Like his near contemporaries Brownie McGee and Big Bill Broonzy, also street singers and guitarists, Davis deserves to be better known. He was one of the best guitarists ever to play Afro-American music, sacred or profane, and the immediate intensity in his voice reflects the hellfire and brimstone preachers of the day. His “I’ll do My Last Singing” is as movingly poignant a spiritual as you will ever hear. There isn’t much delicacy about Davis’s playing and singing, but there’s wonderful nuance and unforgettable style. He could play and sing behind the beat or in front of it, run counter-point all over the place with such a seemingly focused abandonment he sounded as though he was making it all up on the spot.
When you think about that all-star band of blues musicians, better save a place for the Rev.
One of these mornings and it won’t be long,
You’re gonna call me and I’ll be gone,
I belong to the band, Hallelujeh.
Discography: Eight of the Best
Harlem Street Singer (Prestige/Bluesville)
Rev. Gary Davis at Home & Church (Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop)
Rev. Gary Davis Live at Gerde’s Folk City (Stefan Grossman Guitar workshop)
Complete Early Recordings (Yazoo)
Live at Newport (Vanguard)
Pure Religion & Bad Company (Smithsonian Folkways)
Demons & Angels (Shanachie)
If I Had My Way (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings)