When Davy Knowles turned 18, his parents gifted him a suitcase.
It was more than just a practical present. Knowles grew up on the Isle of Man, an island that’s just 28 miles long and 12 miles wide in between Ireland and England. Knowles’ parents wanted him to experience life outside of the island’s insular community.
“My parents were very much like, ‘There’s a big world out there, you’ve got to go see it,’ ” Knowles says.
And boy, did he ever. Knowles, a blues guitarist, started touring with the band Back Door Slam not long after that birthday, and he has barely taken a break since.
Knowles, now 32, will bring his show to Long’s Park on Sunday as part of the Summer Music Series. He’s no stranger to Lancaster, having past performed at Lancaster Roots & Blues and the Chameleon Club.
“We always have a really good time there,” Knowles says.
Knowles’ love of music was shepherded by his father, an avid music fan who introduced him to Chuck Berry by the time he was 8. At 11, Knowles’ father played him “Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straits.
“There was something about that song, the way that guitar sounded, how fast the guitar was at the end,” Knowles says. “Something just really grabbed me with that song. So, it was really from then on I wanted to play.”
That bond united the father and son until Knowles’ father’s death in 2015.
“I think all of these things have to have a host,” Knowles says. “It’s not some kind of magic that someone can do on their own. I think it’s a very social thing. I think it has to have someone to introduce different things to you, and he was certainly that person for me.”
Because his parents had encouraged him to go explore the world at a young age, Knowles says they were thrilled when he had a chance to visit America with Back Door Slam. One of his first stops was to a quintessential diner.
“The first thing I did I think was take a picture of the sandwich that I ordered,” Knowles says. “I couldn’t believe that the sandwich was so big that they had to have a cocktail stick to keep the top piece of bread on. I was used to little triangles, you know, with the crust cut off.”
But what excited him even more than that giant sandwich was seeing the country from where so much of his favorite music came. He likes to think he and his Back Door Slam bandmates brought a bit of England with them to the States.
“We applied the exact same way that we were playing in pubs on the Isle of Man and in England, we applied that to playing in America,” Knowles says. “I think that was a lot of fun. I think that kind of put us in good stead, really.”
Back Door Slam nearly came to a halt in 2004, when rhythm guitarist Brian Garvey was killed in a car accident. Knowles and the band’s other two members continued on as a trio until 2009, when Knowles transitioned to working as a solo artist.
Earlier this year, Knowles hit the road with Band of Friends, the former backing band for the late Rory Gallagher. Knowles idolized the Irish guitarist, and he said playing with the musicians who backed up Gallagher was a kick in the pants to step up his own game. He says the experience renewed his work ethic.
“I think it’s easy for anyone once they’ve been doing something for a while to get complacent to a degree, you know? I won’t say go through the motions, but you start doing one thing and it’s very difficult to break a habit,” Knowles says. “So it’s important to kind of step out of that.”
Knowles says his time with the Band of Friends has influenced the new music he’s writing. He says the new songs, which he’s been testing in his live set, have more of a raucous energy than his past releases — a quality he attributes to Gallagher.
Knowles likes playing a song live before taking it into the studio. Things have been so far, so good with the new batch of tunes.
“No one’s thrown anything at us yet, which is a good sign,” Knowles says.