The Students of Rev. Gary Davis

and other performers he influenced

A list based on Say No to the Devil: The Life and
Musical Genius of Rev. Gary Davis
by Ian Zack

“I have no children, but I have sons.”
      —Rev. Gary Davis at the Gaslight in December 1970, during a performance by David Bromberg.

The legacy of the Rev. Gary Davis is the songs he wrote and recorded, the covers of those songs by numerous musicians, but above all in and through the students whose music and lives he shaped. Well over a hundred young guitarists showed up at his New York door in the sixties and early seventies, and the Reverend, with very few exceptions, showed them inside. Ian Zack interviewed many of those students for his biography, Say No to the Devil: The Life and Musical Genius of Rev. Gary Davis.

Students of Rev. Gary Davis

  • Phil Allen
    Allen performs under the name Mr. O'Muck.
    Youtube: Rev. Gary Davis song “Slow Drag/Cincinnati Flow Rag.”
  • Roy Book Binder AllMusic
    Opened for Davis at one of his last Greenwich Village concerts.
    Youtube: Talks about Davis and plays tribute song “The Preacher Picked The Guitar.”
  • Danny Birch
    A performer and teacher of the sarod, who studied with Davis for three years.
  • Rick Blaufeld
    Website: Ragtime Rick Blaufeld
  • Rory BlockAllMusic
    Youtube: Davis songs “Twelve Gates to the City” and “I Belong to the Band.”
  • Larry Brezer
    Lived with the Davises for a year about 1970; later known as Laz Lawrence Brezer and a noted dancer in Japan.
  • David BrombergAllMusic
    “When you were there and it was mealtime, you were invited.”
    Youtube: Talks about Davis and plays “Maple Leaf Rag.”
  • Ian BuchananAllMusic
    An especially talented student, Davis and Buchanan grew very close, with the Reverend later introducing him to his black church congregations as “my white son.” Buchanan taught the Davis guitar style to some of his fellow students at Antioch College including Jorma Kaukonen (later of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna) and John P. Hammond, son of the famed Columbia Records producer.
    Youtube: Ian Buchanan with the Pigmeat Blues Band “Down The Highway.”
  • Harry ChapinAllMusic
    Youtube: Chapin’s song “Bluesman.”
  • Tom ChapinAllMusic
  • Andy CohenAllMusic
    Lead boy, briefly, for Davis.
    Youtube: Davis song “If I Had My Way.”
  • Ry CooderAllMusic
    Had lessons with Davis in between Davis’s performances at the Ash Grove folk club in Hollywood.
    Youtube: A Skip James song “Cherry Ball Blues” from 1972.
  • Bruce ConforthAllMusic
    First curator of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
    Youtube: Davis song “Buck’s Dance” (with intro).
  • Dion DiMucci AllMusic
    DiMucci is best known for his Top 40 hits recorded with the rock ’n’ roll group Dion and the Belmonts.
    Youtube: “That’s Where It’s At”, accompanied by some old Bronx film footage.
  • John Dyer
    A student who lived with the Davises in the early seventies.
  • Allan Evans AllMusic
    One of Davis’s final guitar pupils. A week or two before his death Davis gave him a two-and-a-half hour lesson, and then wanted to arm wrestle. Founded Arbiter Records.
    Soundcloud: Davis song Make-believe Stunt
  • Joan Fenton
  • Geno Forman
    Forman was active in the Camridge folk scene and played guitar on at least one Joan Baez recording. He died in 1966.
  • Blind Boy FullerAllMusic
    One of the best-selling bluesmen of all time. Fuller and Davis were both street musicians in Durham, North Carolina.
    Youtube: The ragtime blues tune “Step It Up and Go”
  • John Gibbon
    After Davis moved to New York, Gibbon was his first one-on-one guitar student and “lead boy” in New York; later became a psychiatrist.
  • Stefan GrossmanAllMusic
    Studied with Davis for three years. Grossman’s Guitar Workshop carries on the teaching of Davis’s music and musical style.
    Youtube: Talks about Davis.
  • Ernie HawkinsAllMusic
    Came to New York to study with Davis straight out of high school in Pittsburgh.
    Youtube: The Davis instrumental “Slow Drag/Cincinnati Flow Rag”
  • Janis IanAllMusic
    Student of Davis as a precocious fourteen-year-old singer-songwriter from East Orange, NJ, who was named Janis Fink at the time.
    Youtube: Seventeen-year-old Janis Ian performs “Society’s Child.”
  • Larry JohnsonAllMusic
    Youtube: Talks about his early career and lessons with Davis.
  • Steve KatzAllMusic
    Guitarist with the Blues Project and cofounder of Blood, Sweat, and Tears.
    Youtube: The Blues Project recording of “Steve’s Song” from 1967.
  • Nick KatzmanAllMusic
    Youtube: “Maple Leaf Rag”
  • Jesse Lee KincaidAllMusic
    With fellow Davis student Ry Cooder (plus Taj Mahal) formed the short-lived group Rising Sons (AllMusic)
    Youtube: A Rising Sons recording of “Candy Man”
  • Ken Kipnis
  • Barry KornfeldAllMusic
  • John Mankiewicz
    Now a screenwriter and producer. “My parents were going through a sort of ugly divorce at that time and [the Davises’ house] was sort of my refuge.”
  • Woody MannAllMusic
    Mann was twelve when his mother took him to the first of four years’ worth of lessons.
    Youtube: Davis tribute song “Country Fair”
  • Alexander McEwenAllMusic
  • Rory McEwenAllMusic
    Youtube: Rory and Alex McEwen play the folk song “Mary Hamilton.”
  • Dean Meredith
    A Canadian student; drove Davis to visit Woody Guthrie in Brooklyn State Hospital in 1964.
  • North Peterson
  • Rick RuskinAllMusic
    After his ninth grade year at Winship Junior High in Detroit, he lived with the Davises in the summer of 1964.
    Youtube: Plays Davis tribute, “Goofin' with Gary.”
  • Alex Shoumatoff Wikipedia
    A journalist who has been a staff writer for the New Yorker, and a contributing editor to Outside, Vanity Fair, and Conde Nast Traveler. “I think Gary Davis touched a lot of people in a way that sort of changed their lives—and definitely in my case.”
    Youtube: His own 1971 song “Pennsylvania Turnpike Blues”
  • Alan Smithline
    “He said to me, ‘You don’t have to be black, you don’t have to be white—anybody can play the blues.’”
    Youtube: Davis song “Let Us Get Together.”
  • John TownleyAllMusic
    Townley was a student and the driver of the first car Davis bought in 1963. Later became a record producer and recorded Davis’s O, Glory: The Apostolic Studio Sessions.
    Youtube: “Shine On” from 1979.
  • Dave Van RonkAllMusic
    The Mayor of MacDougal Street; a fixture in the Greenwich Village folk revival.
    Youtube: Davis song “Hesitation Blues”
  • Bob Weir AllMusic
    Guitarist for the Grateful Dead, etc.
    Youtube: Davis song “Samson & Delilah” with the Grateful Dead.
  • Tom Winslow AllMusic
    A black folksinger and one of Davis’s few black students in New York.
    Youtube: “My God Is Real” from 1969.
  • Geoff Withers

Performers influenced by Rev. Gary Davis

Rev. Gary Davis audio and video