Reverend Gary Davis

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For those of a similar name, see Gary Davies (disambiguation).
Reverend Gary Davis
The Reverend.gif
Background information
Birth name Gary Davis
Also known as Blind Gary Davis
Born (1896-04-30)April 30, 1896
Laurens, South Carolina, United States
Died May 5, 1972(1972-05-05) (aged 76)
Hammonton, New Jersey, United States
Genres Gospel blues. Piedmont blues, country blues, folk-blues
Instruments Guitar, vocals
Years active 1930s–1970s

Reverend Gary Davis, also Blind Gary Davis, (April 30, 1896 – May 5, 1972) was a blind African American blues and gospel singer and guitarist, who was also proficient on the banjo guitar and harmonica. His finger-picking guitar style influenced many other artists and his students include Stefan Grossman, David Bromberg, Roy Book Binder, Larry Johnson, Nick Katzman, Dave Van Ronk, Rory Block, Ernie Hawkins, Larry Campbell, Bob Weir, Woody Mann, and Tom Winslow.[1]

He has influenced Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead, Wizz Jones, Jorma Kaukonen, Keb' Mo', Ollabelle, Resurrection Band, and John Sebastian of The Lovin' Spoonful.


Gary Davis was born in the Piedmont region of the country, in Laurens, South Carolina, and was the only one of eight children his mother bore who survived to adulthood. He became blind as an infant. Davis reported that his father was killed in Birmingham, Alabama, when Davis was ten, and Davis later said that he had been told that his father had been shot by the Birmingham High Sheriff. He recalled being poorly treated by his mother and that before his death his father had given him into the care of his paternal grandmother.[2]

He took to the guitar and assumed a unique multi-voice style produced solely with his thumb and index finger, playing not only gospel, ragtime, and blues tunes, but also traditional and original tunes in four-part harmony.

Bull City Blues, Durham, North Carolina

In the mid-1920s, Davis migrated to Durham, North Carolina, a major center for black culture at the time. There he taught Blind Boy Fuller and collaborated with a number of other artists in the Piedmont blues scene, including Bull City Red.[1] 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 and are available in his Complete Early Recordings. During his time in Durham, Davis converted to Christianity; in 1937, he would be ordained as a Baptist minister.[1][3] 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.[1] In 1951, several years before his "rediscovery", Davis's oral history was recorded by Elizabeth Lyttleton Harold (the wife of Alan Lomax) who transcribed their conversations into a 300+-page typescript.

The folk revival of the 1960s re-invigorated Davis' career and included a performance at the Newport Folk Festival and having Peter, Paul and Mary record his version of "Samson and Delilah", also known as "If I Had My Way", which is originally a Blind Willie Johnson song that Davis had popularized. "Samson and Delilah" was also covered and credited to Davis on the Grateful Dead's "Terrapin Station" album. Eric Von Schmidt credits Rev. Davis with three-quarters of Schmidt's Baby, Let Me Follow You Down which Bob Dylan covered on his debut album for Columbia.[4] Blues Hall of Fame singer and harmonica player Darrell Mansfield has also recorded several of Rev. Davis' songs.

Davis died in May 1972, from a heart attack in Hammonton, New Jersey.[5] He is buried in plot 68 of Rockville Cemetery in Lynbrook, Long Island, New York.


Many of his records were published posthumously.

