The Underappreciated

If you’re a blues-rock fan, or a fan of guitar playing in general, there are some things that go without saying. You have your Hendrix and Clapton, your SRV, your Joe Bonamassa, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Warren Haynes. All the usual names that make it into every in-depth conversation about people’s favorite classic and contemporary blues based guitarists along with the rest of the staples of the genre. But for every high profile, well known guitar hero, there are ten musicians who haven’t gotten the exposure or the widespread credit that their talent deserves. Here are a few of my personal favorites that often slip through the cracks for various reasons.

Philip Sayce
I first discovered Philip Sayce while he was serving as the second guitarist for departed blues-rock statesman Jeff Healey. I ran across a video in which Healey sat back during a live show and let Sayce step out front to blow people’s minds with his guitar pyrotechnics. He was later recruited as a studio and touring ace by Uncle Kracker and Melissa Etheridge, and began releasing music as a solo artist.
His playing has the key components and the obvious influence of all the greats in the genre (SRV, Hendrix, Healey of course), and he brings his own flashy retro-psychedelic vibe to the table as well. He’s definitely worth a listen for those who enjoy some good guitar wailing. Here’s one from his newest release:

Doyle Bramhall II
One of my very favorite musicians of all time. Where do I start? Legend has it that Doyle grew up with Stevie Ray Vaughan stopping by the house, as his Dad was a friend and writing partner of SRV. His first guitar was originally owned by blues legend Lightnin’ Hopkins. He plays left-handed and upside down, just because he didn’t know any better. He joined The Fabulous Thunderbirds as a youngster, co-founded the Arc Angels with fellow prodigy Charlie Sexton and SRV’s backing band Double Trouble. He’s spent time filling David Gilmour’s shoes for Roger Waters, backing up Clapton live and in the studio, and serving as a hired gun for a number of other well-known artists.
He’s accomplished a lot, including leaving me eagerly waiting to hear new music. After the Arc Angels, he put out two musically diverse solo albums in the 90’s and then the classic-rock and blues-infused masterpiece ‘Welcome’ in the early 2000’s (definitely on the list of my most-listened albums ever). On a related note, Doyle is also featured in the music business documentary “Before The Music Dies”. It’s hard to find, but it’s a great observation on the rise of manufactured pop stars in the music industry and the difficulty it creates for more authentic artists like Doyle.
As I’m typing this, I also have my earbuds in deciding which song to share. Holy sweet baby Jesus, every time I listen to this song it’s like I’m listening to it for the first time. You want to know why I’m so crazy about music? What is it about music that makes me feel alive? It’s at 5:41 in this song.

Audley Freed
Audley released two albums with his band Cry of Love in the 90’s, and then went on to join the Black Crowes for a few years. Like the previous subjects on this list, he has also proven to be an in-demand session and touring guitarist (his credits include; Gov’t Mule, Jakob Dylan, The Dixie Chicks, Gavin Degraw, Peter Frampton, and many more). He’s had a few other musical projects that I’m just discovering now and oh yeah, I almost forgot. Holy crap he can play. Much like Mr. Bramhall, he’s got a really cool style that still shines through no matter who he’s playing with. For my fellow guitar players out there, he’s also solely responsible for me being obsessed with getting a Uni-Vibe pedal during a certain period in life. Here’s why:

Davy Knowles
Davy is a bit of a black sheep on this list. Not because he’s remotely any less of a guitar player than the others, but because he’s still under 30 years old and is just now establishing his presence in the world of blues and rock music.
Davy was obviously a budding blues-rock star when his band “Back Door Slam” released the album Roll Away in 2007, and I became a fan immediately (if not sooner) when I heard the first notes of the first song. After splitting with his original bandmates, he’s been carrying on as Davy Knowles and Back Door Slam. In 2009 he released the album “Coming Up For Air”, which provides a snapshot of how Davy is maturing and progressing as a singer, songwriter, and musician in general. There’s a reason that Joe Satriani called him one of his favorite modern blues players, but also a reason that Peter Frampton signed on to produce his last album, and it’s because his appeal is just as broad as his talent. As the old saying goes, “sometimes the notes you don’t play are just as important as the notes you play”. Eric Clapton is the best example of players who embody this mantra for me, and Davy Knowles has managed to place himself on my short list of favorites.
Davy has a new album in the works, and I’m looking forward to hearing it. Here’s a Johnny Cash cover of his that I just discovered, followed by a more acoustic oriented song from his first album that always makes me think of home:

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