A.j. Crandall

HT Interview: Davy Knowles

I first met Davy Knowles on a rainy night in Portland, Oregon. He and his band, Back Door Slam were about to play to a pretty full room and he was very excited. In the previous couple of days the high school pals from the Isle of Man had been going through the right of passage for an up and coming band, touring the States in a van. They had their first snowball fight, were gifted a magnificent vintage amplifier and were relegated to sitting in the basement green room of the club they played due to the fact that they were all below the legal drinking age of 21. They had recently released their first full length LP, Roll Away and were well received and then some throughout the entire tour.

[Photo by Mike Itchue]

Onstage, BDS tore the roof off the joint, delivering ninety minutes of swaggering, swearing, deep seated blues that belied their youthfulness. Davy Knowles sang and played guitar with a passion and voice that transcended his young age, evoking Stevie, Jimi, Muddy and a slew of blues legends.

Now flash forward to present day. The band is now Davy Knowles & Back Door Slam, the original rhythm section (Ross and Adam) having split to pursue different paths. Knowles’ second album is produced and partially co-written with Peter Frampton. The list of bands that DK&BDS have toured with as opening act are all “A-listers”: Gov’t Mule, Chickenfoot, Jeff Beck to name a few. Davy was asked to jam nightly and learned the art of improvisation by following the likes of Joe Satriani and Warren Haynes.

Knowles was recently asked to join the latest incarnation of the Rhythm Devils for this summer’s tour season. So, add learning the Dead catalogue, the Rhythm Devils material to the education of Davy Knowles. He has been busily learning the new material, flashing off MP3-filled emails to Mickey Hart as frequently as they are critiqued and returned, working the initial rehearsals out via the internet.

I caught up with Davy via the phone as he was packing up to play at Daytona International Speedway as part of the Nascar Sprint Cup Series prior to the Saturday night race…

AJ Crandall: Let’s chat. In the last couple of years since we spoke, you had an album produced and partially co-written with Peter Frampton, you were personally picked to open for Gov’t Mule and got to jam with Warren Haynes every night, you toured with Chickenfoot, you toured with Jeff Beck, all in the last year or so. Now you are going to be playing every night with a chunk of the Grateful Dead, Obviously the music industry has taken notice of Davy Knowles. Are you surprised by all the attention over these last couple of years?

Davy Knowles: Oh my gosh. Funny, but when it’s happening, it doesn’t really strike you like that. Like when the Jeff Beck thing came up or the Chickenfoot thing came up, I felt I should just keep my head down and learn as much as I can and play as much as I can. You know, do my job. But when people say it back to you like that, it kind of makes you stop and think, ‘I’m Just incredibly lucky.’

READ ON for more of AJ’s chat with Davy Knowles…

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Through The Fog: KINK.FM Earth Day Show

KINK.FM Earth Day Concert, April 22 @ Aladdin in Portland, OR

There’s this radio station in Portland, Oregon that has as their catch phrase “True to the music”, and that station is KINK.FM. Our wonderful little secret, music-wise, until the internet made radio accessible to the world. The folks at KINK have always kept true to form, letting the quality of music determine playlists. Well that, and surveys of their listeners. I’ve never listened to this station and heard anything I couldn’t appreciate. They, like their listening faithful, genuinely love music.

KINK.FM has always been active in the community and puts on a yearly Earth Day Benefit show at the Aladdin Theater in Portland. They always include stellar entertainers (In the past John Hiatt, Dr. John and The Neville Brothers have headlined) and almost always sell out. This year was no exception, with One Eskimo opening for Jackie Greene.

The line to enter the venue stretched around the block, with 15 minutes until the doors opened. The crowd was about evenly split for which performer they were more anxious to see. Portland has always had a warm spot in its heart for Greene and he makes the journey up from his bay area home pretty regularly. But One Eskimo had been through town only once before, opening for Tori Amos and there were plenty of folks from that show in line tonight. I have to admit, I was curious to see how their clever self-titled CD would translate onstage.