Year Title Label Number Notes
1954 Blind Gary Davis – The Singing Reverend Stinson SLP 56 first LP, recorded April 1954 with Sonny Terry, red vinyl
1956 American Street Songs Riverside RP 12–611 Side A Pink Anderson: Carolina Street Ballads, side B Rev. Gary Davis: Harlem Street Spirituals, recorded January 29, 1956. Also released as Gospel, Blues and Street Songs on Riverside RLP 12-148 (1961), Original Blues Classics OBC 524 and OBCCD 524-2
1960 Harlem Street Singer Prestige 1015 recorded August 24, 1960, also Bluesville BVLP 1015, Original Blues Classics 547, Fontana 688-303-ZL (UK 1965). Renamed Pure Religion! and reissued as Prestige Folklore 14028 and Prestige 7805 (1972). Remastered and reissued as OBCCD-547-2 (1992). Reissued on Fantasy 24704.
1961 A Little More Faith Prestige 1032 recorded August 10, 1961 in Memphis(?). Also Bluesville 1032, XTRA 5042 (UK 1967), OBCCD-588-2. Reissued on Fantasy 24704.
1961 Say No to the Devil Bluesville 1049 also XTRA 5014 (UK 1966) and OBCCD 519-2.
1962? Pure Religion and Bad Company 77 (UK) LA 12/14 recorded June 1957 in NYC, also Folklyric 125, reissued as Smithsonian Folkways SFW 40035 (1991) with 2 additional cuts.
1964? Pure Religion! Prestige Folklore 14028 also Prestige 7805 (1972), reissue of Harlem Street Singer.
1964 The Guitar and Banjo of Reverend Gary Davis Prestige Folklore 14033 recorded March 2, 1964, NYC, all instrumentals, also Fantasy OBCCD 592-2. Retitled as The Blues Guitar And Banjo of Reverend Gary Davis on Prestige 7725.
1964 Rev. Gary Davis/Short Stuff Macon Xtra (UK) 1009
196? The Legendary Reverend Gary Davis, New Blues and Gospel Biograph 12030E also Blue Moon BMLP 1.040 (c.1987)
1968 Rev. Gary Davis at Newport Vanguard 73008 recorded 1965
1968 Bring Your Money, Honey Fontana (UK) SFJL 914 recorded Cambridge, MA
1970 Reverend Gary Davis 1935–1949 Yazoo L-1023 Also Yazoo CD 2011 (1994) as The Complete Early Recordings of Rev. Gary Davis and Document DOCD 5060 (UK 2003) with 2 extra tracks.
1971 Ragtime Guitar Transatlantic (UK) TRA 244 recorded 1960–1971, also Kicking Mule 106 (1974), Sonet SNKF 133 (1977) and Heritage HT 309 (UK 1985).
1971 Children of Zion Transatlantic (UK) TRA 249 recorded 1962, Swarthmore College, PA, also Kicking Mule 101 (1974), Sonet SNKF 152 (1978), Heritage HT 308 (UK 1985) and on Shanachie 97024, Blues & Ragtime (1993)
1971 The Legendary Reverend Gary Davis, Blues and Gospel, Vol 2 Biograph 12034E recorded March 17, 1971
1972 When I Die I'll Live Again Fantasy 24704 reissue of Prestige/Bluesville 1015 and 1032
1973 Lo I Be with You Always Sonet (Sweden) SNKD 1 also Kicking Mule cassette tape (no number, 1984), reissued on Shanachie 97024, Blues & Ragtime (1993)
1973 O, Glory – The Apostolic Studio Sessions Adelphi 1008 final studio album recorded March 1969, reissued as Genes GCD 9908 (1996) with additional tracks.
1973 At The Sign of the Sun Heritage (UK) ?? 1962, San Diego, CA. Also HT CD 03 (UK 1990).
1974 Let Us Get Together Sonet (Sweden) SNKF 103 also Kicking Mule cassette tape (no number, 1984)
1976 Sun is Going Down Folkways FS 3542 recorded 1966
1984 I Am A True Vine Kicking Mule no number cassette tape
1984 Babylon Is Falling Kicking Mule no number cassette tape
1985 I Am A True Vine Heritage (UK) HT 307 recorded 1962–63, NYC, also HT CD07 (UK 1991)
? Reverend Gary Davis Heritage (UK) CD 02 reissue of Children of Zion and Ragtime Guitar
1988 Blind Gary Davis Document (Austria) DLP 521 recorded live in spring 1976 at Al Matthes in Toronto
1988 Blind Gary Davis 1962–1964, Recorded Live Wolf (Austria) 120,915
1988 Blind Gary Davis at Allegheny College, Meadville, PA., 1964-Afternoon Workshop Document (Austria) DLP 527
1993 Rev. Gary Davis: Blues and Ragtime Shanachie 97042
2002 The Sun of Our Life: Solos, Songs, A Sermon 1955–1957 World Arbiter 2005 previously unissued session tapes and sermon from mid 1950s
2003 If I Had My Way: Early Home Recordings Folkways SFW40123 recorded in 1953 by John Cohen
2007 Lifting the Veil: The First Bluesmen (1926–1956), Rev. Gary Davis and Peers World Arbiter 2008 unissued session tapes from 1956–57, recorded by Fred Gerlach & Tiny Robinson.[citation needed] Liner notes quote a 1951 interview with Davis.
2007 Reverend Gary Davis Live: Manchester Free Trade Hall 1964 Document (Austria) DOCD-32-20-14 recorded May 8, 1964, Manchester, England
2009 Live at Gerde's Folk City, February 1962 Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop SGGW 114/5/6 3-CD set
2010 Reverend Gary Davis Field Recorders Collective FRC116 recorded in 1952 in NYC by John Cohen


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues – From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books Limited. p. 105. ISBN 1-85868-255-X. 
  2. ^ ""Rev Gary Davis"". "Arbiter Records". 
  3. ^ Smith, Chris (2003) [Signed 1991]. Meet You at the Station: The Vintage Recordings (1935–1949) (Media notes). Reverend Gary Davis. United Kingdom: Document Records. OCLC 489027245. Retrieved 2013-02-11. 
  4. ^ "CAS – Central Authentication Service". Retrieved 2014-05-29. 
  5. ^ Doc Rock. "The 1970s". The Dead Rock Stars Club. Retrieved 2014-05-29. 
  6. ^ "Riverside Records Discography Project". Retrieved November 28, 2010. 
  7. ^ "Prestige Records Discography Project". Retrieved November 28, 2010. 
  8. ^ Wirz, Stefan (December 2, 2010). "Prestige/Bluesville Discography". American Music. Retrieved December 4, 2010. 
  9. ^ Wirz, Stefan (August 16, 2010). "77 Records Discography". American Music. Retrieved November 28, 2010. 
  10. ^ Wirz, Stefan (August 2, 2010). "Kicking Mule". American Music. Retrieved November 28, 2010. 
  11. ^ Davis, Gary; Tillig, Robert (2010). Oh, What a Beautiful City: A Tribute to Reverend Gary Davis. Pacific, Missouri: Mel Bay Publications. pp. 151–152. ISBN 978-0-7866-8258-4. Retrieved November 28, 2010. 
  12. ^ Henderson, Alex (2003). "Reverend Gary Davis". In Vladimir Bogdanov. All Music Guide to the Blues: The Definitive Guide to the Blues (3rd ed.). Milwaukee: Hal Leonard Corporation. pp. 142–143. ISBN 0-87930-736-6. Retrieved November 28, 2010. 
  13. ^ Coltman, Bob (2008). Paul Clayton and the Folksong Revival. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. p. 241. ISBN 0-8108-6132-1. Retrieved November 28, 2010. 
  14. ^ "The Field Recorders' Collective". Retrieved January 28, 2011. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Mann, Woody. The Art of Acoustic Blues Guitar: Ragtime and Gospel, Oak Publications, 2003.
  • Reevy, Tony and Caroline Weaver. "Street Sessions, piedmont style [sic]". Our State. July 2002.
  • Stambler, Irwin and Lyndon. Folk and Blues, The Encyclopedia, New York, St. Martin's Press, 2001.
  • Tilling, Robert. Oh, What a Beautiful City! A Tribute To Rev. Gary Davis. Paul Mill Press, 1992, ISBN 9780786682584.
  • von Schmidt, Eric Remembering Reverend Gary Davis Sing Out! 51(4)67–73 2008.
  • Zack, Ian. Say No to the Devil: The Life and Musical Genius of Rev. Gary Davis. University of Chicago Press, 2015, ISBN 9780226234106.
  • Laurence, Trevor. Director, "Harlem Street Singer", feature documentary film on the life and times of Reverend Gary Davis. Acoustic Traditions 2015

External links[edit]