In 1962 I started to take guitar lessons from Rev. Gary Davis. Each weekend and school holiday I would take two trains from my home in Brooklyn up to Park Avenue in the Bronx. Rev. Davis’s home was hidden behind a worn out tenement building, down a flight of stairs where the garbage cans were kept and then up another small flight of stairs to a single dwelling that was surrounded on all four sides by apartment buildings.
To say it was “different” would be to understate the effect it had on me. But once the screen door was opened and the scent of White Owl cigars hit my nose I knew I was at home. The warmth, generosity and education that I found in this “country shack” in the midst of the great New York City has lasted me a lifetime.
This set of three CDs captures Rev. Davis at home and church - teaching, talking and philosophizing. The first two CDs are material recorded at his Bronx home. Religious songs, folk tunes, blues, rags and memories are included. The music ranges from the heavenly to the bawdy. The third CD features a service I recorded where Rev. Davis plays and delivers sermons.
Track Listing: (click on tracks for mp3 sound samples)
Disc One (At Home):
1. Twelve Sticks
2. Sally, Where’d You Get Your Liquor From
3. Babylon Is Falling
4. What Could I Do
5. Children of Zion
6. Hesitation Blues
7. Candyman (on 5 String Banjo)
8. Steal Away And Pray
9. Goin’ To Chattanooga
10. Packing Up, Get Ready To Go
12. You Cry Because I’m Leaving
13. Don’t Let My Baby Catch You Here
14. Lord Let Me Live Longer
15. I Want To be Saved
16. Waltz Time Candyman
17. Little Boy Who Made Your Britches
18. Talks about Verses Not Sung
19. C Rag
20. Two Step Candyman
Disc Two (At Home):
1. Piece Without Words
2. Lord Search My Heart
3. Slippin’ To My Gal Comes In Partner
4. Sun is Going Down
5. Raise A Ruckus Tonight
6. Save Up Your Money, John D. Rockefeller, Put the Panic On
7. Soon My Work Will All Be Done
8. You’re Gonna Need King Jesus
9. I’m Going Back To Jesus
10. Blues in C
11. Saddle It Around
12. People Who Use To See
13. Italian Rag
15. Nobody Don’t Care For Me
16. Fox Chase
17. Talk on Blind Boy Fuller
Disc Three (In Church):
1. Amazing Grace
3. I’m a Soldier In The Army Of The Lord
5. Lord, I Feel Just Like Goin’ On
6. Steal Away
7. Can’t Make This journey By Myself
9. I Will Overcome Someday
10. God Be With You
From the Mariposa Folk Festival:
11. I Got Religion I’m So Glad
12. I’m a Soldier In The Army Of The Lord
Review: South Carolina born Davis, over the course of a fairly lengthy career, developed African American country blues guitar music into a totally unique, entrancingly singular style all his own, equal parts contrapuntal complexity and imagination, that has had a pronounced influence on generations of musicians over the years, Stefan Grossman among them. In 1962, Grossman began taking weekly guitar lessons from the affable Davis in his Bronx “country shack,” continuing his education until shortly before the bluesman’s death in 1972.
Shortly after the studies began, Grossman began recording Davis in his tiny tenement apartment, at festivals and occasionally at his Harlem storefront church. This excellent sounding and generously timed three-CD extravaganza comprises 49 divinely diverse selections, taped from 1962-1967, that intimately reveal not only Davis’ breathtaking versatility but the astonishing breadth of his repertoire. Highlights include several variations of his signature “Candyman” (clawhammering the tune on five-string banjo as well as playing it as a waltz, a two-step and in regular 4/4 time), bawdy efforts such as “Hesitation Blues,” “Little Boy Who Made Your Britches” and the candidly witty “Don’t Let My Baby Catch You Here” as well as snappy revivals of Tin Pan Alley and Depression-era compositions like “You Cry Because I’m Leaving” and the cautionary “Save Up Your Money, John D. Rockefeller Put the Panic On.”
