music as best we can, in our own kind of way. I ‘ll be using my amp which is a Bludotone Signature model that we’re coming out with. Pedal-wise, I’m just going to bring what I need for the job. It’ll be an overdrive pedal, a boost pedal, a reverb and an octave pedal.
NRR: So pretty much nothing.
Davy: Yeah, nothing silly. Just do what the job needs really.
NRR: I’ve interviewed a few guitarists over the last year or two and everyone’s on that same route. I interviewed John 5 – technically he’s just ridiculous, but his pedal board is the most ridiculous thing you’ll ever see. It’s three pedals, I think. He won’t even plug them in. He uses batteries. He was saying there were a couple of shows where he turned up and there was a lot of heat, with Rob Zombie, and it basically fried all of his amp heads before they came on stage. All of his support guys were going nuts, and he was just “I’ll just borrow one of the other band’s amps and play”. Because he doesn’t really use anything, he could just plug in and it would just sound like him.
Davy: You see all of these rig rundowns and those technical diagrams that someone does, and there’s one of those with someone with five amps and different routing for multiple effects, all of this stuff. And then there was Angus Young, and there was just SG – Cable – Marshall. And I just thought absolutely brilliant. It’s less shit to go wrong, basically.
NRR: The Rory tour is throughout April. We’ll be coming to see you at Space in Evanston which will be the third time we will have seen you there.
Davy: Yeah, it’s one of my favorite places in the city. Just the right amount of your feet stick to the floor, noisy. And Evanston is the right amount of listening room, but character. And I think there’s a lot of listening room type venues out there that are just so sterile and just clinical, that really it’s difficult. But Space have got it right.
NRR: Space have it bang on. The other one which is a bit bigger, but another one I like just because it’s a little bit strange is Park West. I love that room.
Davy: Yeah, that’s a cool room to play. It’s nice. I’ve done that a few times with other folks.
NRR: Outside of the Rory stuff, since last time we spoke you released 1932, which I really enjoyed. That was like going back to some of the Delta Blues type of stuff and trying to show off the National a little bit.
Davy: Yeah, it was about time to do something like that. I’ve loved that guitar for ten years, it’s been a huge part of live stuff or the odd song here and there and I’ve always loved playing it. But to have a whole project centered around that made a lot of sense. Meeting Anthony Gravino, who did Three Miles From Avalon, we were talking about how your environment has a massive amount of input into what you put down on to tape. He had a two-track tape recorder, we Airbnb’d a place just below the Wisconsin border and setup for a couple of nights in this little A-frame cottage and just recorded as much stuff as we could on it, and another guitar as well, not really knowing what the process, what was going to happen. And it just made sense to do that. It was good fun.
NRR: It looked amazing. I watched the YouTube bit you did on it and I thought it looked great, just taking yourself out of the normal day to day, and when you were saying you can feel the energy in the first track, you’d just got there and you were excited about recording and then “Watchmakers Blues” which was the morning with the sun coming in, which was the perfect time to do it. Last time we spoke you, we talked about writing and you said that you were just constantly writing all the time. Do you ever think about taking yourself somewhere like that to write?
Davy: I’d love to. Sometimes it’s just a luxury that you can’t afford. It’s mainly work wherever you can. I’m kind of excited this year, there’s a few gaps in the schedule. Like this month, I’m in the Isle of Man just now. I’m hoping at some point to be able to pick up a guitar, and again you’re a product of your surroundings. Stuff happens like that. Also, I’m going to be off for most of August. Amber and I are having a kid!
Davy: Thank you very much! She’s due August 1, so I’m going to take time off around that. So there’s gaps this year where I really want to make sure I’m writing and taking time away from fairly relentless touring.
NRR: Well, you say time off in August…….
Davy: Haha – Not a chance!
NRR: Sleep might be at a premium!
Davy: I think so yes. Absolutely!
NRR: And what else is going on with you at the moment. Is there another album in the works? Are you constantly working towards that?
