A virtuoso finger-picking ragtime guitarist, Reverend Gary Davis had a profound effect on artists who followed him ranging from Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead to Ry Cooder and Eric Bibb. Davis died today in 1972. NB: He never appeared in the afternoon slot on Radio One…
Blues guitarist/singer Reverend Gary Davis died today in 1972. Born in Laurens, South Carolina in 1896, Davis lost what sight he had at an early age and took to the life of an itinerant bluesman playing the guitar and singing around the town of Durham and further afield in North Carolina.
Davis entered the baptist faith and began to favour gospel material over secular songs, travelling to New York City in 1935 to make his first recordings with Blind Boy Fuller. By 1940 he’d settled in New York and became a baptist preacher, also taking to the streets of Harlem to play and sing and teaching guitar – often billed as Blind Gary Davis.
Making a handful of further recordings in the late 1940s, the following decade would see Davis gain popularity as the folk and country blues revival took hold. Adopted by the Greenwich Village crowd, he recorded regularly and was in demand for live performances as far away as Europe.
Davis travelled to England in 1964 along with the likes of Muddy Waters, Mississippi John Hurt and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, (a live album recorded by the Reverend at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall has subsequently appeared). And he continued to perform live and teach guitar to willing students – along with offering some religious guidance – until his sudden death in 1972, following a heart attack.
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And here’s some footage of Davis in action: