Recollections of Gary Davis
I was an officer of the Indian Neck Folk Music Festival, an organization at Yale University that sponsored folk concerts in the 60's, and in November of 1961 was part of a team that was dispatched to New York to pick up Gary, Cynthia Gooding, and Molly Scott for a concert in Woolsey Hall in New Haven.
After getting lost in the Bronx and arriving an hour late for the packed concert, I figured I'd warm Gary up by trading swallows from a bottle with him, assuming he could out-drink me -- WRONG. After an off-stage interlude in which Miss Gibson called seductively to Molly so that Gary could bury his head in her bosom (she was incredibly sweet and patient in all this), I led him on stage and squatted beside him, as he proceeded to give a long plug for his recent release from "the Prestige Record Company." Hoping to distract him into music I said, "Gary, how about 'Sit Down By the Banks of the River?'" Turning to me he said "Hold off on your pistol 'til I get done with my shotgun!" We all cracked up, he finished, and began to play. The rest of his set was brilliant, the high point "Death Don't Have No Mercy," which drew 2 encores.
Santa Cruz, CA, USA
For what seemed like an endless journey in the days before easy travel and motorways, I made the journey from my home in Perth to Glasgow for one of my early experiences of live American music. The venue was Glasgow Concert Hall and the date was Sunday 13th June 1965. The occasion was the Scottish stop of the American Folk Music and Blues Tour promoted by the English Folk Dance and Song Society (really!!). There were three performers on the bill:
Buffy Sainte-Marie, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Rev.
Gary Davis. Having been an avid reader of SING OUT magazine, I was aware of Buffy’s reputation and I already owned a couple of albums by Jack and Rev Davis so I thought I was reasonably well prepared for the occasion. Jack and Buffy certainly lived up to my expectations but Rev Gary Davis far exceeded any expectations I might have had as an aspiring guitarist who had failed to get to grips with his style of playing. It was an eye-opening and jaw-dropping experience to see him perform a small selection of his extensive repertoire and lift the evening’s performance to another level. It was all over too soon and I unfortunately missed his visit to Scotland in July of the following year (it clashed with an important birthday and it would have been rather antisocial to have abandoned my guests for a concert!). I didn’t see him perform again until his final UK visit in 1971 to the Cambridge Folk Festival. To sum up though – if I had my way, I would tear this building down just to see Rev Davis one more time – fortunately, I do have most of his recordings to listen to even although he has long since left us.