Davy Knowles has always been a great player, but he continues to find and refine his voice. His Bluesfest appearance is hopefully the start of much more frequent Australian touring. By Peter Hodgson
Davy Knowles is one of those rare guitarists where every damn note they play feels perfect. And while some players might have exceptional control over dynamics and phrasing but not quite have the soulfulness to back it up, Knowles’ playing oozes with emotion and style. Growing up in the Isle of Man, he learned to play guitar from listening to the likes of Gallagher, Clapton, Knopfler, Green and Mayall in his father’s record collection, honing his skills by playing the local music circuit. By 19 he was touring the USA, and before long he found himself a mainstay on the Billboard Blues Chart. His 2016 album, Three Miles From Avalon, saw Davy returning to his blues roots, and he’s about to return to Australia for Bluesfest.
So Bluesfest, eh?
It’s been a while, hasn’t it? We had a brief but exciting time there a few years ago, where we did Perth, Sydney and Melbourne and were back in the States within six days. I’m looking forward to seeing the area around Byron Bay and Brisbane, and getting to see a different part of the country.
What does the blues mean to you?
I think it means a variety of things. Firstly, blues as a genre is incredibly vast and wide. Even if you go from Son House to Muddy Waters, it’s such an incredibly vast genre. For me, it represents interpretation, reinterpretation and elbow room. Obviously there’s an historic part of it that you want to pay tribute to and respect, but there’s a freedom to it - there is a way of paying respect to everything that’s come before you whilst still being able to put your own stamp on it. That’s something I’ve always loved and something I’ve always enjoyed researching. It’s a very emotive form of music, and it doesn’t have to be that regular twelve-bar blues. It can be cheeky!
So let’s talk guitar! I see you’re playing a Tele a lot now.
Yeah! I’ve been playing a 1966 Fender Telecaster for quite a while now. That’s my main guitar. It was refinished and refretted, and the thing that drew me to it was that everything you do as a player to keep a guitar going has been done to it. It’s not a collector’s piece - someone really loved this guitar. I thought, “Maybe it’s a good bit of wood,” so I went and played it and I just fell in love with it. I’ve been playing through a Bludotone amplifier that I absolutely adore. The whole Dumble thing is a bit of a mystery to me; it’s like a microcosm of the whole guitar world. I had a friend who had that amp and I loved it so I bought the same one, and then I got talking to Brandon at Bludotone and I said, “It’s a bit polite. It’s a bit too smooth, and I want something a bit angrier than that.” So we’ve been working on that. It’s a 35-watt combo that’s a bit of a cross between a ‘50s white panel Fender Bassman and the Dumble. You’ve got some of the squish like a Dumble has, but it kind of spits a little bit more like an old Fender.
Are there any other cool guitars you’ve picked up in recent times?
Yes! I just traded in my reissue Melody Maker with some supplemental other things for a 1963 Melody Maker. They’re really great! They’re a bit of a sleeper guitar, if you ask me. They’re really not that expensive to get a late ‘50s or early ‘60s Gibson. The neck is to die for and you can tweak anything else, but they’re just really great guitars. I think Melody Makers are quite underrated.
Are you much of a pedal guy?
I used to go for the big pedal thing. I used to love the idea of having as many flashing lights as possible to make it look like I really know what I’m doing. But I had to face up to the fact that I’m really not that bright, and I don’t really know how to use all of that stuff. I’ve whittled it down to a tuner - at the moment I’m using the BOSS Waza Craft tuner, just because it’s what the shop had, and a Foxrox Octron because I have a couple of songs that need that kind of sound. And then there’s a third spot on my pedalboard for either a Tube Screamer or another overdrive. I don’t know if I always get along with the Tube Screamer. Sometimes it feels like it robs some of your low end when you turn it on. Or I have a Pete Cornish boost pedal. Sometimes when you’re using backline amps, you want something that’s going to give you a little bit more than just a boost - so like a Blues Driver, even. I try to keep it a little bit simple at any rate because I don’t like to tap dance.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention to your Australian fans?
I don’t know if I have anything, but I’m really looking forward to getting back to Australia! I hope this is the start of a far more recurring thing. I’ll be playing things from the new album, and I’m really hoping that this tour is the beginning of a habit of coming out there.