Record of the Day: Rev. Gary Davis, "Heroes of the Blues"

Record of the Day: Rev. Gary Davis, “Heroes of the Blues”

Rev. Gary Davis
Heroes of the Blues (Cd Shoutfactory DK 30257)

The mixing of the sacred and the profane is one of the main characteristics of blues music, attracted in equal measure by spiritual vertigo and the pleasure of the senses. One of the musicians in whom this dichotomy is best embodied is certainly the Reverend Gary Davis, who until his religious conversion successfully carried out a career as a wandering musician specializing in compositions with salacious lyrics and full of scabrous double meanings.

Having become blind at the age of six due to an accident, Gary learned the rudiments of the guitar from his grandparents, but in reality how he developed his very personal style is not known, given that subsequently Davis has always refused to talk about his years youth. However, at a certain point in his life we ​​find him in North Carolina, where he comes into contact with many musicians from whom he learns different styles of blues guitar, soon developing a remarkable instrumental technique that will immediately put him in the spotlight, allowing him to work as a traveling musician, often requested at many parties and gatherings of friends.

Together with Blind Boy Fuller he made his first recordings before his conversion, but after becoming a minister Davis renounced his entire non-religious repertoire, refusing to sing lyrics that he considered “blasphemous” such as “Cocaine Blues” and “Baby Let Me Follow You Down”; this won’t stop him from giving blues lessons to musicians of the young folk generation and even teaching them the “forbidden” songs, especially after having had a drink.

Dave Van Ronk’s generation would rediscover Davis’ talent by recording many of his songs and reporting him to record companies, thus allowing his rediscovery among young audiences and the consequent success that would never abandon him until his death in 1972.

Davis’ style is sanguine, intense, closer to Charlie Patton and Blind Blake than to the sulphurous blues of John Lee Hooker; this excellent anthology (very well recorded) presents us with several examples of his wonderful voice capable of representing a thousand different moods, from the desperate nihilistic abysses of “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” to the fatalism of “You Gotta Move” ( made famous by the Rolling Stones with “Sticky Fingers”) up to the Hallelujah exaltation of “How Happy I Am” and “I Belong to the Band”.

Carlo Boccadoro, composer and conductor, was born in Macerata in 1963. He lives and works in Milan. He collaborates with soloists and orchestras in different parts of the world. He is the author of numerous books on musical topics.

This text is taken from “Lunario della musica: A record for every day of the year” published by Einaudi, courtesy of the author and the publisher.