By Kelly Baughman
A talented musician with a drive to be unique and a calling to give back to others, Mel Knapp is not only the kind of musician that will keep you entertained, he’s the kind of guy you want to know. With his boyish good looks, southern drawl, and incredible musical skills, Knapp seems to make a name for himself everywhere he goes.
Hailing from Demopolis, Alabama, Knapp grew up in a musical family with both of parents being a part of the band The Wranglers, but said he didn’t become interested in playing music until his teen years. “My parents always wanted me to learn, but I never picked up a guitar until I was around 13. I learned a few chords and taught myself to play a few songs, and ended up playing them for a girl I met while on vacation here at the beach,” Knapp said.
Though Knapp said he initially learned to play to impress girls due to being so shy, that soon backfired as he became more interested in the music than the girls. Music was soon all he found himself having time for.
“By the time I was 16, I had saved up enough cash to buy myself some equipment so I could start recording myself,” Knapp said. It was that equipment that allowed Knapp to explore his talent, learn various instruments, and find himself as an artist.
Knapp said that while he loves all kinds of music, he doesn’t claim anyone as a particular influence as he knew he always wanted to create his own style and sound. “I tried hard not to listen to one artist too much, which has actually ended up hurting me a little bit. Even to this day, I can be at a gig and someone will ask if I know a certain song, and I generally don’t,” Knapp laughed.
With his drive to keep his music authentic and true to himself, Knapp said he’s never been one to promote himself or sell his music. “I’ve truly just done this for me and the love of music. But I have to admit that now that I’m getting older, I am coming to a place where I’d like to get my stuff recorded so that one day when my fingers don’t work anymore and my voice is gone it will still be a part of me,” he said.
With an audio engineering degree from Audio Recording Technical Institute in Orlando and the ability to play various instruments, Knapp said he gets called on by other musicians for help both on stage and in the studio.
After college, Knapp said he joined a few friends in Tuscaloosa to form the band Turkish Delight, which became popular all over the state, ultimately leading to a tour with Southeast Attractions. “We toured all over the southeast, but ultimately my bandmates were in law school and wanted a different career path. I knew I wanted to be a musician, so we parted ways,” Knapp said.
Shortly after while on vacation in Gulf Shores, Knapp met fellow musician and Foxy Iguanas front man, Smokey Otis. In a last minute pinch for a bass player, Knapp pitched himself to Otis for the gig. “He told me to come back tomorrow and play one song with him on stage. He said if it sucks, you’re out. If it’s good, I’ll pay you for the night. I guess it must have been good, because the next thing I knew, I was a part of the band,” Knapp recalled.
While Knapp has continued to be a staple in the music scene along the Gulf Coast, he has made a name for himself in the Virgin Islands as well over the last two years. “John McInnis from the Flora-Bama sent me to St. John as one of the musicians on the annual employee trip. Since then, it’s been one of my favorite places. After the hurricane hit last year, I went along with John, Kenny Chesney, and community organizer Erin Lieb many times to help in the relief efforts,” Knapp explained.
Knapp said that thanks to Kenny Chesney and John McInnis’s Love for Love City Foundation, he has been able to bring relief in partnership with the Red Cross and the director of St. John School of Arts, Dennison Blackett. “These kids had lost all of their instruments. That really tugged at my heart strings. All of us musicians have instruments we don’t even play laying around. We decided to get together and donate our instruments, and when Kenny got wind of it, he came in and provided them with all brand new equipment.”
Knapp said he will be traveling back on his own accord in March to continue in the relief efforts, and will be a part of the Virgin Island Jam Fest. With his numerous trips to St. John, Knapp has not only made a name for himself musically, but has made a place for himself there personally. “That place has had a piece of my heart since the first time I went there. I breathe easier when I’m there. I smile more. It’s hard to explain. I just feel something,” he said.
With all of his musical talent mixed with his giving spirit, Knapp proves that he’s one of a kind on and off the stage.