"Over the years I have searched for films and videos of my teacher, Rev. Gary Davis. His playing has influenced many fingerstyle guitarists. His words and warmth were especially important to his handful of dedicated students. In this collection I have put together all the footage that I have found to date. The recording quality ranges from excellent to poor but the music is always superb.
The first two tracks are taken from a short film that played in theatres in the early 1960s. This was shot while Rev. Davis lived in the Bronx. The filmaker was very interested in the ambience but we do get a chance to see Rev. Davis play. Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Quest had one show that featured Rev. Davis along with Donovan and Shawn Phillips. The next two tunes are from this program. In 1969 Rev. Davis travelled to Seattle, Washington to play for the Folkore Society. Tracks 5-12 were filmed by the Anthropology Department of the University of Washington at the home of John Ullman. This is rough footage but shows Rev. Davis relaxed amongst friends and his trusty cigar! During that stay John was able to take Rev. Davis in to a proper television studio and tracks 15-23 are from this session. These are seminal performances. The independent filmmaker Lionel Rogosin brought Rev. Davis together with other musicians for his film Black Roots. Tracks 24-26 are from this film. This collection ends with some very rough footage from the wedding celebration of John Gibbon (one of Rev. Davis’s earliest New York students). This was originally recorded on reel to reel tape and over the years the tape disintegrated. So what we have left is a faint video image with good sound that shows Rev. Davis enjoying himself at a party with friends.
Hopefully you will enjoy this collection as the genius of Rev. Gary Davis will fill your TV screen with inspiration and joy."– Stefan Grossman
Titles include: Sun Is Goin’ Down, Lord, I Feel Like Goin’, Children of Zion, Oh Glory How Happy I Am, Sally Where’d You Get Your Liquor From, Calling for Irene, Buck Dance, Hard Walkin’ Blues, Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning, Make Believe Stunt, Guitar Lesson (Twelve Gates To The City), Twelve Gates To The City (Instrumental), Advice on Playing Guitar, Twelve Sticks, Twelve Gates To The City, Samson and Delilah, Cincinnati Flow Rag (Slow Drag), Candyman, Sally Where’d You Get Your Liquor From, Buck Dance, Wouldn’t Say Quit, Oh Glory How Happy I Am, (I Heard) The Angels Singing, I Belong To The Band, Talk on Death, Death Don’t Have No Mercy, She’s Just Funny That Way, Samson and Delilah, Cincinnati Flow Rag (Slow Drag), Spoonful and Buck Dance
Running time: 105 minutes
Review: It has come. Finally. And thankfully. For 109 precious minutes, the Reverend Gary Davis Video Collection flashes back to when the "Harlem street singer" with the house-wrecking holier and the jaw-dropping guitar technique was still spreading the good word. And with a spectrum of influence, extending from Blind Boy Fuller to Bob Dylan, you listen to what he and "Miss Gibson" have to say. Stefan Grossman, a former Davis student and a sleuth when it comes to sniffing out archival roots film for his Vestapol collection, rounded up six different sources from an APB posted for any, and all, available footage of the master at work. Some scenes are real, like on the television set of Pete Seeger's Rainbow Quest, when Davis had the Holy Ghost in him for extraordinary marathon versions of "Oh Glory, How Happy I Am" and "Children of Zion." Or the informal home shots where "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning" gets sung with a lit stogy wagging from his mouth. Other scenes, however, are surreal. Like the film noir shots in his Bronx apartment or the ghostly, grainy images of "Samson and Delilah" performed at a wedding. And Lionel Rogosin's 1970 Black Roots provides both a staged peek at Davis with a harp-blowing Larry Johnson and a horrifically-prefaced "Death Don't Have No Mercy'. They're all here: "Buck Dance," "Twelve Gates To The City," "Candyman", "I Belong To The Band." Definitive visual proof that, indeed, the Reverend pulled off all of that string magic using only two mortal hands. – Dennis Rozanski, Bluesrag
Review: This highly recommended disc compiled by Stefan Grossman offers a fascinating collection of films recorded during the last ten years or so of the great man's life. The life and times of Rev. Gary Davis (1896 - 1972) has been well documented, and this compilation gives us just a little more insight into this charismatic and influential musician. Much of the material here has appeared elsewhere over the past few years, but it is great to see it all together.
