Durham County

Late Piedmont blues icon Blind Gary Davis lives on in previously unreleased recording

Rev. Gary Davis, also known as Blind Gary Davis, was among the blues artists who created the Piedmont blues sound in Durham. Omnivore Recordings of Los Angeles, California, will be putting out a previously unreleased live recording of Davis titled “The Avant Garde Recordings: Recorded Live – October 1966.”

The date for the CD and digital release of the recordings is March 23.

The recording captures Davis at the Avant Garde coffeehouse in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in October of 1966, according to American Blues Scene. The performance was captured on a single microphone. The recording captures Davis in the 1960s, which American Blues Scene calls “a revival period for his career.” Davis performs “You Got To Move,” “Samson And Delilah,” “I Feel Like My Time Ain’t Long,” “She’s Funny That Way,” and other blues classics.

A historical marker on Fayetteville Street in Durham, “Bull City Blues,” pays tribute to Davis, Blind Boy Fuller and other artists who performed in Durham in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. “During the 1920s-1940s, Durham was home to African American musicians whose work defined a distinctive regional style,” the marker states. “Blues artists often played in the surrounding Hayti community and downtown tobacco warehouse district.”

Born in South Carolina in 1896, Davis moved to Durham in the mid-1920s, soon becoming a full-time street musician, according to Allmusic.com. “He was celebrated not only for the diversity of styles that his playing embraced, but also for his skills with the guitar, which were already virtually unmatched in the blues field,” Allmusic states.

Davis moved to New York in the 1940s, and a new generation of folk and blues musicians began recognizing his work in the 1950s and 1960s. Musicians Jorma Kaukonen, The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan and Keb’ Mo’ are among many who cite Davis as an influence on their playing.

Davis died in 1972.

Cliff Bellamy: 919-419-6744, @CliffBellamy1