It’s hard for me to believe. Almost 50 years has passed since I was sitting by the stage at Gerde’s Folk City in New York City with my two track Tandberg tape machine recording my teacher, Rev. Gary Davis’ performances. It was the week of February 3rd to 10th, 1962. Rev. Davis was booked along with the New World Singers (Gil Turner, Happy Traum and Bob Cohen) at the famous bar in Greenwich Village. During the week’s engagement all the new and old folk singers of the Village came by to watch, listen and pay their respects - from Dave Van Ronk to a newly arrived Bob Dylan.
When the gig at Gerde's Folk City came up I was excited, as here was a chance to record performances of Rev. Davis for a full week. I had been going down to Gerde’s for some time and Mike Porco, the owner, knew my face and would let me in for free as long as I sat at the bar (even though I was underaged!). I was also friends with Manny Greenhill of Folklore Productions. He managed Rev. Davis and was encouraging me to record Rev. Davis whenever I could. Manny wanted me to get as many songs and instrumentals recorded so that they could be published and protected. So I had the green light from all concerned and Mike allowed me to leave my Tandberg in the basement after each night’s performances.
Rev. Davis was very much part of these recordings. He wanted to play tunes that he had not yet recorded. Each set was filled with songs I had never heard.
Track Listing: (click on tracks for mp3 sound samples)
1. You Got To Move
2. Intro to Come Down And See Me Sometime
3. Come Down And See Me Sometime
4. Wouldn't Say Quit
5. Oh Lord
6. Announcing Guitar lessons
7. People That Use to See, Can't See No More
8. There’s Destruction In This Land
9. Intro to Soon My Work Will Soon Be Over
10. Soon My Work Will Soon Be Over
11. Intro to Oh Glory, How Happy I Am
12. Oh Glory, How Happy I Am
1. I Want To Be Saved
2. Just A Closer Walk With Thee
3. Death Don't Have No Mercy
4. Lord I Won't Go Back In Sin
6. Buck Dance
7. Samson & Delilah
8. Working On The Building
9. I'll Fly Away
10. Sun Goin’ Down
11. Fox Chase
1. God's Gonna Separate
2. Lord Search My Heart
3. Jesus Met The Woman At The Well
4. Say No To The Devil
5. I Am A Pilgrim
6. All Night Long
7. Trying To Get To Heaven
8. Thank You Jesus
9. Twelve Sticks
10. Intro to Tesse
12. Lord They Tell Me
13. Right Or Wrong
Review: As Stefan Grossman tells us in his heartfelt notes he was encouraged by Davis's manager and friend, the charismatic Manny Greenhill, to record Davis whenever he could. Over the years Grossman has collected a wealth of Davis material, recorded informally at Davis's home and live in various concerts, and this three-disc compilation finds Davis in concert and in sparkling form.
The energetic Davis was 65 years old at the time of these recordings and was at the height of his powers, and all of his impressive skills are captured on this very highly recommended set. Surprises include a number of titles that have not been released elsewhere, alongside some of his most popular titles such as Say No To The Devil, Death Don't Have No Mercy and Soon My Work Will All Be Done.
The 36 titles were recorded during a week-long booking, in February 1962 at Gerde's Folk City, the legendary club in Greenwich Village. The venue had presented over the years a long string of legendary performers including Roosevelt Sykes, John Lee Hooker, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Ramblin' Jack Elliot and Bob Dylan. Davis sounds relaxed and is obviously enjoying the attention of the highly appreciative audience and Grossman, who recorded this set on a heavy Tandberg recording machine, has included a number of fascinating song introductions and anecdotes, all adding greatly to the enjoyment of the recordings.
By the time these recordings were made Davis had quite a following and had appeared at a number of major clubs and festivals, including the Newport Folk Festival and the Mariposa Festival. He had in the previous two years recorded two magnificent albums for the Prestige Bluesville label that show him at his very best, and here he is in equal form. His vocals, in particular, are powerful, committed and totally commanding, while his guitar picking is as inventive and as consummate as ever.
