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Davis, Gary

Date: Wed, 17 Apr 1996 09:23:48 GMT
From: Man of Peace (101514.1767@COMPUSERVE.COM)
Subject: Re: Gary Davis

glynne walley wrote:

>BTW, I know nothing about Gary Davis. Was he really a >Reverend? What's his story?

Rev. Gary Davis (or Blind Gary Davis, as he used to be called on his earlier recordings) was born on Apr 30, 1896 in Laurens, SC, he died on May 5, 1972 in Hammonton, NJ. Either blind at birth or partially blind and losing his eyesight completely during his teens (details about his early life are rather sketchy), he taught himself to play harmonica, banjo, and guitar, performing for parties and picnics in his hometown area before moving to Durham, NC, where he played blues on streetcorners.

In the early 1930s, he turned to religious music and was ordained as a baptist minister in 1933. In the mid-1930s, he teamed up with Blind Boy Fuller in Durham. Both artists traveled to New York City and recorded several sides for the ARC (=American Record Company) label (a subsidiary of Columbia) in 1935. In 1940, Gary Davis made New York City his permanent residence and subsequently made numerous recordings for the Folkways, Stinson, Riverside, and Prestige-Bluesville labels, while also preaching the gospel and playing his songs in the streets of Harlem.

With his ragtime-flavored blues fingerpicking style, Gary Davis influenced a lot of artists, most notably Stefan Grossman, Dave Van Ronk, Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder. He became a well-known figure in folk circles and performed at all the major festivals in the early 1960s. Dylan has covered several of his songs: "Jesus Met The Woman At The Well" (on the 1961 East Orange Tape -- probably learned through Dave Van Ronk), "Death Don't Have No Mercy" (on the May 1961 Minnesota Party Tape), "It's Hard To Be Blind" ((aka "Lord, I Wish I Could See" from Davis' 1935 ARC session -- on the May 1961 Minnesota Party Tape and the Dec 1961 Minnesota "Hotel Tape"), "Candy Man" and "Cocaine" (both from Minnesota "Hotel Tape").

I also see Davis' influence in Dylan's "All Over You" or "Suze" (The Cough Song).

And a few bits of trivia from Robbie Woliver's "Hoot! A 25-Year History of the Greenwich Village Music Scene":

BUFFY ST. MARIE: "I did a tour with Gary Davis, Paul Simon and Ramblin' Jack. We did this tour by car. We were driving like heck through these winding roads. Gary Davis couldn't see the turns, so he'd be flying all over the place. When he finally got out of the car, he kept saying, 'Free ar last. Free at last.'"

HERB GART: "Once, Buffy Ste. Marie was touring with Rev. Gary Davis, and the Reverend was spending the entire tour trying to feel her up. Pretending to fall out of the car -- whatever he could do."

PAULA BALLAN: "For a blind man he could sure find a woman's parts real easy."

DANNY KALB: "I thought Rev. Gary Davis was absolutely the best American overall guitarist. He's a total genius. If he had sight he would have been more than a genius..." (pp. 45-46)

and one further Dylan connection:

WAVY GRAVY: "I was married by Rev. Gary Davis. Dylan was there. Paxton. Van Ronk. And they all sang 'Just A Closer Walk With Thee...'" (p. 134)

Sorry, if this got rather lengthy again.

- Man of Peace

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