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Reverend “Blind” Gary Davis

The Street Musician & Preacher

Perhaps one of the best talents from the Piedmont Blues era, Reverend “Blind” Gary Davis is a masterful musician. Secondly, he’s a powerful gospel and folk blues singer and acoustic guitarist.  Born in South Carolina in 1896, Davis taught himself to play guitar, and was in a string band in his teens.  For someone being a street musician, at such a young age, little did he know the people he would inspire.  Likewise, in 1920, he becomes an ordained Baptist minister and moves to New York.  Besides playing the streets of Harlem, he starts preaching at different churches.  Lastly, he starts performing his own music and makes a name for himself. In fact, some of Reverend Davis’s songs became standards of blues, folk and even rock.

The Reverend’s Guitar Style

Reverend Davis, a finger-style guitarist, developed a unique and complex approach to picking that influences many musicians.  The folk revival of the 1960s invigorated Davis’s career. He performed at the Newport Folk Festival. Peter, Paul and Mary recorded his version of “Samson and Delilah”, also known as “If I Had My Way”, a song by Blind Willie Johnson, which Davis had popularized.

“Samson and Delilah” was also covered and credited to Davis by the Grateful Dead on the album Terrapin Station. The Dead also covered Davis’ “Death Don’t Have No Mercy”. Eric Von Schmidt credited Davis with three-quarters of Schmidt’s “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down”, covered by Bob Dylan 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.

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Credits: Brian Shuel captures this photograph of Reverend “Blind” Gary Davis performing live at the Keele Folk Festival in the UK on January 1st.

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