There are startling versions of the show stopping guitar instrumentals Twelve Sticks and Buck Dance, while the recording of Lord, Search My Heart, the only title included here from Davis's first recording session in 1935, is one of the best versions he ever recorded. One of his most popular songs, from his earliest days as a performing musician, Candyman has high falsetto vocals and a stunning guitar passage. I Am A Pilgrim, Davis informs us, comes from the time that he was first learning to play the guitar at the turn of last century. Another of the previously unrecorded songs People That Used To See, Can't See No More has a guitar melody that is very similar to another of his most popular songs, Cocaine Blues, and is one of the standout moments of this intriguing release.
One of the other not previously recorded titles that is particularly enjoyable is Working On The Building, with a guitar break that is as inventive as ever. The other three new titles, just A Closer Walk With Thee, Lord I Won't Go Back In Sin, and Tesse all add tremendously to the fascination of this set. On two titles, Soon My Work Will All Be Done and Oh Glory, How Happy I Am, Davis is joined on stage by the New World Singers (Gil Turner, Happy Traum and Bob Cohen), who shared the bill with Davis for the week, and there is no doubt that everyone is having a good time.
There are very few recordings of Davis playing the harmonica. This is an exceptional release, and thanks go to Grossman for putting it out. Davis' tremendous sense of humor is obvious alongside his committed Christian beliefs and he performs with passion and integrity. This is an absolute must for established Davis fans. If you have none of his material start here and you will not be disappointed. – Living Blues/Bob Tilling
Review: Gary Davis, the blind reverend with the wicked fretsmanship and the brimstone howl, once set up camp for a solid week in Gerde's Folk City. Joining him at the Greenwich Village club was his usual partner, the curvaceous six-stringed Miss Gibson, as well as a downhome harmonica that he rhythmically rattled. Dave Van Ronk and Bob Dylan were among the applauding audience those February nights in 1962. So was 17-year-old Stefan Grossman, who, fortuitously, was accompanied by his two-track tape deck, which gobbled up three CDs' worth of everything his guitar teacher did. That included advertising lessons run out of his Bronx home and even prescribing a little romantic advice. Mostly, though, it meant evangelizing listeners to the almighty powers of Davis' Piedmont picking and granite voice. Signature pieces-- "Samson And Delilah," "Candyman:' the famous downer anthem of "Death Don't Have No Mercy"-- came alive. He hammed it up through dark comedy that "Wouldn't Say Quit," and occasionally let instrumental showpieces-the "Twelve Sticks" string dance, plus "Oh Lord:' a seven-minute feat of harped hyperventilation-say it all. And the sunny ragtime bounce through "Oh Glory, How Happy I Am" could warm even the coldest sinner. Yet when his holy howl flung open its floodgates, the hellfire blasts cut through the tape hiss, exorcizing any demons within earshot of "Say No To The Devil." Oh, what a week. – Blues Rag / Dennis Rozanski
Review: Reverend Gary Davis was born in 1896 in Laurens County, S.C., and, by the age of 10 was a consummate musician on the five-string banjo, harmonica and guitar. By the time a 17-year-old Stefan Grossman caught up with him with a tape recorder (great sound) on stage at New York City's Gerde's Folk City in early February of 1962, he was a "rediscovered" favorite on the folk revival festival and club circuit, recording fairly extensively and giving guitar lessons at 3826 Park Avenue in his "little private hut." Grossman was one of his many students.
All the activity means that, despite his years, Davis was probably at his technical peak at the time, a fact that becomes abundantly clear over the course of this marvelous three-disc project. Highlights from the first disc include the sermon-like cautionary "There's Destruction in This Land" (Davis' early 1930s recordings were all in a Gospel vein, as are many here), an energized version of one of his signature sanctified efforts, the restless "You Got To Move" (that features some of his patented "talking guitar"), and the jaunty singalong "Come Down and See Me Sometime." Davis also plays some gritty harmonica on the lengthy "Oh Lord."
The following discs dig even deeper into Davis' vast repertoire, with a chilling "Death Don't Have No Mercy," a playful "Candyman," the lively "Buck Dance" (more "talking guitar"), the traditional instrumental "Fox Chase" (more earthy harmonica), a stark "Right or Wrong," an old vaudeville weeper titled "Tessie" (made up on the spot for a lovesick Mr. Grossman) and the exuberant "Trying to Get to Heaven," among others. Grossman's nostalgic liners remind us of the profound influence that Davis had on more than one generation of guitarists with the nonpareil complexity and relaxed brilliance of his approach. – Sing Out!