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Reverend Gary Davis

In his prime of life, which is to say the late '20s, the Reverend Gary Davis was one of the two most renowned practitioners of the East Coast school of ragtime guitar; 35 years later, despite two decades spent playing on the streets of Harlem in New York, he was still one of the giants in his field, playing before thousands of people at a time, and an inspiration to dozens of modern guitarist/singers including Bob Dylan, Taj Mahal, and Donovan; and Jorma Kaukonen, David Bromberg, and Ry Cooder, who studied with Davis.

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.

Davis' influences included gospel, marches, ragtime, jazz, and minstrel hokum, and he integrated them into a style that was his own. In 1911, when Davis was a still teenager, the family moved to Greenville, SC, and he fell under the influence of such local guitar virtuosi as Willie Walker, Sam Brooks, and Baby Brooks. Davis moved to Durham in the mid-'20s, by which time he was a full-time street musician. He was celebrated not only for the diversity of styles that his playing embraced, but also for his skills with the guitar, which were already virtually unmatched in the blues field.

Davis went into the recording studio for the first time in the '30s with the backing of a local businessman. Davis cut a mixture of blues and spirituals for the American Record Company label, but there was never an equitable agreement about payment for the recordings, and following these sessions, it was 19 years before he entered the studio again. During that period, he went through many changes. Like many other street buskers, Davis always interspersed gospel songs amid his blues and ragtime numbers, to make it harder for the police to interrupt him. He began taking the gospel material more seriously, and in 1937 he became an ordained minister. After that, he usually refused to perform any blues.

Davis moved to New York in the early '40s and began preaching and playing on street corners in Harlem. He recorded again at the end of the 1940s, with a pair of gospel songs, but it wasn't until the mid-'50s that a real following for his work began developing anew. His music, all of it now of a spiritual nature, began showing up on labels such as Stinson, Folkways, and Riverside, where he recorded seven songs in early 1956. Davis was "rediscovered" by the folk revival movement, and after some initial reticence, he agreed to perform as part of the budding folk music revival, appearing at the Newport Folk Festival, where his raspy voiced sung sermons; most notably his transcendent "Samson and Delilah (If I Had My Way)" -- a song most closely associated with Blind Willie Johnson -- and "Twelve Gates to the City," which were highlights of the proceedings for several years. 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.

Davis became one of the most popular players on the folk revival and blues revival scenes, playing before large and enthusiastic audiences; most of the songs that he performed were spirituals, but they weren't that far removed from the blues that he'd recorded in the 1930s, and his guitar technique was intact. Davis' skills as a player, on the jumbo Gibson acoustic models that he favored, were undiminished, and he was a startling figure to hear, picking and strumming complicated rhythms and counter-melodies. Davis became a teacher during this period, and his students included some very prominent white guitar players, including David Bromberg and the Jefferson Airplane's Jorma Kaukonen (who later recorded Davis' "I'll Be Alright" on his acclaimed solo album Quah!).

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. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Complete Recorded Works

2. Cross And Evil Woman Blues

3. I Am The True Vine

4. I Am The Light Of The World

5. O Lord, Search My Heart

6. I Saw The Light

7. You Can Go Home

8. Twelve Gates To The City

9. Have More Faith In Jesus

10. You Got To Go Down

11. I Belong To The Band - Hallelujah

12. The Great Change In Me

13. Lord, I Wish I Could See

14. Lord, Stand By Me

15. The Angel's Message To Me

17. I Cannot Bear My Burden By Myself

18. I'm Gonna Meet You At The Station

x

Track List: If I Had My Way: Early Home Recordings

1. If I Had My Way

2. If The Lord Be For You

3. Twelve Gates To The City

4. You Got To Move

5. We Are The Heavenly Father's Children

6. A Friend Like Lonely Jesus

7. Get Right Church

8. Marine Band

9. Shine On Me

10. There's Destruction On This Land

11. He Stole Away

12. The Uncloudy Day

13. Say No To The Devil

14. I Belong To The Band

15. Give Me A Heart To Love

16. He Never Has Left Me Alone

17. Got On My Traveling Shoes

18. Civil War Parade

x

Track List: Demons And Angels: The Ultimate Collection

Disc 1

1. Buck Dance

2. Soldier's March

6. I Am The Light Of This World

10. Crucifixion

16. I'm Throwin' Up My Hands (Ain't Gonna Work No More)

17. Cross And Evil Woman Blues

18. Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning

20. Virgin Mary

Disc 2

1. I Am The True Vine

2. Lord, Stand By Me

3. Won't You Hush

4. Mean Old World

5. Moon Is Going Down

6. Sportin' Life Blues

7. God's Gonna Separate

8. Soon My Work Will All Be Done

9. Blow Gabriel

10. Get Right Church

11. I Want To Be Saved

12. Oh Glory, How Happy I Am

14. Tired, My Soul Needs Resting

15. Georgia Camp Meeting

16. Bill Bailey

17. Honey Get Your Towel Wet

18. She Wouldn't Say Quit

19. You're Going To Quit Me Baby

Disc 3

2. Twelve Gates To The City

4. Twelve Sticks

5. It's A Long Way To Tipperary

6. When The Train Comes Along

7. Little Boy, Little Boy Who Made Your Britches

8. All Night Long

9. Who Shall Deliver Poor Me

10. Jesus Met The Woman At The Well

11. Lord, Search My Heart

12. Lord, On Your Word

13. Let Us Get Together

14. Cocaine Blues

15. Devil's Dream

16. Blow Gabriel

x

Track List: Live At Newport

1. Samson & Delilah (If I Had My Way) (Live)

2. I Won't Be Back No More (Live)

3. Buck Dance (Live)

4. Twelve Sticks (Live)

5. Death Don't Have No Mercy (Live)

6. You Got To Move (Live)

7. Lovin' Spoonful (Live)

8. She Wouldn't Say Quit (Live)

9. I've Done All My Singing For My Lord (Live)

10. Twelve Gates To The City (Live)

11. I Will Do My Last Singing In This Land Somewhere (Live)

12. Soldiers Drill (Live)

13. Get Along Cindy (Live)

x

Track List: The Complete Early Recordings Of Rev. Gary Davis

1. I Belong To The Band - Hallelujah!

2. The Great Change In Me

3. The Angel's Message To Me

4. I Saw The Light

5. Lord, Stand By Me

6. I Am The Light

7. O Lord, Search My Heart

8. Have More Faith In Jesus

9. You Got To Go Down

10. I Am The True Vine

11. Twelve Gates To The City

12. You Can Go Home

13. I'm Throwin' Up My Hand

14. Cross And Evil Woman Blues

15. I Can't Bear My Burden By Myself

16. Meet Me At The Station

x

Track List: Blues & Ragtime

1. Walkin' Dog Blues

2. Cincinnati Flow Rag

3. She's Funny That Way

4. Whoopin' Blues

5. Twelve Sticks

6. Children Of Zion

7. Buck Rag

8. Hesitation Blues

9. C-Rag

10. Baby, Let Me Lay It On You

11. Cocaine Blues

12. Buck Dance

14. Wall Hollow Blues

16. Whistlin' Blues

x

Track List: Harlem Street Singer

1. Samson And Delilah

2. Let Us Get Together Right Now

3. I Belong To The Band

4. Pure Religion

5. Great Chance Since I Been Born

6. Death Don't Have No Mercy

7. Twelve Gates To The City

8. Goin' To Sit Down On The Banks Of The River

9. Tryin' To Get Home

10. Lo, I Be With You Always

11. I Am The Light Of This World

12. Lord, I Feel Just Like Goin' On

x

Track List: Pure Religion & Bad Company

1. Pure Religion

2. Mountain Jack

3. Right Now

4. Buck Dance

5. Candy Man

6. Devil's Dream

7. Moon Goes Down

8. Cocaine Blues

9. Runnin' To The Judgement

10. Hesitation Blues

11. Bad Company

12. I Didn't Want To Join The Band

13. Evening Sun Goes Down

14. Seven Sisters

15. My Heart Is Fixed

16. Time Is Drawing Near

17. Crucifixion

x

Track List: Live And Kickin'

1. Make Believe Stunt

2. Maple Leaf Rag

3. Coon Chase

4. Samson And Delilah

5. Twelve Gates To The City

6. Mind How You're Livin'

7. You Gotta Move

8. How Much We Can Bear

9. I Will Do My Last Singing In This Land

10. Buck Dance

Comments

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I certainly enjoy Rev Gary Davis. This is my first time as far as I remember.
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Unmentioned in the write-up is a fine up-tempo version of Samson and Delilah by Peter, Paul and Mary, where I first learned of the Rev. Davis. Hearing his rousing rendition makes my feet move and my fingers tap. Great guitar and a great artist! We are very fortunate to have as many of his recordings as we do.
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I was only a child and I love the music from the old days I like knowing the history!! Love it we've come along ways this is music.
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Remembering those 1950-60's Air Force days in Mississippi. Biloxi to be sure.
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Love this!
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Really love Rev. (Blind) Gary Davis!
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Rev. Davis told Roy Bookbinder that he never wrote a song....but they were "revealed" to him on occasions. Love that voice!
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troymaletta3
thats cause he taught it to bobby
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Rev Davis ben around a long time. I still come back to him,now&then .
Report as inappropriate
if i remember correctly, samson and delilah was covered by the grateful dead. as i listened to this version, i remember the dead tune, sounded familiar. great tune.!!
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Check out Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop. He has a treasure trove of The Rev. Gary's recordings, videos, lessons ect.
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Chronic!
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somthin good from NYC
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SWEET !!!
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kgb720
I was listening to gary davis and when 1 cut was done this song started playing- I like it might buy it but dont know who it is or how to get it
No contact to e-mail Pandors
Report as inappropriate
THE REV. & MRS. GARY DAVIS I LIVED WITH IN THE EARLY '70'S. HE AND HIS WORK WERE REMARKABLE. GOD BLESS YOU. THANK YOU FOR THE HISTORY. LOVE, CHER G.

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