READ ON for more from AJ on KINK’s Earth Day show…

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Through The Fog: Pretty Lights

Pretty Lights @ Roseland Theatre – April 13, 2010

Back in Sacred Heart grammar school, Mr. Shields was the roving music teacher. With an upright Baldwin piano on wheels, Mr. Shields would twice weekly enter the classroom to instruct us on the finer points of his interpretation of music. “What is music?” he would ask at the beginning of each class. “Music is sound”, we’d answer in unison. “That has what three qualities? he would ask. “Rhythm, melody and harmony” we would echo back. Twice a week. This was the prerequisite quizzing we got before being allowed to explore the delicate intricacies of “Kumbaya” and the choral arrangement of Sounds Of Silence.

I probably have Mr. Shields at least partially to thank for my open mind regarding music. Between the classical and folk introduced to me on that old Baldwin and what there was around my home, I pretty much was open for anything. I’ve been to dozens of symphony concerts, choral masses, open mike nights and one person shows over the years and, with very few exceptions, really appreciated the music. Hip hop, rap, techno, emo, death metal, and quartets of both the string and barber shop varieties, I’ve seen a little of everything.

But as I have aged, I’ve become a tad more selective in spending my entertainment dollars, gravitating more toward the solid rock and singer songwriter acts that fall in my comfort zone. I had my ‘Rave Phase’ back in the mid nineties. We’d hook up with a bunch of friends and head off to a warehouse in the industrial section. We’d take E and dance for hours and drink like fish, stay out till three and have a great time. The DJ’s played house and techno and kept the party going in shifts, never letting the beat drop. Mainstream acceptance of the rave culture was still years away and computer geeks of their day were still figuring out that they could make wonderful music with the assistance of a powerful laptop and a file full of samples.

Fast forward about 17 years. I’m at the Roseland Theater in Portland for Pretty Lights. The guy in front of me in line is expounding to his two friends about how this should be fun, cause DJs aren’t really musicians. They only use other’s music, he was saying, almost like parasites. They can’t write their won stuff, they just distort other’s hard work. This guy won’t shut up. In his dubious opinion, he was about to witness the musical equivalent of summer reruns on shuffle. If I may quote no less a scholar than Bugs Bunny, ‘What an ignoraminous!”

READ ON for more from A.J. on Pretty Lights in PDX…

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Through The Fog: Stockholm Syndrome

I was barely three months old when the Million Dollar Quartet got together for a Tuesday afternoon jam at Sun studios. Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis formed modern music’s first supergroup and Sam Phillips was quick to cash in. Phillips made his living with music and knew something special when he saw it. That would explain his calling the paper and letting them send over a reporter and photographer to capture the moment for posterity.

Someone send a reporter and photographer over to see Stockholm Syndrome, pronto.

Oh, wait. That’s me. Well, let me tell you, whether or not you agree with the supergroup moniker, you should definitely seek out a Stockholm Syndrome show and capture the moment for yourself. Not that that would make my job any easier, it’s just that I see a real benefit to seeing this band live. I didn’t always feel that way. There was a time that I seriously considered NOT going to the Crystal Ballroom for this show. But, now that I’ve experienced S.S. live, I feel a lot better. Maybe I should explain.

I woke up on Monday with a serious toothache where a tooth no longer resided. According to the x-rays, there was a piece of my old wisdom tooth that was left behind 25 years or so ago that decided Monday morning was the time to break free of my jawbone and make my life miserable. Oral surgery was scheduled for the next morning in Scappoose, Oregon, some 40 miles north. I’d have driven to Mexico to relieve this pain, it was that bad. It took the surgeon a total of 11 shots to make/keep me numb along with laughing gas for the duration. I was stitched up, packed with cotton, told to keep taking pills for the pain and generally take it easy. I was home by noon and out like a light an hour after that.

I woke up hungry at about dinner time, but couldn’t eat (or see straight for that matter.) So I took more pills and parked in front of the stereo with a good book. I finished the paperback by eight thirty and considered turning in. My lower jaw was still numb to the touch. I was in sweats and my favorite old Stones tee shirt. I had already forgotten the ending of the book I just finished. There might have even been a bit of dribble on the front of said Stones shirt. I was in no shape to go anywhere.

READ ON to see how things turned out for A.J….

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Through The Fog: Cascade Yulegrass

I’ve lived in Portland for about 30 years now. In that time I have come to believe that the average Portland resident is just a bit different than most other people in the world. There’s a certain something that diverts their brain waves slightly off the course most would consider normal. This is, for the most part, a good thing. At other times, the differences backfire, with curious, befuddled results.


