The Isle of Man - the sparsely populated "crown dependency" between Great Britain and Ireland - has given the world those adorable tailless Manx cats and the Bee Gees, who were born there before moving to Manchester and then Australia. Now you can add blues-rock power trio Back Door Slam to that list. Heavily indebted to Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, the group, which formed in 2001, has been on the road constantly since releasing debut album Roll Away early last year, including stops at Austin City Limits (both last year and this weekend), Lollapalooza, Bonnarroo and the opening slot on this summer's Kid Rock/Lynyrd Skynyrd tour. Rocks Off caught up with BDS singer/guitarist Davy Knowles - no relation to Beyonce or Solange - in his adopted home of Los Angeles, where the band was (finally) hashing out songs for the follow-up to Roll Away.
Rocks Off: You guys must have been on the road forever. I saw you at Austin City Limits last year, and I know you’ve been through Houston a couple of times since then. Are you pretty tired of touring at the moment?
Davy Knowles: We like being on the road, but we’ve been on the road since March 2007 now, so it’s wearing us all a little thin.
"Roll Away," live on Jimmy Kimmel Live
RO: Do you remember what it’s like to not be on the road?
DK: No [laughs]. Not really in any kind of way. We’re looking forward to having a bit of a break to do this next album and be still for a little while.
RO: Where are you guys based when you’re not on tour?
DK: I’m based out of Los Angeles, but the band as a whole is still out of the Isle of Man where we grew up.
RO: Tell me a little bit about how you guys got started.
DK: We all went to high school together. Originally there was a different bass player and rhythm guitar player. Sadly, the rhythm guitar player passed away, and the original bass player went off to university, and that’s when Adam [Jones] came in. I’d been in a couple of bands with him before. He came in about two years ago.
RO: I don’t know much about the Isle of Man, but it’s pretty rural, right? Was there a lot to do there?
DK: It’s a tiny little island, about 30 miles by 12, all farmland. There’s no real built-up areas apart from maybe the capital [Douglas] There was not a lot to do, but it’s still a great place to grow up.
The Isle of Man flag
RO: What kind of music would you guys listen to down there?
DK: There’s a lot of Celtic music, the folk music of the Isle of Man I suppose, but I grew up listening to blues. That’s what was playing in my house, from my dad and my sister.
RO: Blues like Clapton-type blues or earlier American stuff?
DK: My dad always played like John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers and Fleetwood Mac – Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac – but my sister would play the older stuff. She’s more of a purist. She’d play Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, so I heard all that stuff pretty early on.
RO: Is that how you learned to play music – playing along to those old blues records?
DK: Yeah, absolutely. I first got into it through Dire Straits though, really. That was definitely a really good education.
RO: What was it you liked about all those records?
DK: When I first started getting serious, it was the guitar solo at the end of “Sultans of Swing.” That was the thing that really got me. With blues, it was a little bit rougher around the edges, and I really liked that kind of rawer element.
RO: There really isn’t a lot of blues in new rock these days. Would you agree?
DK: I guess so. [But] I think there’s some cool people keeping the flame alive a little bit. John Mayer has done so much for blues. Even though he’s a pop artist, he’s really done that. And then Joe Bonnamassa did too. He’s an exceptional guitar player, carrying the torch in a big way – moreso than we are.
RO: Do you have any songs by other people you like to play when you’re warming up in the studio?
DK: “Almost Cut My Hair” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young is a really cool song. Occasionally when we’re jamming out we’ll do “Cissy Strut” by the Meters.
BDS ripping through CSNY's "Almost Cut My Hair"
RO: What are your plans for this new record?
DK: It’s leaning a little bit more towards songwriting as opposed to just relying on guitar playing and stuff. Even though there’s going to be plenty of guitar playing on it, it’s definitely going to be a big progression in songwriting. There’ll probably be a little bit more texture to it and more depth, just because we’re better musicians now.
DK: We actually haven’t gigged that much in Britain. We came straight out of the Isle of Man right over here when we got the record deal. The record company is American, and they said this is where the music comes from, this is where we ought to be touring. But compared to the Isle of Man, audiences here are a lot more lively, which is great.
RO: Tell me what a show on the Isle of Man is like.
DK: They’re pubs, it’s noisy, you’re not convinced everyone’s listening all the time. Which is fine, but the audiences over here tend to be loud in all the right places and quiet in all the right places.
RO: Since you started touring, what have been some of your most memorable gigs?
DK: Supporting The Who was really great. That was back on the Isle of Man.
RO: Did you get to talk to them?
DK: Yeah, we got to have a few minutes. They’re really nice people. Really nice people. Playing Buddy Guy’s club in Chicago, that was a really big thing for me.
BDS enter Jimi Hendrix's "Red House," live at SXSW
RO: How was the Kid Rock tour?
DK: It was wonderful. Very, very different. I’m not entirely convinced about the whole stadium thing – I kind of like the smaller, sweatier clubs. But it was really good. It was hard work for us to win over a crowd that was into a different kind of music.
RO: How did you guys do?
DK: I think we definitely got our name out there a little bit more than we would have on our own. It was worth it.
RO: What do you take on the road?
DK: I couldn’t live without my iPod. I’ve got one of those iPod touch things, and it’s my lifeline.
"Ain't No City," live at the Isle of Man's Gaiety Theater
RO: What’s on there right now?
DK: I’m listening to an awful lot of Ben Harper. Simon & Garfunkel – I’m really, really into Simon & Garfunkel at the moment. Bonnie Raitt. Susan Tedeschi – we saw her at the Telluride Blues Festival and she was absolutely incredible. I’ve been listening to her album Just Won’t Burn.
RO: Do you listen to much Texas blues, like T-Bone Walker and Lightnin’ Hopkins?
DK: Oh yeah. The obvious one is Stevie Ray Vaughan, but I really do like [them] too. Freddie King as well. I absolutely love Freddie King. - Chris Gray
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