City Roots Don’t Keep Davis from Southern Blues Print
Music - Feature Stories
Tuesday, 27 February 2001 18:00
Though Guy Davis was raised in New York City, the son of the well-known actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, he grew up hearing accounts of life in the rural South from his parents and grandparents. He used those tales for his own songs and stories.

Guy tells the following story in later years, after he had reached adulthood: “One day I had my grandma listen to a recording of Taj Mahal singing the ‘Track Lining Song.’ When it was over, she sang back to me verses I’d never heard. Apparently, my grandfather was once the headman of a lining gang. He and his brother used to play guitars, banjoes, fiddles, and harmonicas. They never recorded. I never got to hear any of their music, yet to this day, when I take a new song to my grandmother, she’ll sometimes tell me it sounds just like my grandpa and granduncles.”

The multi-talented Davis – a blues guitarist, vocalist, composer, storyteller, actor, and educator – began a two-week residency in the Quad Cities on February 26 as part of Quad City Arts’ Visiting Artist Series. He’ll perform twice for the public: Friday, March 2, at the Quad City Arts Center; and Saturday, March 10, at the Capitol Theatre. Both shows begin at 7 p.m.

Davis taught himself to play the guitar and blues by listening to and watching other musicians. One night on a train from Boston to New York he learned finger-picking … from a nine-fingered guitarist. Among Davis’ influences were Skip James, Manse Lipscomb, Mississippi John Hurt, Buddy Guy, and Taj Mahal.

Davis recorded his first album, Dream About Life, on the Folkways label in 1978 and began his acting career around the same time, landing a recurring role on the daytime soap One Life to Live. He made his Broadway debut in 1991 in the Zora Neal Hurston/Langston Hughes collaboration Muleborn, which featured the music of Taj Mahal.

In 1993, his music and acting careers converged when he played the legendary bluesman Robert Joyhnson in the off-Broadway production Robert Johnson: Trick the Devil. That same year he was selected for the Blues Foundation’s Keeping the Blues Alive Award.

The talent of Davis has many facets, and he’s also undertaken a good number of scoring projects, winning an Emmy for his music for the telefilm To Be a Man.

But the blues still provide the 48-year-old Davis with most of his acclaim. He’s been nominated three times for the prestigious W.C. Handy Awards by the Memphis-based Blues Foundation, including as Best Acoustic Blues Artist for his latest CD, You Don’t Know My Mind.