I’m referring to last week’s Northwest run of concerts by the Cascadia Yulegrass Project, in particular, their Portland stop on December 20th. Let me explain. The ticket clearly said “Doors open at 6pm, Show begins at 7pm”. I was in line, out in the rain on NE Russell St. at 6:15.

In line with me were 25 or 30 people, almost all of them expressing derision at standing in the rain while waiting for the venue to open the doors. The foursome in front of me had come from dinner out and was lucky to find an umbrella in the trunk of their car. The girl behind me chatted on the phone to her friend on the way, “Find a parking spot, but don’t rush. I’m still standing in the rain”. There were several families with young children in line also. The kids were antsy and complaining about the rain, splashing the occasional puddle dry in their frustration.

No explanation was given for the lateness as the doors opened a little past seven. The venue was set up in a bit of a different configuration. There were several couches set up directly in front of the stage, separated from the rest of the crowd by a row of low, black curtains. Then there were about a dozen rows of folding chairs behind them. The couches were for VIP ticket holders. They also had their own cash bar, to the right of the stage. From my vantage point at the front row of seats, I could spot dozens of concert goers being turned away at the low curtain, redirected to the general admission bar, upstairs in the balcony.

READ ON for more of A.J.’s thoughts on Cascade Yulegrass…

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Through The Fog: KISS in Portland

You got to hand it to KISS. They have been living the rock and roll life to an almost cartoonish degree for 35 years. They are in the middle of a tour that encompasses most of North America as well as most of the fourth quarter of 2009. They recently released their umpty-dozenth cd, Sonic Boom.


The marketing typhoon that sells KISS, the product, has been out in force, selling everything from the $1,200 Live 35 box set, featuring every minute of every concert on the current tour, to $1,000 meet and greet premium packages to KISS g-strings, panties and key chains. Is everything in between included, you ask? Damn Skippy, partner.

I have to admit that when tickets first went on sale, I had dismissed the idea of seeing KISS 2.0; Gene Simmons on bass and Paul Stanley on guitar are the only original members with sporadic members Eric Singer on drums and Tommy Thayer on lead guitar. I last saw KISS when I was in college and, as was the custom of the time, had become quite inebriated by the time the curtain went up. READ ON for more from AJ on catching KISS…

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Through The Fog: The Mother Hips

Last Friday was a long time coming. The week seemed to drag on to the point where I spent a great deal of Thursday staring at the clock, doing my best to force time to speed up by the sheer force of my will and failing miserably. There had been deadlines and long work days since Monday morning and it drained me to the core. I needed Friday badly. You see, on Friday, the Mother Hips were coming to town. By Wednesday I was jonesing pretty bad. Friday was a long time coming for certain.


I got to the venue early and grabbed a table by the wall to wait for the right moment to give up my seat. The Doug Fir Lounge in Portland is a very intimate theater with a low rise stage that faces a roughly 30’ by 40’ dance floor. Behind the dance floor is a set of stairs leading to the bar area and merch table on one side, with the sound booth in the middle and a ramp to the bar on the other side. There are a few tables on either wall to the side, but sitting down affords one only a good look at the back of most of the audience. The best place to be at the Doug Fir is on the stairs, leaning back against the front of the sound booth. One or two steps up, with something to lean on behind me to rest my aching back and an unobstructed view of the stage, I try to grab this spot whenever I’m here.

I needed to sit till the last moment to rest up for the show. Triple bill, with Matthew Lindley & Troubadour Deluxe first and Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit in the middle slot. I grabbed the spot on the stair just ahead of a couple who were content to be against the booth, but one step down.

READ ON for the rest of AJ’s review of the Mother Hips…

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Through The Fog: Loggins/Messina

Being the live music junkie that I am, I have been subjected to some surprises over the years. Some were more than welcomed surprises, like this one time back in ’77 or ’78. I had to meet some guy named Boris (don’t ask) at a bar in Manhattan called Traxx. There was a trio playing on a small stage, killer rockabilly. Skinny, no shirts, a guitar bigger than the player. Upright bass and standup drummer playing a pretty austere kit. The Stray Cats were playing that night. Lucky Break.


Another time I won tickets to see The Tubes from a local radio station. The show was in a small club in downtown Portland. About halfway through the first song I noticed that it was not Fee Waybill behind the oversized shades, but a Waybill-wanna-be. Bad surprise. Glad I didn’t spend money for those seats.

