Friday, January 2, 2009

Rev. Gary Davis - Piedmont Gospel Blues Master

Reverend Gary Davis, also Blind Gary Davis, (April 30, 1896 – May 5, 1972) was a blues and gospel singer and guitarist. His unique finger-picking style influenced many other artists and his students in New York City included Stefan Grossman, David Bromberg, Roy Book Binder, Woody Mann, Nick Katzman, Dave Van Ronk, Tom Winslow, and Ernie Hawkins. Born in Laurens, South Carolina, Davis became blind at a very young age. He took to the guitar and assumed a unique multi-voice style produced solely with his thumb and index finger, playing not only ragtime and blues tunes, but also traditional and original tunes in four-part harmony.In the mid-1920s, Davis migrated to Durham, North Carolina, a major center for black culture at the time. There he collaborated with a number of other artists in the Piedmont blues scene including Blind Boy Fuller and Bull City Red. In 1935, J. B. Long, a store manager with a reputation for supporting local artists, introduced Davis, Fuller and Red to the American Record Company. The subsequent recording sessions marked the real beginning of Davis' career. During his time in Durham, Davis converted to Christianity; he would later become ordained as a Baptist minister. Following his conversion and especially his ordination, Davis began to express a preference for inspirational gospel music. In the 1940s, the blues scene in Durham began to decline and Davis migrated to New York City. By the 1960s, he had become known as the "Harlem Street Singer" and also acquired a reputation as the person to see if you wanted to learn to play guitar. As a teacher, Davis was exceptionally patient and thorough, making sure students would learn and adapt his original left-hand fingerings. The folk revival of the 1960s re-invigorated Davis' career, culminating in a performance at the Newport Folk Festival and the recording by Peter, Paul and Mary of "Samson and Delilah", also known as "If I Had My Way", originally a Blind Willie Johnson recording that Davis had popularized.He has influenced the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Wizz Jones, Jorma Kaukonen, Keb Mo, Ollabelle and Resurrection Band.

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