Reverend Gary Davis
Reverend Gary Davis
|Birth name||Gary D. Davis|
|Also known as||Blind Gary Davis|
|Born||April 30, 1896|
Laurens, South Carolina, United States
|Died||May 5, 1972 (aged 76)|
Hammonton, New Jersey, United States
|Genres||Gospel blues. Piedmont blues, country blues, folk blues|
|Instrument(s)||Guitar, Banjo, vocals|
Reverend Gary Davis, also Blind Gary Davis (born Gary D. Davis, April 30, 1896 – May 5, 1972), was a blues and gospel singer who was also proficient on the banjo, guitar and harmonica. Born in Laurens, South Carolina and blind since infancy, Davis first performed professionally in the Piedmont blues scene of Durham, North Carolina in the 1930s, before converting to Christianity and becoming a minister. After relocating to New York in the 1940s, Davis experienced a career rebirth as part of the American folk music revival that peaked during the 1960s. Davis' most notable recordings include "Samson and Delilah" and "Death Don't Have No Mercy".
Davis' fingerpicking guitar style influenced many other artists. His students included Stefan Grossman, David Bromberg, Steve Katz, Roy Book Binder, Larry Johnson, Nick Katzman, Dave Van Ronk, Rory Block, Ernie Hawkins, Larry Campbell, Bob Weir, Woody Mann, and Tom Winslow. He also influenced Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, Wizz Jones, Jorma Kaukonen, Keb' Mo', Ollabelle, Resurrection Band, and John Sebastian (of the Lovin' Spoonful).
Davis was born in Laurens, South Carolina, in the Piedmont region. Of the eight children his mother bore, he was one of two who survived to adulthood. He became blind as an infant. He recalled being poorly treated by his mother and that his father placed him in the care of his paternal grandmother. Davis reported that when he was 10 years old, his father was killed in Birmingham, Alabama. He later said he had been told that his father was shot by the Birmingham sheriff.
He sang for the first time at Gray Court's Baptist church in South Carolina. He took to the guitar and assumed a unique multivoice style produced solely with his thumb and index finger, playing gospel, ragtime, and blues tunes along with traditional and original tunes in four-part harmony.
In the mid-1920s, Davis migrated to Durham, North Carolina, a major center of 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. 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 (available on his Complete Early Recordings) marked the real beginning of Davis's career. He became a Christian  and ordained as a Baptist minister in Washington, North Carolina in 1933. Following his conversion and especially after his ordination, Davis began to prefer inspirational gospel music.
In the 1940s, the blues scene in Durham began to decline, and Davis moved to New York. In 1951, he recorded an oral history for the folklorist Elizabeth Lyttleton Harold (the wife of Alan Lomax). who transcribed their conversations in a typescript more than 300 pages long.
The folk revival of the 1960s invigorated Davis's career, and he performed at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. Eleven songs from those performances were released on the 1967 album At Newport. In March 1969, Davis' former student and driver, John Townley, who had since established Apostolic Recording Studio, persuaded Davis to his first recording studio session in five years. The resulting album, O, Glory – The Apostolic Studio Sessions would be Davis' final studio album, released posthumously in 1973.
Peter, Paul and Mary recorded Davis' version of "Samson and Delilah", also known as "If I Had My Way", a song by Blind Willie Johnson, which Davis had popularized. Although the song was in the public domain, it was copyrighted as having been written by Gary Davis at the time of the recording by Peter, Paul and Mary. The resulting royalties allowed Davis to buy a house and live comfortably for the rest of his life, with Davis referring to the house as "the house that Peter, Paul and Mary built." The Grateful Dead covered "Samson and Delilah" on their album Terrapin Station and credited it to Davis. They also covered Davis' song "Death Don't Have No Mercy". Eric Von Schmidt credited Davis with three-quarters of Schmidt's "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down", which Bob Dylan covered on his debut album for Columbia Records. The Blues Hall of Fame singer and harmonica player Darrell Mansfield has recorded several of Davis's songs. The Rolling Stones credited Davis and Mississippi Fred McDowell for "You Gotta Move" on their 1971 album Sticky Fingers.
Many of Davis' recordings were published posthumously.
|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, Riverside RLP 12-148 (1961), Original Blues Classics OBC 524 and OBCCD 524-2|
|1957||Pure Religion and Bad Company||77 (UK)||LA 12/14||Recorded June 1957 in New York City; also Folklyric 125; reissued as Smithsonian Folkways SFW 40035 (1991) with 2 additional cuts|
|1960||Harlem Street Singer||Bluesville||1015||Recorded August 24, 1960; also 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 as Fantasy 24704|
|1961||A Little More Faith||Bluesville||1032||Recorded August 10, 1961, at Van Gelder Studio, EngleWood Cliffs, NJ; also XTRA 5042 (UK, 1967), OBCCD-588-2; reissued as Fantasy 24704|
|1961||Say No to the Devil||Bluesville||1049||Also XTRA 5014 (UK, 1966) and OBCCD 519-2|
|1960||Pure Religion!||Prestige Folklore||14028||Also Prestige 7805 (1972), reissue of Harlem Street Singer|
|1964||The Guitar & Banjo of Reverend Gary Davis||Prestige Folklore||14033||Instrumental tracks, recorded March 2, 1964, Van Gelder Studio; also Fantasy OBCCD 592–2; reissued as The Blues Guitar and Banjo of Reverend Gary Davis, Prestige 7725|
|1964||Rev. Gary Davis/Short Stuff Macon||Xtra (UK)||1009|
|1971||The Legendary Reverend Gary Davis, New Blues and Gospel||Biograph||12030E||Also Blue Moon BMLP 1.040 (c.1987)|
|1967||Rev. Gary Davis at Newport||Vanguard||73008||Recorded 1965|
|1968||Bring Your Money, Honey||Fontana (UK)||SFJL 914||Recorded Cambridge, Mass.|
|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, Swarthmore, Pa.; also Kicking Mule 101 (1974), Sonet SNKF 152 (1978), Heritage HT 308 (UK, 1985); also on Blues & Ragtime, Shanachie 97024 (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 Blues & Ragtime, Shanachie 97024 (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, Calif.; 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, New York City; 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, spring 1966, at Al Matthes, 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 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 to 1957, recorded by Fred Gerlach & Tiny Robinson; 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 1952, New York City, by John Cohen|
|2022||Let Us Get Together||Sunset Blvd Records||CDSBR7012||2-CD set. CD 1: Live in Portland, OR. CD 2: Live in Seattle, WA|
Reverend Gary Davis was recognized alongside Blind Boy Fuller as Main Honorees by the Sesquicentennial Honors Commission at the Durham 150 Closing Ceremony in Durham, North Carolina on November 2, 2019. The posthumous recognition was bestowed upon them for their contributions to the Piedmont Blues.