There was another time the surprise just made me a tad less than comfortable. Sitting in the third row for the Mark Farner Band I was all set for a night of Grand Funk Classics, of which there were plenty. But, after opening with a few early ’70s gems, Farner said he wanted to show us where he had been for the last few years. What followed was about an hour of Christian church songs with a boogie beat, I mean Onward Christian Soldier kind of stuff. Well played, good music and all, plus I got my Grand Funk fix before the night was through, but just not how I expected it. I suppose the Mark Farner Ministries t-shirts I saw in the front row should have been a dead giveaway.

Those surprises came years ago, before the internet really, which dates them back far enough. Nowadays with the sweep of a mouse you can find out everything you want about a touring act in a matter of minutes. When I heard that Loggins & Messina were coming to town I did a little research before shelling out the ducats. I found a lot of raves about their 2005 Sittin’ In Again tour, but very little about their current outing. Just like with movies sometimes, no previews may be a bad sign.

READ ON for more from AJ on Loggins and Messina…

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Through The Fog: The Wife Sees Bob Dylan

It’s been a while since we’ve heard from HT’s Portland, OR-based contributor A.J. Crandall for his unique, first-person accounts of seeing shows from an eclectic mix of artists in his hometown. A.J. caught a recent Bob Dylan show and has filed this report for his Through The Fog series of reviews…

As some of you may know, my wife does not exactly share my enthusiasm for live music. Where I am more than happy to slog through four and five day festivals as happily as I get in early and get up front for a rock show at any of a dozen wonderful and unique venues nearby, the wife; not so much. When we first met, I made no secret that live music was a passion of mine. Among our first dates were several shows. America and The Doobie Brothers were at a park in Beaverton. We saw several shows at the Roseland, including Joe Cocker, Little Feat and a KINK.FM Christmas show featuring Melissa Etheridge, Sarah McLaughlin and Barenaked Ladies. She ranks seeing Ian Anderson in the intimate Newmark Theater as one of the best concerts she’s ever attended.


But, God love her, she just doesn’t like it much any more. Maybe I overloaded her. I looked back at my ticket stub collection. I took her to 11 different shows in the first 14 months, including Farm Aid outside Seattle. Maybe that was a little much. A couple of years ago, she flatly stated that she was attending what could be her last rock show (Ringo Starr & His All Starr Band). Her decision was a timely one, as the recession was about to hit and I had to cut my concert budget in half. One ticket instead of two? Problem solved.

I did insist that she have right of first refusal for any show I planned on attending. Weekdays were generally a given negative. She works hard and there are times that she is fast asleep by the time I leave for a show. Same thing for new or trendy bands. She knows what she likes and it’s classic rock with a slight west coast slant. If she’s going to budget out a block of time for a concert, it should be someone she already likes. Fair enough.

READ ON for A.J.’s thoughts on seeing Bob Dylan with his wife…

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Interview: Matisyahu’s Light Shines Bright

Since landing in the national spotlight in 2005 with the surprise pop/rock crossover reggae hit King Without A Crown, Matisyahu has been lauded as both a one hit wonder and the savior of reggae music in the same breath. He lost the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Recording to a member of the Marley clan in 2006, instead walking away with Billboard Magazine’s similarly named award. Esquire Magazine touted him as “The most intriguing reggae artist in the world” when they bestowed upon him a 2006 Esky Award for Most Lovable Oddball. Can a brother get a little respect?


Turns out, the simple answer is a resounding yes! With the release of his third studio album, Light, this past week, Matisyahu (born Matthew Paul Miller some thirty years ago) turns yet another corner in his artistic evolution. From the dancehall electronica of Smash Lies to the guitar driven rock of Darkness Into Light, popular music’s only Orthodox Jew is shedding the stereotypes brought on by what he is most passionate about; his faith and his music.

Let’s start with his faith. Matisyahu (Hebrew) is an Hasidic Jew, practicing the ancient, more orthodox lifestyle including observing the Sabbath and not conducting any business after sundown on Fridays. When at home in Brooklyn, N.Y. he walks three times a day to temple to pray. He and his wife are raising their two children to follow the rites and rituals of Hasidim, pardon the obvious, religiously.

READ ON for A.J.’s chat with Matisyahu…

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