Little Sammy Davis
|Little Sammy Davis|
Little Sammy Davis, 2008
|Birth name||Sammy Davis|
|Also known as||Little Sam Davis, Harmonica Sammy Davis|
November 28, 1928 |
Winona, Mississippi, United States
|Genres||Blues, blues rock|
|Instruments||Vocals, harmonica, guitar|
|Years active||1940s – present|
|Labels||Delmark Records, Trix Records, Rockin' Records, Fat Fritz Records, Mr. Fritz Records|
|Associated acts||Muddy Waters, Earl Hooker, Albert King, Levon Helm Band, Midnight Slim|
Little Sammy Davis (born November 28, 1928) is an American blues musician based in New York's Hudson Valley. Although his musical career began in the 1940s, he was not widely known until the mid-1990s when he began working in radio, singing, playing live on tour, and recording studio albums.
Early life and career
Born in Winona, Mississippi and raised in a one-room shack, Davis learned to play the harmonica at the age of eight. He eventually left home and settled in Florida, where he continued to play the blues in the Miami area while working in orange groves and saw mills to make ends meet.
Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Davis traveled with medicine shows and played with blues musicians like Pinetop Perkins, and Ike Turner. He spent a total of nine years on the road with Earl Hooker, including with the short-lived band of Hooker, Ike Turner, Pinetop Perkins and Albert King, ending when the two titans of blues guitar came to blows, thus breaking up the band. Sammy and Earl recorded four sides for Henry Stone's Rockin' label in 1952 and 1953 (as Little Sam Davis).
In the late 1950s, Davis lived in Chicago, Illinois, performing with Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed and occasionally fronting Little Walter's band, The Aces when Walter did not show. At some point, word had let out that "some guy looks and plays" just like Walter and people THINK he IS Little Walter". One night as Sammy performed on stage accompanied by Hooker, he spotted a policeman at the back of the club. Walter and the officer waited for Sammy to get through with his set and when Sammy got off of the stage, he was arrested on the spot. To quote Sammy:"Walter was a good guy and told me that yes, you do indeed sound just like me but you can't be going around letting people think you ARE me". Sammy was locked up, spent a night in jail before Walter dropped the charges, leaving Davis and Walter friends for the rest of Walter's all too short and tragic life.
He later married and settled in Poughkeepsie, New York, where he was "discovered" by local musician Dan DelSanto of The Arm Bros. Dan had been looking around locally for blues players for his friend, local folklorist Pete Lowry - during which time he recorded a session for Lowry's Trix Records at Sam's apartment in 1971 that resulted in one "45" single ("Someday Blues"/"Sam's Swing") being released. Sam also played harp on some of the recordings for Trix by Eddie Kirkland in 1972 at a studio in Mink Hollow, NY. After the sudden death of his wife in 1972/73, Davis basically stopped playing and dropped out of the music scene for the next two decades in spite of efforts by Little Eliot Lloyd, Lowry, a.o. to keep him playing. Eventually, no one knew if Sammy was alive or dead, or even where he was... some said back to Mississippi, maybe Florida. He had disappeared.
In 1990, local DJ Doug Price was getting a haircut at a barber shop in Poughkeepsie, NY when he heard rumors that Davis was sitting in at a Blues Jam at the "Side Track Inn". Price made mention of Davis's story and played some of his old recordings on WVKR. Then one night, Brad Scribner was hired to play drums at the Jam when Sammy got up to play and was amazed at what he saw and heard. Brad immediately came home to tell his brother Fred who had been supplying Blues Instrumentals for the Legendary Radio Shock Jock Don Imus and had been actively looking for a singer to progress from background instrumentals to being a featured guest on Imus' radio show, "Imus in the Morning". Fred Scribner arranged to bring [Little Sammy Davis and Midnight Slim into Tom Veneble's Recording Studio in Walden, NY to record a fresh batch of Material including the classic Howlin' Wolf/Mississippi Sheik's song, "Sitting on Top of the World". Imus interviewed Sammy and Fred via telephone, live and they were an instant hit. Subsequently Imus invited Davis and Scribner to perform regularly on his show, live in the Studio at WFAN Radio in NYC. The New York Daily News proclaimed the very next day:" Little Sammy Davis and Fred Scribner score on the Imus Show". Sammy and Fred started to appear regularly, soon earning the title of "House Band" for the Imus in the Morning Show for years to come. Imus, in his trademark style, later quipped that Davis had "more harmonicas than teeth" and that Fred looked like a manager of an Ace Hardware Store.
