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Blues Guitar - Reverend Gary Davis


Often it's the small things that guitarists include that make all the difference. Many of us have played Candy Man by Gary Davis, for a long time, with various degrees of success. I've played this for years, and then I decided to take a closer look to see what's going on.

Of course, we know that he used just one finger and his thumb for his right hand picking, but that's just the start of his genius for blues music. Loosen up those fingers and let's go ... One Of The Last Great Blues Guitar Masters

Reverend Gary Davis

Reverend Gary Davis was an unusual blues guitar player in many respects.

The complexity and musical richness of his music is legendary, and we could consider ourselves to be very lucky that his prowess remained undiminished in his later years. Unlike many blues men, who stopped playing and restarted after they had been 'discovered' again, Gary Davis never stopped playing.

It was still his habit to play the blues in the streets around Harlem until he became in vogue once again, then started to record and play live gigs once again. He was also very willing to give blues guitar lessons to almost anyone that asked him, it seems, and so the skills were passed on to young guitarists such as Stephan Grossman and many others.


How Did the Reverend Finger Pick His guitar?


First of all, Davis used the thumb and index finger
of his right hand to produce all of those incredibly complex sounds. Of course, his finger could move rapidly and seemed to move independently from his thumb. He also used picks, which helps to be more accurate.

He was very proficient in any key, either major or minor, but it wasn't this fact that exemplified his music (for me.) The timing of his thumb beats were rock solid, as you would expect, and he could break out of the alternating bass pattern at will, either to double time and produce syncopated rhythms, or to produce lightning fast single string runs.

For the latter, he would pick a string alternately with his thumb and finger, as though he were using a plectrum. This was impressive enough, but he often sang at the same time which is some trick -try it sometime!

His thumb would also jump across to the high strings when needed, to complete a run or a phrase, giving the impression of other finger being used. The result was a unique experience of ragtime guitar playing which has never been equaled.



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