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.
Knowles’ 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
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