Capitalizing on this Imus fame, Little Sammy Davis and Midnight Slim (Fred Scribner) toured, playing the best blues clubs, colleges, and blues festivals on the East Coast and venturing out to the West Coast on occasion as radio and television stations (MSNBC) around the United States joined on. In 1996 Davis released his first full-length album, I Ain't Lyin, with Fred Scribner producing, playing guitar and co-writing songs, Brad Scribner on drums, the late Brad Lee Sexton on bass, and Tom Hunter on piano for Delmark Records. The record was nominated for a W. C. Handy Award and earned Davis a "comeback artist of the year award" from Living Blues magazine. Davis and Scribner released a second album, Ten Years and Forty Days on their own label, Fat Fritz Records. As house band for the Imus Show, they were called in each fall for an annual Radio/Telethon for the "Tomorrows Children's Fund" benefiting children stricken with cancer. As the years went by, other charitable organizations came on board such as the S.I.D.S Foundation and finally, the Imus Ranch for Children (with terminal illnesses) ending their run when the World Trade Center was destroyed on 9/11,which shadowed over the "Winter Atrium" in the World Financial Center where these Radio/Telethons were held sharing the infamous "garage" where the deadly bomb exploded, allowing the band to escape the scene with only minutes to spare.
Around this time, a former guitar Sstudent of Scribner's, John Rocklin, brought Sammy up to see legendary drummer/vocalist Levon Helm. Levon, who had played with Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller) seemed to fall in love with Sammy immediately. Davis began performing with Levon for performances at Helm's home in Woodstock and on tour with Levon Helm and the Barn Burners. In 2006 Sammy convinced Levon that his guitarist, Fred Scribne, would be the right choice on guitar. Fred joined on and the name of the band became the Levon Helm Band, and Levon started having concerts at his home in Woodstock, NY leading to the release of : Midnight Ramble Volume 1.
In 2002 Arlen Tarlofsky produced and directed a documentary entitled, "Little Sammy Davis". The movie is a musical documentary that looks into the life and music of Sammy Davis. The documentary was the Jury Selection at the London Film Festival and the Woodstock International Film Festival, and it won the Audience Recognition Award at The AFI/SILVERDOCS Discovery Channel Documentary Film Festival.
In October 2008, after recording his third album, Travelin' Man' with Scribner, Davis suffered a stroke. He recovered, and was able to resume performing the following Spring. Since Sammy was no longer permitted to travel on the road anymore, Levon offered Sammy and Fred the opening slot every Saturday at the "Midnight Ramble", but Sammy suffered a second Stroke within a year and has since been left partially paralyzed and currently residing in a nursing Home/rehab unit in Middletown,NY .
- Dahl, Bill (2003). All Music Guide to the Blues. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 145. ISBN 0-87930-736-6.
- "Little Sammy Davis". Myspace Music.
- Danchin, Sebastian (2001). Earl Hooker, Blues Master. University Press of Mississippi. p. 52. ISBN 1-57806-307-8.
- Israel, Steve (April 11, 2007). Imus loved it and they went along for the ride. studio cutssdll/article?AID=/20070411/ENTERTAIN/704110351/-1/NEWS "Helm stands by 'I-man'". Times Herald Record.
- "I Ain't Lyin'". All Media Guide. October 3, 1995.
- Hermes, Will (December 18, 2005). "Home is Where the Fans Are". The New York Times.
- Scheck, Frank (March 10, 2008). "Levon Helm presents music for Big Apple". Reuters.
- Israel, Steve (April 12, 2009). "Music legend relies on power of prayer". Times Herald Record.