Guy Davis says that Taj Mahal gave him the real concerted blues lesson


By Steve Newton

Blues fans who enjoy their music with a theatrical twist should make an effort to get out to the North Shore on Sunday (March 23), when singer-storyteller-guitarist Guy Davis plays the Capilano College Performing Arts Theatre. The New York bluesman will be performing his solo show, In Bed With the Blues: The Adventures of Fishy Waters.

“It’s a one-act play centring on an old-timey, country-people story,” explains Davis from his home in the Bronx. “There’s this character I play called Fishy Waters, a friendly fellow who comes to town, and people in the audience are like people around the back porch listening to the stories, sipping lemonade. There are silly stories and tall tales, but there are also stories that deal with racial destruction, shall I say, and the main story, which is the story of Fishy Waters leaving home and walking into a hobo camp.”

During the Fishy Waters show, Davis’s folksy blues tunes are interspersed with his down-home storytelling, which has been influenced by the likes of Garrison Keillor and Zora Neale Hurston, as well as his 104-year-old grandmother, Laura Davis.

“She had a stroke a few years ago,” he notes, “so she’s not doin’ too much [storytelling] now, but over the years my closest experience to southern culture was being raised at her hand. She’s part black woman, part red woman, and she came up from South Carolina with all the old country tales and stories of floods and disasters.

“I grew up here near New York City, and my education enabled me to handle the English language ‘just as good as the white man’, as we say out in the country. But listening to her I learned the music of southern speech, and it’s a very beautiful sound.”

Before writing Fishy Waters—which has received critical praise from the New York Times and Village Voice—Davis performed off-Broadway in Robert Johnson: Trick of the Devil, where he portrayed the legendary 1930s bluesman. The son of actor-writers Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, he’s been immersed in music since he was a kid.

“I used to go to an acoustic folk music–oriented summer camp when I was about eight years old,” he says, “so I heard plenty of banjo, lots of folk music, and a little bit of blues. But it was Taj Mahal who gave me the real concerted blues lesson.”

Nowadays Davis doesn’t need his old Robert Johnson or Taj Mahal records to get a serious case of the blues. That comes just from watching the news and hearing about his country’s imminent intention to blow the living shit out of Iraq.

“I am very upset and I’m scared,” he says. “Not so much for me, but my son is 12 years old, and when he’s 18 I don’t want him standing out in some desert with a rifle, either putting a bullet in somebody or having somebody put one in him. I do not want that at all.”

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