Jesse Ed Davis

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Jesse Edwin Davis
Birth name Jesse Edwin Davis III
Born (1944-09-21)21 September 1944
Norman, Oklahoma, United States
Died 22 June 1988(1988-06-22) (aged 43)
Venice, Los Angeles, California
Genres Rock, blues
Occupation(s) Session musician, sideman
Instruments Electric guitar, slide guitar
Years active 1950s–1980s
Labels Atco
Associated acts Taj Mahal, Gene Clark, John Lennon, Leonard Cohen, George Harrison, Jackson Browne, John Lee Hooker
Notable instruments
Fender Telecaster, Gibson SG, mandolin

Jesse Edwin Davis (September 21, 1944 – June 22, 1988) was a Native American guitarist. He was well regarded as a session artist.[1] His death in 1988 was attributed to a drug overdose.[2]


Davis was born in Norman, Oklahoma. His father, Jesse Ed Davis II, was Comanche, and his mother's side was Kiowa. His father was an accomplished artist known for his "true Indian" painting style; his works were exhibited in the capitol in Oklahoma City.

Davis graduated from Northeast High School in 1962. He began his musical career in the late 1950s in Oklahoma City and surrounding cities with John Ware (later a drummer for Emmylou Harris), John Selk (later a bass player for Donovan), Jerry Fisher (later a vocalist with Blood, Sweat & Tears), Mike Boyle, Chris Frederickson, drummer Bill Maxwell (later with Andrae Crouch and Koinonia) and others.

Davis attended the University of Oklahoma but by the mid-1960s had quit school and went touring with Conway Twitty.

Davis eventually moved to California. For eight years, he lived in Marina del Rey, with his companion, Patti Daley, and her son, Billy. Through his friendship with Levon Helm, he became friends with Leon Russell, who introduced him to session work. Davis joined Taj Mahal and played guitar and piano on Mahal's first three albums. He played slide, lead and rhythm, country and even jazz during his three-year stint with Mahal, making an appearance with the band as a musical guest in The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus.

After Mahal's 1969 album Giant Step, Davis turned to session work for David Cassidy, Albert King, Willie Nelson and others. In 1970 he played on and produced Roger Tillison's only album for Atco Records, a division of Atlantic. Davis and Tillison − both Oklahoman − were joined at the Record Plant by Bobby Bruce (fiddle), Larry Knechtel (organ and harmonica), Stan Szelest (piano); Billy Rich (bass); Jim Keltner (drums) and Sandy Konikoff (percussion); Don Preston and Joey Cooper were vocal accompanists. Roger Tillison's Album was recorded live. This album was finally released on CD by Wounded Bird Records in 2008, with Davis playing electric guitar, bottleneck (slide) guitar and banjo. The Woody Guthrie song "Old Cracked Looking Glass" has become a standard for Oklahoma bands.

Davis recorded his first solo album when Atco Records signed a contract with him to record two albums with the label. The result of that engagement was the album Jesse Davis (1971), which featured backing vocals by Gram Parsons and performances by Leon Russell and Eric Clapton, among others. After guesting with Russell on Bob Dylan's single "Watching the River Flow", Davis went on to work with George Harrison, performing at the ex-Beatle's Concert for Bangla Desh extravaganza at Madison Square Garden, along with Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, Russell, Keltner, Clapton and others.

Two more Davis solo albums followed: Ululu (1972), which included the original release of Harrison's "Sue Me, Sue You Blues", and Keep Me Comin (1973), occasionally listed as Keep On Coming. Around this time, Davis began playing with John Lennon, for whom he played lead guitar on the albums Walls and Bridges (1974) and Rock 'n' Roll (1975). In addition to his work with Lennon, Davis was a guest performer on other albums by former Beatles: Harrison's Extra Texture (1975) and Starr's Goodnight Vienna (1974) and Ringo's Rotogravure (1976).

Davis was close friends with Gene Clark. He played on and produced Clark's second solo album, White Light, in 1971 and provided lead guitar on Clark's album No Other in 1974. He also played on Leonard Cohen's Death of a Ladies' Man (1977), produced by Phil Spector.

Davis continued to work as a session player for the rest of the decade. He also performed with the Faces as second guitarist throughout their final US tour, in the late summer and fall of 1975. In addition to the artists listed above, Davis contributed to albums by Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, Keith Moon, Jackson Browne (he played the solo on "Doctor My Eyes", from Browne's 1972 debut), Steve Miller, Guthrie Thomas, Harry Nilsson, Ry Cooder, Neil Diamond, Rick Danko, Van Dyke Parks and others.

In and out of clinics, Davis disappeared from the music industry for a time, spending much of the 1980s dealing with alcohol and drug addiction. Throughout the 10 years he was with Patti Daley, they never married. In the following years he married twice. While married to his second wife, he formed and played in the Graffiti Band, which coupled his music with the poetry of the Native American activist John Trudell. In the spring of 1987, the Graffiti Band performed with Taj Mahal at the Palomino Club in North Hollywood, California. At this show, George Harrison, Bob Dylan and John Fogerty got up from the audience to join Davis and Mahal in an unrehearsed set which included Fogerty's "Proud Mary" and Dylan's "Watching the River Flow", as well as classics such as "Blue Suede Shoes", "Peggy Sue", "Honey Don't", "Matchbox" and "Gone, Gone, Gone".


Davis collapsed and was pronounced dead in Venice, California, on June 22, 1988. Police stated his death appeared to be the result of a drug overdose.[3] He was 43 years old.

In 2002, he was posthumously inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame.


(See also Taj Mahal Discography)

As leader[edit]

  • Jesse Davis (Atco, 1971)
  • Ululu (Atco, 1972)
  • Keep Me Comin or Keep On Coming (CBS, 1973)

As sideman[edit]


  1. ^ Simmonds, Jeremy. The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars: Heroin, Handguns, and Ham Sandwiches. p. 235.
  2. ^ Ask the Globe. Boston Globe, October 21, 1988.
  3. ^ "Drug Overdose Blamed In Death of Guitarist". The Oklahoman. July 25, 1988. Archived from the original on March 6, 2017. Retrieved March 6, 2017.