"Come Home" from the album Roll Away
"Heavy on My Mind" from the album Roll Away
When most music fans hear the name "Isle of Man," lyrics from The Who's peculiar '60s hit "Happy Jack" probably pop into their heads. With the rapid rise in stature and buzz happening for a youthful but soul-fired trio of blues-rock players called Back Door Slam, references to the small island in the Irish Sea might bring the band's name to mind instead.
Comprised of Davy Knowles (guitars, vocals, mandolin, lap steel), Ross Doyle (drums), and Adam Jones (bass), Back Door Slam are dedicated to what they call "a mindblowing brand of contemporary/traditional blues-rock." It's an apt description. Their dense, riff-heavy sound is certainly more akin to the psychedelic grooves of Cream and Hendrix's trios (with heavy doses of Bad Company, Deep Purple, Dire Straits, ZZ Top, and the Robert Cray Band) than the Gaelic psalm-singing and church music of their homeland's folk music.
"It's a bit cramped in this van, but we're all well, thanks," Knowles tells City Paper, speaking last week from a cell en route from Houston to Dallas. The band is set to headline a series of shows at Austin's South By Southwest music conference for the second year in a row. It's their sixth trip across the States in 12 months.
"As a whole, the entire band is kind of twice what we were last year," says the young frontman. "Every experience we've had, good or bad, has made everything better. They change the way you play. No experience is a bad experience. For me, singing-wise, I'm much more comfortable now than I was. My technique has become better with experience, I still tend to hide behind the guitar just a bit, though, but the range has expanded."
Knowles assembled this lineup in 2006. He and his bandmates (none of them are over 21) took their name from a song popularized by Robert Cray. Last year, they released two indie EPs and a full concert DVD before touring to the 2007 SXSW.
"We got to meet Pete Townshend," he says of that SXSW experience. "He was really nice and took time to speak with us. He went to school on the Isle of Man for a bit, and I think he's still got relatives there."
Two months later, Back Door Slam performed on the same bill with The Who, as featured guests at the Isle's first annual Peel Bay Festival. Not bad for a rookie threesome.
"We've been fortunate to support a few really amazing artists," Knowles says. "Opening for The Who was an amazing gig, and those guys were really sweet to us. We just supported George Thorogood as well. They're good experiences. We haven't really built any alliances with anyone yet or anything ... when you're the support band, you need to stay out of the way and let the headliner do their thing!"
Roll Away rocks and swings with a maturity and confidence beyond the band's years. Lead-off track "Come Home" — Knowles' "first attempt to write big electric blues" — reveals the band's greatest strengths: a tight rhythm section with fiery electric guitar work and a deep and soulful voice over the top. There's a recognizable Hendrix influence in the guitar sound and riff work of "Heavy on My Mind." B.B. King would probably have loved to jam on their slow-burning "Gotta Leave." They stretch out from vintage to more contemporary pop/alternative rock stylings on "Stay" and "It'll All Come Around." Knowles lays down great slide work on the twangy soul number "Too Good for Me."
The Bridge at 105.5 presents this Friday's Music Farm show at a very affordable ticket price. The band will also perform a free in-store set at Monster Music & Movies (946 Orleans Road, West Ashley) on Sat. March 22 at 1 p.m. They will be autographing copies of Roll Away, which will be on sale for $11.99.
"This is one of those bands that wows everybody that sees them, and they're definitely on the way up," says Monster proprietor Galen Hudson. "You may be really glad you checked them out. Roll Away is really one of the hottest, smoking-est, smoothest rock records I've heard in a while. Those guys have got it. They sound like seasoned professionals as well. They're not like everybody else coming down the pike these days."
Hudson's enthusiasm reflects that of a growing fan base across the country — genuine excitement from hardcore music fans who appreciate something so soulful and authentic from a band so young and unusual.
"One of the best things in the world is seeing more people at some of the big venues and places we've played before," says Knowles. "Having that kind of momentum is such a great thing to see. We never thought we'd be doing this in any kind of way, so what's happened so far is just unbelievable."
"At the moment, we're just concentrating on touring, which is where the band excels the most anyway," Knowles adds. "Recording is very, very new to us. It is a completely different way of playing, you know? We're really a live band in the old-fashioned sense. We want to do this the right way and get longevity out of it by touring and building a fan base. We want to build a following that way, rather than selling out the integrity."