2017-01-25 / Features

Local Express

Guy Davis

Guy Davis once said, “I like antiques and old things, old places, that still have the dust of those who’ve gone before us lying upon them.” Blowing that dust off just enough to see its beauty is something Guy has excelled at for over 20 years of songwriting and performing. It’s no wonder his reverence for the music of the blues masters who’ve gone before him has been evident in every album he’s ever recorded or concert he’s given.

Guy has had his musical storytelling influenced by artists like Blind Willie McTell and Big Bill Broonzy, and his musicality from artists as diverse as Lightnin’ Hopkins and Babatunde Olatunji. However, there’s one man that Guy most credits for his harmonica technique, the legendary Sonny Terry.

Guy’s new album, Sonny & Brownie’s Last Train – A Look Back at Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry, is an homage to these two hugely influential artists, not only on Guy’s career, but to thousands of musicians around the world. One such artist is the Italian harmonica ace, Fabrizio Poggi, who collaborates with and produced this recording. In 2013 Fabrizio produced and played on Guy’s highly acclaimed recording, “Juba Dance,” which was number one on the Roots Music Charts for eight weeks. Fabrizio also performs on Guy’s last album, Kokomo Kidd.

Recorded in the summer of 2016 in Milan, the album features the original title track written by Guy Davis, songs by both Sonny and Brownie, as well as songs known to have been recorded and performed by the famed duo written by their contemporaries, such as Libba Cotton and Leadbelly.

Guy Davis has spent his musical life carrying his message of the blues around the world, from the equator to the Arctic Circle, earning him the title, “Ambassador of the Blues.” His work as an actor, author, and music teacher earmark him as a renaissance man of the blues. What music and acting have in common, he explains, “is that I don’t like people to see the hard work and the sweat that goes into what I do. I want them to hear me and be uplifted. And I want some little 8-year-old kid in the front row to have big eyes and say, ‘Hey, I want to do that!’”

Guy Davis is giving a concert on February 3rd and 4th at the Flushing Arts Council.

QG: Why did you choose the blues over other genres of music to play?

GD: All my life, I have loved many kinds of music. My parents had a record collection of music from around the world, including symphonies, folk, jazz, to Balinese gamelans and rock and roll. The blues, once I heard it, never felt like a stranger. Both Piedmont and Delta seemed to already be inside of me. The voices sounded like my grandmother and the people who sang at the Baptist church we attended.

QG: Who are some artists that have influenced your career?

GD: My career has been influenced by a lot of people. It was after I heard, read and performed some of the stories and songs collected and presented by Zora Neale Hurston, that I wrote my show, “The Adventures of Fishy Waters: In Bed With the Blues,” which has sustained me for almost 25 years. I heard much of Pete Seeger’s music before I ever met him. Years later, he and his wife Toshi, got me a grant to record an album for Folkways Records.

As a child, I got to meet and witness firsthand the live performances of singers and musicians such as Sammy Davis Jr., Odetta, and Josh White. As an adult, numerous times, I did opening sets for Odetta. As a teenager, I got to see Junior Wells and Buddy Guy play live with a band in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

When I was about 20, I got a spot playing electric guitar in the orchestra of a show directed by Oscar Brown Jr., called “Seek and You Shall Find,” which originated at Hunter College in New York City.

As an adult, I got cast in a major motion picture called Beat Street by Harry Belafonte, whose music I grew up listening to.

QG: What is your favorite thing about playing music?

GD: Playing music gets me a lot of attention. God knows I’ve always liked that, but even better, because of music I’ve gotten to meet people all over this world.

QG: Is this your first time playing concerts in Queens? If so, are you excited about anything in particular about playing here?

GD: I have played music in Queens before. I used to live here at my aunt’s house in Flushing, while I was attending college, and I did a short stint with the Black Spectrum Theatre Company in Saint Albans.

QG: What are some of your hobbies?

GD: I like to cook. I’m not that good, but I am working on it.

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