Also noted is a revelatory, 10-minute conversation between Grossman and Davis concerning the more commercially successful Blind Boy Fuller, who Davis mentored as they accompanied each other on the streets of Durham, North Carolina, along with the majority of disc three, which is part of a church service that provides a lengthy glimpse of Davis in his preferred role as a reverend – leading his congregation on heartfelt renditions of hymns like “Amazing Grace,” a resounding “I Will Overcome Someday” and “Steal Away,” all while offering the occasional sermon. The final two tracks, from an undated Mariposa Folk Festival, are in the same sacred vein. This is truly Davis at the peak of his powers. — Sing Out!
Review: Before he died in 1972, age 76, Davis had numerous disciples who studied at his knee - including Dave Van Ronk, Danny Kalb, David Bromberg, Larry Johnson, and Ian Buchanan - but few captured his style down to the last nuance the way Stefan Grossman did. More important, Grossman recorded Rev. Davis on numerous occasions - CDs of which are still being released.
The latest installment from Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop, At Home And Church, 1962-1967 is the mother lode. The three discs, clocking in at a whopping three and a half hours, offer the most intimate portrait of the artist yet. The first two discs were recorded at Davis' Bronx tenement, and though he effectively quit performing secular material in favor of singing gospel and preaching in the street, he offers renditions of such favorites as "Hesitation Blues" and the bawdy "Little Boy, Who Made Your Britches." He performs the minstrel tune "Raise A Ruckus Tonight" on 12-string and duets with his wife, Annie, on "Soon My Work Will All Be Done."
"Candy Man" is presented in four different versions; on five-string banjo, 12-string, and two renditions on six string guitar- as a two-step and in waltz time. The minor-key "Italian Rag," played on 12-string, is oddly hypnotic, and he gives Sonny Terry a run for his money on the harmonica instrumental "Fox Chase."
Of special interest is a nine-minute interview wherein Davis talks about meeting and eventually teaching Blind Boy Fuller.
The "In Church" disc documents a church service, as Davis sings, plays, and sermonizes, with the congregation joining in. You can feel the needles of Grossman's Tandberg reel-to-reel jittering well past red when the Reverend launches into "I'm A Soldier In The Army Of The Lord." As Grossman writes in the liner notes, these are “perhaps the most important recordings of Rev. Davis," as they show him the way he wanted to be remembered, "Rev. Davis was a preacher first and a musician, teacher, performer second," his pupil writes. But what a performer he was. – Vintage Guitar / Dan Forte
Review: As gold mines go, At Home And Church is flush with riches. The kind of extraordinary treasure which made pie-eyed guitarists out of everyone from Blind Boy Fuller to Jerry Garcia. And which lured a young Stefan Grossman into the Bronx every weekend - for seven years. It never glittered, but the technically dazzling, physically propulsive technique of ragtime master Gary Davis was gold's six string equivalent. This three CD set represents many a day in the candid life of teacher (Davis) and student (Grossman) from 1962-67. You can't see the flowered wallpaper or smell the White Owl cigars, but you are in Davis' home, listening as instrumentals, songs, duets with his wife, and conversations spill out of him. The razzle-dazzle of "Twelve Sticks" like the summersaults turned through "Children Of Zion" prove that, at 60 something, his fingers could still do what normally takes two mortals to do. And although he wonderfully bangs on a banjo a few times and even huffs; out "Fox Chase" from a reedy harmonica, the rarest gem is when the doors to the good reverend's church open. There, his guitar and brimstone holler are witnessed moving souls, as "I'm A Soldier In The Army Of The Lord" and whips the congregation up and "I Will Overcome Someday" calms them back down. Add a jangling tambourine and an angel choir, and "I Got Religion I'm So Glad" takes on the rocket-powered energy of a tent revival. – Dennis Rozanski/BluesRag