The opening film starts off this engaging set on a high note, Made during the early '60s when Davis was living in the Bronx, it graphically illustrates the impoverished conditions that he and his wife Annie were living in. At the end of the film he appears playing a Martin guitar and singing Lord, I Feel Like Goin' On, his confidence belying his harsh life and difficult living conditions. The speed and dexterity of his guitar playing are impressive, and his singing is powerful and sincere. He is at his very best here, and the recordings he made at this time for the Prestige- Bluesville recording company are equally memorable and well worth searching out if you do not already own them.
There are two titles, Children Of Zion and Oh Glory How Happy I Am, from Pete Seeger's popular 1967 TV show Rainbow Quest, where Davis is in the studio alongside a rather bemused looking Donovan and Shawn Phillips. Davis plays a big-bodied twelve-string guitar and performs with power and confidence, his vocals at their most commanding.
Anthropologist John Ullman of the University of Washington invited Davis to Seattle in 1969 to be filmed for the university's archive, and during his visit Davis was also informally filmed at Ullman's home. The film quality is rather poor but the seven cuts are fascinating, finding Davis relaxed and obviously enjoying the attention of his devoted admirers. There is a beautiful version of the rarely recorded gospel song, Keep Your Lamps Trimmed And Burning, and a gently lilting and inventive blues instrumental, Hard Walkin' Blues. On two fascinating cuts he gives a "lesson.". This section has some of his most popular and highly inventive ragtime guitar pieces, including Buck Dance, Make Believe Stunt, and Twelve Sticks-all performed with tremendous agility and control.
Eight cuts from Ullman's studio session appear here for the first time on DVD. All of this footage shows Davis at his best, and guitar players wanting to learn his technique and style will find theses titles invaluable. Davis is in great form, he looks good, he is in complete control, and his vocals are sincere and engaging. At this session Davis recorded some of his best known and most impressive material, including Candyman, Twelve Gates To The City, Cincinnati Flow Rag, and Samson And Delilah, one of the highlights of the release.
I remember seeing the film "Black Roots" on British television just after it was released in 1970 and have not seen it since, which makes me even more pleased to see a small part of it included here. Black Roots was made by the late French director Lionel Rogosin in 1970 and it is the only material filmed in color on this release. Davis, looking frail, is shown in an informal dimly lit setting surrounded by fellow African American per performers including Flo Kennedy, Rev. Frederick Kirkpatrick, Jim Collier, and Larry Johnson. Johnson was a close friend of Davis and his harmonica playing on I Belong To The Band makes one wish that they had recorded more together as a duo. One of Davis's great gifts was as a storyteller, and here he tells a complex tale of murder and revenge.
The last set on was recorded at the wedding celebration of John Gibbons, who was one of Davis's earliest guitar students, dating from the late- 1950s. The film quality is very rough and made watchable only by the fine quality of the music. It is particularly interesting to hear Spoonful and She's Funny That Way, two rarely recorded Davis titles. The set ends with the strident instrumental Buck Dance, leaving one wanting more from this very important and influential man. – Bob Tilling/Living Blues
Review: Stefan Grossman has collected every piece of film footage that he could find of the great Rev. Gary Davis to compile for this remarkable tribute to a remarkable singer and guitarist. Featuring 31 performances - many of them appearing on DVD for the first time, it includes clips from a short film that played in theatres in the early 60s, a mid 60s appearance on Pete Seeger's "Rainbow Quest" TV show, footage from the Anthropology Department of the University Of Washington in 1969 filmed at the home of John Ullman, a concert from the same trip, two clips from the film "Black Roots" made by independent maverick filmmaker Lionel Rogosin in 1970 and very faint footage (with good sound) made at the wedding of John Gibbon (One of Davis's earliest New York students). – Frank Scott at Roots & Rhythm