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Rev. Blind Gary Davis 1935 - 1949

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Album Review

Reverend Blind Gary Davis really wasn't a blues player, and although many of his advocates like to call what he played "holy blues," he seldom used the form, and when he did, it was in the guise of an evangelistic street performer who needed something secular to occasionally hold a crowd. What he was, as these early 78s show, was a skilled, and at times breath-taking, guitar player with a strict fundamentalist approach to spiritual matters, making him, literally, a guitarist for God. These are his earliest recordings, most of them recorded in New York in 1935 for ARC Records (Blind Boy Fuller also made his recording debut at these sessions), when he was using a metal-bodied National resonator guitar, and the rest from the mid- to late- '40s, when he was playing a standard acoustic. There are only a couple of blues pieces here (including the stately "I'm Throwing Up My Hands," which opens the sequence), with most of the sides being skilled re-workings of church hymns and folk pieces. While it is tempting to call this material "gospel-blues," and that is an accurate term to some degree, the truth is that these generally aren't blues progressions at all, and it might help to think of Davis' guitar work as an attempt to fill in where a piano or organ might normally be. Whatever you call it, Davis could play, and his easy dexterity on guitar is everywhere evident here. Highlights include a heartfelt version of Georgia Tom Dorsey's "Lord, Stand By Me," the hoarse and moving "You Can Go Home," the guest vocal by Bull City Red (aka George "Bull City Red" Washington) on "I Saw the Light," and the simply bizarre mid- '40s instrumental called "Civil War March," which sounds like the possible source for much of John Fahey's unique acoustic guitar vision. Originally issued on CD by Document Records in 1991, these tracks were re-mastered and released again with slightly better sound by Document in 2004.


Born: April 30, 1896 in Laurens, SC

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

In his prime of life, which is to say the late '20s, the Reverend Gary Davis was one of the two most renowned practitioners of the East Coast school of ragtime guitar; 35 years later, despite two decades spent playing on the streets of Harlem in New York, he was still one of the giants in his field, playing before thousands of people at a time, and an inspiration to dozens of modern guitarist/singers including Bob Dylan, Taj Mahal, and Donovan; and Jorma Kaukonen, David Bromberg, and Ry Cooder, who...
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