- Eagle, Bob; LeBlanc, Eric S. (2013). Blues: A Regional Experience. Santa Barbara, California: Praeger. pp. 285–286. ISBN 978-0313344237.
- Eder, Bruce (n.d.). "Rev. Gary Davis: Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved February 16, 2021.
- Grossman, Stefan (1974). Rev. Gary Davis Blues Guitar. Oak Publications. p. 108. ISBN 9781783234592.
- Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. p. 105. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
- "Reverend Gary Davis | Association for Cultural Equity". The Association for Cultural Equity. Retrieved July 18, 2020.
- "Rev Gary Davis". Arbiterrecords.org. Retrieved November 18, 2016.
- W. K. McNeil, Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music, Routledge, USA, 2013, p. 97
- Smith, Chris (2003). Meet You at the Station: The Vintage Recordings (1935–1949) (Media notes). Reverend Gary Davis. Document Records. OCLC 489027245. Retrieved February 11, 2013.
- Colin Larkin, ed. (1995). The Guinness Who's Who of Blues (Second ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 102. ISBN 0-85112-673-1.
- Zack, Ian (2015). Say No to the Devil: The Life and Musical Genius of Rev. Gary Davis. Chicago, United States: University of Chicago Press. p. 235. ISBN 978-0-226-23410-6.
- "David Bromberg: "I Belong To The Band," and "Tryin To Get Home" plus an interview about Gary Davis". YouTube. Archived from the original on December 12, 2021. Retrieved March 6, 2021.
- Doc Rock. "The 1970s". TheDeadRockStarsClub.com. Retrieved May 29, 2014.
- "Riverside Records Discography Project". Jazzdisco.org. Retrieved November 28, 2010.
- "Prestige Records Discography Project". Jazzdisco.org. Retrieved November 28, 2010.
- Wirz, Stefan (December 2, 2010). "Prestige/Bluesville Discography". American Music. Retrieved December 4, 2010.
- Wirz, Stefan (August 16, 2010). "77 Records Discography". American Music. Retrieved November 28, 2010.
- Wirz, Stefan (August 2, 2010). "Kicking Mule". American Music. Retrieved November 28, 2010.
- 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.
- Henderson, Alex (2003). "Reverend Gary Davis". In Vladimir Bogdanov (ed.). All Music Guide to the Blues: The Definitive Guide to the Blues (3rd ed.). Milwaukee: Hal Leonard. pp. 142–143. ISBN 0-87930-736-6. Retrieved November 28, 2010.
- Coltman, Bob (2008). Paul Clayton and the Folksong Revival. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. p. 241. ISBN 978-0-8108-6132-9. Retrieved November 28, 2010.
- "The Field Recorders' Collective". Fieldrecorder.com. Archived from the original on January 17, 2011. Retrieved January 28, 2011.
- Durham 150 (November 2, 2019). Durham 150 Closing Ceremony Program.
- Mann, Woody (2003). The Art of Acoustic Blues Guitar: Ragtime and Gospel. Oak Publications.
- Reevy, Tony; Weaver, Caroline (July 2002). "Street Sessions, Piedmont Style". Our State.
- Stambler, Irwin; Stambler, Lyndon (2001). Folk and Blues, the Encyclopedia. New York: St. Martin's Press.
- Tilling, Robert (1992). Oh, What a Beautiful City! A Tribute to Rev. Gary Davis. Paul Mill Press. ISBN 9780786682584.
- von Schmidt, Eric (2008). "Remembering Reverend Gary Davis". Sing Out! 51(4)67–73.
- Zack, Ian (2015). Say No to the Devil: The Life and Musical Genius of Rev. Gary Davis. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226234106.
- RevGaryDavis.com, a site devoted to Gary Davis.
- Harlem Street Singer, 2013 documentary film on the life and music of Reverend Gary Davis
- www.folkways.si.edu, Smithsonian Folkways recordings information.
- Reverend Gary Davis at Find a Grave
- Davis biography on AllMusic.com
- Biography of the Reverend Gary Davis from the Association of Cultural Equity
- The guitar students of Rev. Gary Davis with links to performances
- The Rev. Gary Davis performing on WNYC Radio, February 10, 1966.