Born April 30, 1896 in Laurens County, SC
Died May 5, 1972 in Hammenton, NJ
"More than two decades after his death, the influence of Reverend
Gary Davis can still be felt.
As each new generation is introduced to blues
, and other forms of traditional American music
Davis' signature guitar stylings
and heartfelt vocals
continue to move
, entertain, and educate."
- Paul Andersen
Reverend Gary Davis palyed a major influence on music in two ways: As a finger-style guitarist he developed a swinging approach to picking that has influenced generations of players, including Jerry Garcia
, Ry Cooder
(who studied with Davis), Bob Weir
(who also studied with Davis), Dave Van Ronk
(yet another student of Davis), Jorma Kaukonen
, Taj Mahal
and Stefan Grossman
; And as a composer of religious and secular music he created a substantial body of work that has been recorded by, among others, Bob Dylan
, Jackson Browne
, Peter Paul & Mary
and the Grateful Dead
, not to mention Davis's own releases.
Davis was partially blind at birth, and lost what little sight he had before he was an adult. He was self-taught on the guitar, beginning at age six, and by the time he was in his 20s he had one of the most advanced guitar techniques of anyone in blues -- his only peers among ragtime-based players were Blind Arthur Blake
, Blind Lemon Jefferson
, and Blind Willie Johnson
. Davis himself was a major influence on Blind Boy Fuller
"The first time I ever heard a guitar, I thought it was a brass band coming through. I was a small kid and I asked my mother what it was and she said that was a guitar."
In 1933 he was ordained as minister of the Free Baptist Connection Church
in Washington, North Carolina
. For years he toured as a singing gospel preacher
and also sang on the streets, mostly in Durham
. During this period he crossed paths and eventually recorded with Blind Boy Fuller
and other "Piedmont style
" musicians, including Brownie McGhee
and Sonny Terry
By 1940 Reverend Davis had found his way to New York City
, where he was ordained minister of Missionary Baptist Connection Church
. Here his recording career began in earnest, first for Asch
and Folkways Records
(now available on Smithsonian/Folkways
), and later for Prestige
(now available on Fantasy
While the Reverend was not above responding to this more secular audience (for whom temporal songs like "Cocaine
" and "Baby Let Me Follow You Down
" were as exciting as gospel compositions like "Samson and Delilah
" and "Death Don't Have No Mercy
"), he always considered his work to be essentially religious in nature.
In this way he became an important mentor to the folk music revival
, and eventually performed at many festivals, including the Newport Folk Festival
He also recorded a live album for the Vanguard label at one such concert, as well as appearing on several Newport live anthology collections. He was also the subject of two television documentaries, one in 1967 and one in 1970.
In 1974, Davis described his teaching style for Blues Guitar
: "Your forefinger and your thumb -- that's the striking hand, and your left hand is your leading hand. Your left hand tells your right hand what strings to touch, what changes to make. That's the greatest help! You see, one hand can't do without the other."
The Reverend Gary Davis left behind a fairly large body of modern (i.e. post-World War II
) recordings, well into the 1960s, taking the revival of his career in his stride as a way of carrying the message of the gospel to a new generation. He even recorded anew some of his blues and ragtime standards in the studio, for the benefit of his students.
On May 5, 1972, he suffered a heart attack while on the way to a performance in Newtonville, New Jersey. He died at William Kessler Memorial Hospital and is buried in Rockville Cemetery in Lynbrook, New York.
info for this node taken and edited from the Rev. Gary Davis homepage: www.revgarydavis.com