Reverend Gary Davis (born on April
30, 1896 in South Carolina -- he died on May 5, 1972 in New
Jersey) was an incredible blues guitar player who was an expert in the way of playing generally referred to as Piedmont, which is ragtime blues
style. A fine example of his mastery is the way he syncopates the Candy Man chords, a very simple chord progression.
Even within the generic term ‘ragtime’ guitar, there
are other categories, like piano style ragtime finger picking and of
course ragtime blues guitar.
ragtime blues technique was born because guitarists tried to emulate the
joyous dancing music of that piano technique created by Scott Joplin et
al. Guitar players in those times were fascinated by the alternating
bass patterns and general rhythmic feel.
In South Carolina; when Davis was a young man, the
acknowledged guitar master was Blind Willie Walker, who played incredibly
accurate and very fast, much like Blind Blake.
Davis picked up several tunes up
from Walker, including Cincinatti Flow Drag and Make Belief Stunt. This meeting
was probably crucial to the development of Davis’ style, no doubt expanding his
skills and repertoire.
By his own admission, Davis ‘was scared o’ no guitarist’
by the time he was 30 years old. Even though an expert in the ragtime guitar style, he could
truly play in any style and in any key with equal skill.
After he became
ordained as a minister, he refused to play the old blues, and favored gospel
songs relating the word of the Lord.
He also had many part songs in his song
list. Musicians at that time played on the street, parties, and any where where
they could get a few coins, a bed or a meal.
It was essential that they varied
their playing and offer music that appealed to a wide range of audiences.
– great for making himself heard above
street noise. He also used finger picks, which act as a natural amplifier and
also save the fingers from harm after playing for several hours, as musicians
did at that time. He used a large plastic thumb pick worn high up, close to his
hand, and a steel pick on his fore finger.
Incredibly, he only used one finger to pick the
strings, which hardly seems possible, bearing in mind the complexity of the
music he created. His thumb would jump all over the strings, never being
content to play just the bass notes. It could also jump out of time and double
up on the beat, which shows amazing control. Another trademark technique was
his single string run work. He would strike a single string alternately with
his thumb and fore finger in quick succession at lightning speed, and sing at
the same time!
We should all be forever grateful for the legacy left by
the original great of blues guitarists. Here's a short lesson showing a
couple of simple variations on the basic Candy Man theme, as played by
the legendary Reverend Gary Davis. What he did with just three chords
Blues Guitar Lessons 36 Video Pack
"Best on The Internet" (from Down Home Blues)
but none so slick and inventive as
the Reverend. His songs were truly creative with a wide variation in chord
sequences used. Most ragtime blues songs have a standard chord progression depending
on the key, and these progression are notably more complex than a standard
blues progression in E or A, but Davis further extended these progressions
adding a new level of richness.