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
- Davis at AllMusic
- Blind Gary Davis A short documentary by Harold Becker filmed in the Bronx and Harlem in 1962.
- Davis appears on Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Quest The full episode of the television program (1964 or ’65) also includes performances by Donovan and Shawn Phillips.
- Twenty-five minutes of a video recorded in a Seattle television station in 1969. Includes: “Twelve Gates to the City,” “Samson and Delilah,” “Slow Drag/Cincinnati Flow Rag,” “Candy Man” (instrumental), “Sally Where’d You Get Your Liquor From,” “Buck Dance,” “Wouldn’t Say Quit,” “Oh Glory How Happy I Am,” and “I Heard the Angels Singing” (partial).
- “Baby, Let Me Lay It on You” is the Davis version of the song that, via Eric von Schmidt, became Bob Dylan’s “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down.”
- “Cocaine Blues”
- “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” recorded at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.
- “Twelve Gates to the City”
- Many more are available online.