Say No to the Devil: The Life and Musical Genius of Rev. Gary Davis
Who was the greatest of all American guitarists? Bob Dylan called Davis one of the wizards of modern music. This book takes readers through Davis' difficult beginning as the blind son of sharecroppers in the Jim Crow South to his decision to become an ordained Baptist minister an... read full description below.
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||15 April 2015 by FOOTPRINT BOOKS
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||By Zack, Ian
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Full details for this title
|Library of Congress
||Guitarists - United States, Blues musicians - United States, Musicians, Black - United States, Davis, Gary
||Biography: The Arts
Description of this Book
Who was the greatest of all American guitarists? You probably didn't name Gary Davis, but many of his musical contemporaries considered him without peer. Bob Dylan called Davis one of the wizards of modern music. Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead--who took lessons with Davis--claimed his musical ability transcended any common notion of a bluesman. And the folklorist Alan Lomax called him one of the really great geniuses of American instrumental music, a man who belongs in the company of Louis Armstrong. But you won't find Davis alongside blues legends Robert Johnson and Mississippi John Hurt in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Nor did he make Rolling Stone 's 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Despite almost universal renown among his contemporaries, Davis lives today not so much in his own work but through covers of his songs by Dylan, Jackson Browne, and many others, as well as in the untold number of students whose lives he influenced--many of whom continue to teach his techniques today. The first biography of Davis, Say No to the Devil restores the Rev's remarkable story. Drawing on extensive research and interviews with many of Davis's former students and others who knew him well, music journalist Ian Zack takes readers through Davis's difficult beginning as the blind son of sharecroppers in the Jim Crow South to his decision to become an ordained Baptist minister and his move to New York in the early 1940s, where he scraped out a living singing and preaching on street corners and in storefront churches in Harlem. There, he gained entry into a circle of musicians that included, among many others, Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, and Dave Van Ronk. He wowed them with his sophisticated guitar technique, which included the ability to mimic an entire marching band. But, in spite of his tremendous musical achievements, Davis never gained broad recognition from an American public that wasn't sure what to make of his trademark blend of gospel, ragtime, street preaching, and the blues. His personal life also was fraught, troubled by struggles with alcohol, women, and deteriorating health. Zack chronicles this remarkable figure in American music, helping us to understand how he taught and influenced a generation of musicians.
Awards, Reviews & Star Ratings
||Zack has written a solid and well-researched biography of Davis that has been long overdue. Davis was a complex and difficult man, and it is to Zack's great credit that this comes through, along with the obvious admiration so many young musicians had for 'the Rev.' Say No to the Devil provides plenty of material to interest fans and newcomers alike. --Elijah Wald
Ian Zack is a New York-based journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Forbes, and Acoustic Guitar. He worked as a concert booker for one of the oldest folk venues in New York, the Good Coffeehouse, where he got to know some of Davis's students.