Davy: Yeah, definitely. I’ll be hitting the studio again in May. I would like to do two projects this year, outside of the Rory thing. This is an ideal situation. I would love to do another bluesy album, all analog album. And then I’ve got another bunch of songs kicking around that really don’t make sense to do in that capacity. Things that are a little more songwriter-esque. I’d like to put an album out like that. I love doing the blues-rock thing, it will always be a big part of me but I write other stuff too and I enjoy other music, and I think it’s important to experiment purely on the fact of, I’m writing this and I need to put it out. It’s just a part of who I am really.
NRR: I’ve been in Chicago six and a half years and I feel like it’s exposed me to all of this music which maybe you could have heard over in the UK, but the singer-songwriter type stuff over here is the stuff that’s really hit me hard, and that I love. People like Jason Isbell.
Davy: Oh god, yeah, yeah!
NRR: There’s another guy who I think is amazing called John Moreland, I don’t know if you know of him?
Davy: I don’t know him. John Moreland?
NRR: He’s worth a listen. He writes a lot of acoustic stuff but he writes lyrics that are just like nothing I’ve ever heard. His voice is a little bit like Bruce Springsteen. Do you think that kind of stuff has impacted you, just being in Chicago with the stuff you’ve heard over here?
Davy: Certainly! Again, being a product of your surroundings and you change based on what you’re constantly exposed to. And I think that the trick is to expose yourself to as much as possible. Regardless of what it is. I think it’s very dangerous to stay within the parameters of your own comfort zone. I think it’s important to listen, I’ve always listened to a lot of different stuff but being in Chicago, certainly. It’s a big multi-cultural city, it’s got a lot going on, and I think, yeah, being based there I’ve certainly heard stuff I probably wouldn’t have done if I’d stayed here. So yeah, I guess so. I think that might be true of anyone who moves to a foreign country, moves outside of their own four walls really.
NRR: And still that Celtic influence as well, do you think?
Davy: Yeah, definitely. Again, it’s something that’s been ingrained in me at this point. And also, something as I’ve got older, enjoyed and appreciated a little more.
NRR: When I was talking to John 5, we were talking about when he was at Chicago Open Air with Rob Zombie, and they were on the same night at KISS. He was on Instagram with Rob Zombie and the guys, being total fans over KISS, with them backstage. He said that KISS would have had their heroes, and it goes back. And I think about that a lot. With blues, obviously it goes back to the Delta Blues, but there must be a tip to that triangle somewhere where it all started. I don’t imagine we’ll ever get back to what that was.
Davy: Because blues is like a folk music, it’s ever evolving, it’s ever changing. We think of blues in our lifetimes as being all-encompassing. You’ve got Son House but you’ve also got Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Kenny Wayne Shepherd will have thought of Son House as a hero, of course. But Son House, at the time, when Muddy Waters was recording certainly would have been appreciative but he would not have considered him in the same genre. I mean, maybe Charlie Patton or Robert Johnson. A lot of those older guys – I don’t know what Son House’s stance was, I’m using him as an example – it morphed and changed and evolved so much, that what we would have thought of the field hollers that Alan Lomax recorded, is a world away from Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Because it’s a folk music, it’s constantly changing. Whereas Rock N Roll it’s changing a little bit but you can see very much the influence.
NRR: I bought the Paramount Boxset about the rise and fall, and that’s amazing to hear it right from the beginning, these crackly recordings of gospel and early blues and stuff like that.
Davy: I did the Paramount Blues Festival in Grafton last year and they had the two boxsets and I went to the promoter, because it was just for display, and I just said “What’s it going to take for me to get these two in the van” and she said “Well, let me see”. And about a week later she called, she said “Can you meet in the Portillos car park at Golf Mills.” It was like a shady drug deal! And I came with cash and met her in the car park and got the two boxsets. It was brilliant. They’re fantastic.
NRR: I have the first one. The second one is still pretty pricey so I’ll wait until that comes down a bit.
Davy: You won’t be disappointed.
NRR: So, August – off. When you’re back in April is it just straight back on the road with the band?
Davy: Pretty much, yeah. We’ve got a few gigs at the end of March. Callahan’s in Auburn Hills and a few dates in Colorado. And then it’s pretty much straight from April 5 until 24. 18 shows in that time.
NRR: Nice! That’s heavy on the road.
NRR: Good luck and thanks for taking the time with us.