In his prime of life, which is to say the late '20s, the Reverend Gary Davis was one of the two most renowned practitioners of the East Coast school of ragtime guitar; 35 years later, despite two decades spent playing on the streets of Harlem in New York, he was still one of the giants in his field, playing before thousands of people at a time, and an inspiration to dozens of modern guitarist/singers including Bob Dylan, Taj Mahal, and Donovan; and Jorma Kaukonen, David Bromberg, and Ry Cooder, who studied with Davis.
Davis was partially blind at birth, and lost what little sight he had before he was an adult. He was self-taught on the guitar, beginning at age six, and by the time he was in his 20s he had one of the most advanced guitar techniques of anyone in blues; his only peers among ragtime-based players were Blind Arthur Blake, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Blind Willie Johnson. Davis himself was a major influence on Blind Boy Fuller.
His most Rev. Gary Davis was an active musician in addition to being a guitar instructor during his later years. From Blues to Gospel (1993) contains a bakers' dozen of selections featuring his inimitable performance style on an assortment of gospel and secular blues tunes. By the time of these 1971 recordings — a year prior to his passing — Davis' legend had long-been established. Likewise, his influence had become far reaching and was being felt by a concurrent generation of artists. Electric rockers the Grateful Dead and Hot Tuna, and acoustic troubadours David Bromberg and Stefan Grossman were bringing both his material and variations on Davis' delivery to audiences that otherwise may not have been exposed to him. These studio tunes showcase Davis accompanying himself on the distinct 12-string 'Bozo' guitar custom-made by Serbian-born master luthier, Bozo Podunavac. The instrument's liberated tone is aptly matched by the equally loose and limber execution. Even through his advanced years, Davis' finger-picking remained clean, with the pure and direct timbre that had become his trademark. If anything, age seems to have actually enhanced his adept execution and ability to melodically augment beyond his somewhat limited Piedmont blues origins and into an improvisational space. Much of the repertoire on From Blues to Gospel can be considered a seminal contribution to Davis' catalog, including "Sally, Where'd You Get Your Whiskey?" (aka "Sally, Where'd You Get Your Liquor?") "Cocaine Blues," "Samson and Delilah," "Children of Zion," and "You'd Better Get Right." At the age of 76, his ardent 'fire and brimstone' vocals are countered by an equally aggressive and fervent prowess. Unlike many of Davis' contemporaries, there are far too few documents such as this available, increasing the inherent value as all dimensions of enthusiast will be well-served by this collection