Young old bluesman keeps the Delta tradition alive and well

Walking Blues from 1990 Tribute to Robert Johnson

Blues guitarist and singer Guy Davis grew up in New York City but he assimilated the Delta Blues traditions of his Mississippi grandparents.

Davis is the son of a show business family. His father Ossie Davis was a famous actor on stage, movies and television, director, playwright and social activist. His mother Ruby Dee is also an acclaimed actress of stage and movies, playwright and social activist.

His grandparents influence is loud and strong in his music. As a boy, he spent summers in the south listening and learning the stories about the blues, about working on the railroads and the KKK.

“One day I had my grandma listen to a recording of Taj Mahal singing the ‘Track Lining Song.’ When it was over, she sang back to me verses that I’d never heard. Apparently, my grandfather was once the head man of a lining gang. He and his brothers used to play guitars, banjos, fiddles and harmonicas. They never recorded. I never got to hear any of their music, yet to this day, when I take a new song to my grandmother, she’ll sometimes tell me it sounds just like my grandpa and granduncles.” Guy Davis

Davis taught himself to play guitar based on what he heard of the blues. His finger-style picking is diverse and contains strong threads of Mississippi John Hurt and Skip James.

Davis rarely plays electric guitar, preferring to promote the living memory of the rural Delta blues artists.

Guy Davis on his blues roots performing As Long As You Get It Done

That’s all of no consequence if he can’t entertain an audience and keep the music current.

The first time I heard Guy Davis was ten years ago at the old Myron’s in Charlottetown when they had a regular blues gig. I went on a flyer and was blown away by his guitar playing and easy performing style.

It was like having those old scratchy records come to life. Guy Davis is warm and friendly on stage and kept his audience in the palm of his hands.

Where did this guy come from? I wondered.

Apparently, he was hiding out in Halifax, Nova Scotia at the time. He is constantly touring to make a living, which never has been easy for a blues musician.

Black blues artists and white audiences

Black blues artists play 99% of their music for white audiences. The black audience has migrated from post-WWII Chicago blues, to R&B and eventually to hip hop.  That’s actually not a market problem because the non-black audience is 5 times larger than the black population.

Ironically, the PEI Jazz and Blues Festival refused to book Guy Davis despite his excellent performing skills and pedigree and residence in Nova Scotia.

It wasn’t an accident: I recommended Guy Davis several years running. One day I met the head organizer on Victoria Row while I as performing. His attitude to black blues artists was the most racist I had encountered in years.

There is a PEI Human Rights hearing being conducted into a black teacher who was fired by the Evangeline School Board. “I don’t want a n**** living next to me,” Sarah Joncas, a citizenship and immigration officer said that an Abrams Village man told her” Charlottetown Guardian.

Is there racial bigotry on PEI? Check out the reader comments on the CBC and Guardian websites for this story. They are replete with racism and xenophobia.

Where’s he at today

Like his thespian parents, he had a role on Broadway recently in the 2009 revival of Finian’s Rainbow. His mother attended the opening. Ossie Davis died in 2005.  Ruby Dee, his mother, died in 2014.

Guy Davis tours the world with his music. He played Ecuador this year among other countries.

If you would like to learn some of his picking styles, he has a Stefan Grossman produced DVD The Guitar Artistry of Guy Davis.

Where to get Guy Davis music carries a number of Guy Davis CD’s including his 2009 release Sweetheart Like You, considered his most personal album. Davis has the raspy voice of an aging bluesman that Bob Dylan has cultivated all his life. These days Dylan comes by the voice naturally. Davis does Dylan homage by performing Sweetheart Like You, the title song.

Bob Dylan’s Sweetheart Like You by Guy Davis

Also highly rated are Skunkmello and Legacy.

Of course, if you’re an iTunes person, the same titles are available on for $9.99 each. I sometimes miss the CD covers but iTunes sure is convenient and the saves money.

If you like Delta blues, Guy Davis is someone to try out. Enjoy.

Management – Thom Wolke Management