The Mountainside Inn nestles right up to the steep slopes of Telluride Mountain. It’s hard to find a building that isn’t close to the green and rocky slopes that cradle the town, but that’s just Telluride. This weekend would be Back Door Slam’s first time to the area, but only a small stop on a tour that has lasted for over 200 shows and had them supporting the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Rusted Root just to name a few.
Davy Knowles (guitar, vocals) spent the day checking out the town with tour manager Todd Bradley, and once back in the hotel room, Adam Jones (bass) and Ross Doyle (drums) joined in on agreeing that this was a place like no other that they had been to. The trio from Isle of Man was set to open the festival that night, but until their 7pm load in, it was time to relax, adjust to the altitude, and answer some questions.
CoS: You mentioned an indie Influence for your drumming. What are some of the other influences and how does that affect the music?
Knowles: Clapton, Hendrix. A lot of stuff from the U.K. in the 60’s and 70’s. Also the early stuff from here.
Jones: I think we all bring something to the band, but the blues is the main one. I think all those influences are what make us Back Door Slam.
CoS: Most of your songs carry the classic blues themes, who or what was that source of inspiration to write some of these songs?
Knowles: I guess it’s the same as the musical side of it; you are influenced by who you listen to as well. When you talk about a deep blues theme, I guess that comes off because I have been listening to a lot of really straight blues with the same kind of themes coming through. Other songs are more based on situations that have happened, songs like “Stay”, “Too Good For Me.” Songs like that are inspired by moments or situations that you are in, or maybe it’s a catch phrase some one would say and you pick up on it.
CoS: One song that really stuck out to me was “Gotta Leave.” Is there a story behind that?
Knowles: Not really. I am a big Albert King fan and that was my attempt to write a minor blues song but with a few changes, and that is really how it came about. But I really like that song. It’s a song that will stay around a while for us in the set.
CoS: Lyrically though, the themes are classic but still so personal. It all seems so broken hearted in a way.
Knowles: Yeah. It is an aggressive, sad blues song in a way, and yet is optimistic at the same time. It’s really what came out. I’ll have a riff or a chord sequence and sing babble over it until it makes sense You find a theme for it that way, and that is how I have done it.
CoS: On your first EP, you sing, “I am the back door slam.” What does that phrase mean, and where did it come from?
Knowles: The whole “back door slam” thing is like you are running out the back door as the woman’s husband is walking in the front door. It’s an old blues theme though. Blind Boy Blake did a version, “Back Door Slam Blues”, I think back in 1928. The song we do is a Robert Cray song and is just a feel good, cool song to play.
CoS: You mentioned the 1920’s, any one else from that era that you guys have been listening too?
Knowles: Yeah, loads of people. Blind Willy Johnson, people like that really, Blind Boy Fuller. I really like that old delta stuff, then when it started moving into country blues like Mississippi John Hurt a little bit later. The great thing about the blues is that it’s so versatile. It is difficult to pigeonhole the stuff because it is so wide, it’s huge.
CoS: You guys have been on tour for some time now in support of your records. How is being here different then the other festivals?
Doyle: I really don’t know what to expect with this one especially with the altitude (all laugh), but this should be a great festival, we have heard a lot of great things about it.
Knowles: I spent the afternoon just walking around. It’s beautiful, just amazing. The mountains and the river down here, it’s all just really, really stunning. We have one mountain on the Isle of Man and it’s about ten foot.
Jones: Just shy of a thousand…it’s just freezing up there.
Knowles: Great town, and a lot of our influences playing here like John Hiatt. I am a huge John Hiatt fan and will see him tomorrow.
Jones: Warren [Haynes] and Gov’t Mule. We are supporting Gov’t Mule on our next tour.
Knowles: Susan Tedeschi…she’s fantastic (all gave a nod of approval). Canned Heat as well.
CoS: Are you guys sticking around the whole weekend?
Doyle: Tomorrow we are off to play a show in Steam Boat Springs.
CoS: So you guys are doing a whole Colorado spin?
Knowles: Just for a few days, after that we are off to Los Angeles to do some rehearsing of new songs to add to our set list.
CoS: How was the tour with Lynyrd Skynyrd and Kid Rock?
Doyle: It was great! It was a lot of fun playing the big arenas. It wasn’t really full because we only played a half an hour set, but it was a great experience.
CoS: Did you get to meet and hang out with any of those guys?
Knowles: Yeah, we had the chance to hang out with those guys, they were really good to us. Kid Rock is actually a ridiculously nice guy.
CoS: You mentioned new material a little earlier, what are the plans with that?
