By Taylor Barrett & Max Wellman
Joe Knapp, a Bozeman singer-songwriter, frequently entertains the many breweries, bars, restaurants, and venues in the surrounding valley, always accompanied by a plethora of original songs. From Pine Creek Lodge in Paradise Valley to Bozeman Hot Springs, Knapp is a staple of the local music scene––playing solo shows in the greater Bozeman area and appearing in several bands.
But Joe’s status as a sought after performer and musician in the Bozeman area didn’t come without work. Joe learned to play piano at the age of eight, taught by a Ragtime piano player, J. Althea. He quickly picked up the keys and soon became enthralled with music, performing and composing. After learning to play piano, Joe began playing his first concerts when he was in grade school, but it wasn’t until he turned sixteen that Joe found his passion for guitar. Joe purchased his first electric guitar, a replica Stratocaster from Bizarre Guitars, while he was visiting his uncle in Reno, Nevada.
Growing up in Juneau, Alaska, Joe was always fond of the outdoors. Along with growing up in Alaska, Knapp also studied in Hawaii and Montana during a teaching exchange, inspired by his mother who was a literature teacher and his father who was a history teacher. Knapp became fascinated with all of these states––finding passion in the beaches of Hawaii and the mountains of Montana that ring with faint echoes of Alaska.
At 14, Knapp’s family moved to Bozeman, and he’s pretty much been here ever since. Joe said that he enjoys the simplicity of life in Montana––the fact that people aren’t as money or ego driven, that we have plenty of clean air, and possibly the most important: the “ridiculous” amount of talented musicians in the area.
After transitioning to life in Bozeman, Joe committed himself to playing guitar, and his hobby morphed into an obsession. Originally inspired by artists such as Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, and Bob Dylan, Knapp’s interest in electric guitar was heightened by Guns n Roses, and even more so by one of the most influential bands of the twentieth century: Nirvana. Nirvana was hugely influential in Joe’s conception of what music is, and what it could be. He told us that he realized Nirvana was “more so art, than just music,” making him challenge his perception of music and dive head first into what would eventually become his career. After listening to Nirvana, Joe told us that “all [he] ever wanted to do was play music.”
As he continued to explore what music meant to him, Knapp became interested in artists such as Miles Davis, The Grateful Dead, and Jimi Hendrix (after taking a break from the “louder stuff,” he told us). He was also largely influenced by local musicians, including Adam Platt, Ben Spangler, Paul Rose, Chris Donahue (aka “Donnie Evil”), Nels Cline, and Kelly Roberti. But Joe’s passion isn’t completely derived from the riffs of old, he also draws influence from the landscape of Montana, his home in Alaska, and one of his favorite places to visit: Hawaii.
Knapp told us that “the amount of great and inspirational people” is a large reason to stick around Bozeman, but every once in a while, he still needs to escape and see more of the world. Joe has done extensive road tripping around the United States, traveled to New Zealand and Australia, and he toured Europe after graduating high school. For Joe, traveling and music are inseparable––bringing his guitar with him whenever possible as a way to absorb and reproduce the natural beauty and the myriad cultures the world has to offer.
And Joe has held true to the outlook acquired from his musical heroes and the places he calls home, from performing all over the state, teaching guitar lessons, and working for Music Villa, Knapp continues to devote his life to the pursuit of music and everything adjacent.
Joe performs as Slomojoe, a solo act, duo, and trio act, and as Slomojoe and the Knowshows, depending on the atmosphere and venue, letting him cater to the crowd’s mood (or his). Joe is also a member of The Salamanders, The Dead Yellers, Kelly Nicholson Band, Dead Sky (Grateful Dead Tribute Band), and The Freakout Live Band. You can find Knapp playing everything from original songs to roots music to blues and country blues to psychedelic rock. In other words, Joe is a musician of many hats (and subsequently many guitars).
Joe also collaborates with a lot of local artists, such as Peter King, Chelsea Hunt, John Sanders, and Dan Ruggles. Knapp also mentioned several local artists that he admires, including Craig Hall, Rick Winking, Bill Dwyer, Dan Bearsford, Mike Gillan, the Rasmussen Family, John Usher, Jake Fleming, and the Kirchner Family––showing just how embedded Joe is in the local music culture of Bozeman.
While Joe’s primary passion is performing music, his talents also manifest themselves into teaching others the tricks of the trade, hoping to help others realize there’s more to music than just notes in the air––music can also be a lifestyle or just a way to escape the tedium of everyday life. Whatever the reason is, Joe is just happy to see someone pick up a guitar.
Yes, Joe is a musician, a very talented musician in fact. And yes, he plays in a lot of local bands and has his hand in a lot of local projects. But for Joe, all of the work he does in Bozeman doesn’t end on the stage, it just starts there. Every time you see Joe perform, you’re seeing a little piece of himself, his experiences, and his community. For Joe, music is about sharing his philosophies with others, and one of his philosophies is that music can make Bozeman, and the world, a little more pleasant (at least on the ears).
Check out some of Knapp’s original songs below (filmed by our very own Taylor Barrett, alongside Colter Olmstead) or find him around town playing in, well, a lot of bands.
Photos by Taylor Barrett and Steve Winslow