Knowles: Nothing as of yet. I think we are all pretty eager to get back in the studio. Really though, all the stuff on Roll Away was tested live for a long time before we ever put it down. We feel much more comfortable testing this stuff out in front of an audience and seeing their reactions to it. It is also the way we play and the improvisational nature of the music that has us coming up with new parts by playing it over and over. So we will start rehearsing new songs and working them into the set, which will also be a nice change for us. It is difficult promoting an album for so long as proud of it as we are.
CoS: How long have you guys been touring together? How long have some of these songs been played live?
Doyle: Some of them about three years like “Too Late”
Knowles: Three or four years.
CoS: Getting tired of playing any of them?
Jones: It’s hard to find new ways to play them once you have been playing them for so long, but you always have the energy of the audience so you never get tired of playing them
Doyle: It’s nice to hear yourself get better at playing these songs since you play them so much and you can do other stuff on them that you couldn’t do before.
Knowles: That’s the nice part about playing the blues. You can do that, you don’t have to play to a backing track, which is good.
CoS: So where do you guys want to record next when you get to that point?
Knowles: It would be really nice to do it out here, but the business side may not like it too much.
CoS: From a business prospective, what is the difference between recording here versus back home?
Doyle: You are taxed for every song here, a kind of withholding tax.
Knowles: You have more choices here where as on the Isle of Man you only have one or two. We spend a lot of time here so it just feels more comfortable.
CoS: What were the first shows you guys went to when you were young and “inspirable”?
Jones: Wishbone Ash I think. My dad supported them so it was my first live show.
Knowles: My first show was seeing Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the backing band for Paul Simon’s Graceland album. They played the grounds of a castle on the Isle of Man, and my parents took me when I was about eight or nine. That was really amazing for me.
Doyle: My first one I think was Mark Knopfler with Davy when I was 19. It was my first show and was fantastic.
CoS: You [Jones] mentioned your dad supported a few bands, what was his career like?
Jones: He played around on different albums. He’s kind of the local blues man, a very, very good bassist. There are a lot of good bands that do the local pup circuit on the Isle of Man.
CoS: Was he the one who inspired you to pick up the bass?
Jones: Yeah definitely. He’s played bass since before I can remember so that has been a huge part of my playing.
CoS: Can you guys play each others instruments?
Jones: I can play both their instruments better then they can (referring to his band mates sarcastically). No, but I can play drums and base.
Doyle: I can play drums. That’s really it.
Knowles: I can get by on base and mandolin as well. I also play a bit of lap steel. I once worked out a Jackson Brown song on piano.
CoS: Where did you pick up playing the mandolin and steel?
Knowles: I wanted to play lap steel because of Dave Gilmore and I just love the sound of it. I wanted to play mandolin because I saw Rory Gallagher play which then led me into the whole country music thing with people like Bill Monroe.
CoS: On a different note, how has the English influence on the blues rub off the on how the U.S. now listen and records it given that the blues was started here in American?
Knowles: It seems that you guys had it from day one and then kind of lost it, like you took it for granted. People like John Mayol and Alexis Korner and early Stones just really loved the old blues records and so they brought it over to the U.K. When it got really big in the U.K., and then got really big in the U.S., people around here starting thinking “well crap, we had all this stuff on our door step”
CoS: We have been talking a lot of old bands and musicians, so who are some of the new bands you guys are getting into?
All: John Mayer, the Trio especially, have a fantastic live album. Arctic Monkeys, Kooks, Ben Harper, A lot of indie bands since they are on the radio a lot back home. Oh and Oasis.
The list of newer bands trailed off from there as we talked about some of our favorites that have come out this year. The conversation went on to topics like Bonnaroo and Wakarusa, all the while their tour manager made everyone tea. They had a big couple of days ahead of them, not to mention a tour that would take them into October before their first break. It’s hard to play a festival full of legends and not be personally star struck. Knowles and the band spoke of being huge fans of Friday’s headliner. “I would love to meet John Hiatt,” Knowles confessed. “Although, I don’t know what I’d say”.
“Maybe… you’re a genius,” Jones chimed in. The guys from Man would later go on to bring down the Fly Me To The Moon later that night for an hour and half set that included covers and originals, as well as some of that new material they talked about. That same new material would also make it onto the main stage where even more patrons would be magnetically drawn in to see what their ears were trying to tell them.
Ears can be deceiving however, and starting off with this much talent only means that the road is endless for this trio. For now, they will be on tour with Gov’t Mule, including a Halloween show. While they would love to eventually find success at home, they will have to stick with the only number one they got from a northern territory in Croatia, not to mention all the fans here in the U.S. that continue to show up night after night.
“Come Home” (video)