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A Tr i b u t e to R e v. G a ry Dav i s

“Rev. Davis used to say that he didn’t have any sons but he had many children. Rory is part of Rev. Davis’s family and carries on his tradition with deeply sung emotional gospel vocals playing counterpoint to Rev. Davis’s complex guitar parts.” — STEFAN GROSSMAN

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Samson & Delilah 4:20 Goin’ To Sit Down On The Banks Of The River 4:02 Let Us Get Together Right Down Here 4:00 I Belong To The Band 4:06 Lord, I Feel Just Like Goin’ On 4:02 Lo, I Be With You Always 4:49 Pure Religion 5:07 Twelve Gates To The City 4:02 Great Change Since I’ve Been Born 4:31

10. I Am The Light Of This World 5:20 11. Death Don’t Have No Mercy 5:06

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SPCD1359 C & P 2012 Stony Plain Records. Stony Plain Recording Co. Ltd. PO Box 861 Edmonton, AB Canada T5J 2L8. For a free catalogue: tel: 780-468-6423 fax: 780-465-8941 email: MADE IN CANADA

I cried during the recording of this CD. While listening to the music, memories of a precious time came swirling back like a wave of warm, fragrant air. I was overwhelmed with powerful emotions. This was a time when people like Reverend Gary Davis could be visited in person— at home—and one could take face-to-face lessons. It was nothing short of a magical time—of discovery, falling in love—and being swept away by the liberating beauty of early American blues and gospel in a well worn easy chair in Reverend Gary Davis’s living room. In 1964, when Stefan Grossman was 18 and I was 14, he took me to meet Reverend Gary Davis (in addition to a number of other rediscovered blues masters). Stefan supported me utterly in my quest to learn and play Country Blues at a time when no tablature, dvd’s, or other resources existed, save the greatest one of all: sitting down with one of the masters as an apprentice. Stefan tackled the Reverend’s style of playing as much as any human being I know of, and as a teenager, I was witness to many of those incredible lessons.
Reverend Gary Davis at our apartment on Saint Mark’s Place, 1965 - by Rory Block

While recording I wrote the following to Stefan: “I have completed Samson and Delilah. I can’t wait to play it for you. I am fully aware that no one will ever sing or play quite like the Reverend, but as I often say about Robert Johnson, it’s good to try. Why not reach for the top of the mountain? Of course it has been a struggle, but I have every hope it will get easier song by song. Having not played this style in the past is a huge disadvantage, but I am willing to stretch and fight to get it under control. Those pesky chords! Those finger positions, those slides, those finger-thumb rolls, those counter-point rhythms... yikes! But the worst of it is the finger picks. They don’t fit at all, though I have tried a million of them in every size, shape and material. They simply come flying off every few seconds. I finally had to use duct tape rolled inside the thumb pick to glue it to my thumb, then, after ripping it off when it started to cut off my circulation, it took the first layer of skin with it. This is the hardest part. On the good side watching dvd’s of RGD is even more revealing than I thought it would be. More than any particular experience playing his music, through the hours spent sitting in his living room, I have absorbed a great deal of the notes and the hand positions in my head and know what I will be dealing with as a result.”

The following excerpts are from my autobiography When A Woman Gets The Blues:
Reverend Gary Davis
Stefan and I used to take the subway to Reverend Gary Davis’s house in the Bronx. Stefan was among a handful of individuals who got face-toface instruction from the Reverend. While never considering myself an expert in Davis’s style, I took in the fantastic atmosphere of the place. My area of focus was the Delta styles from day one, but I was only too happy to listen to Stefan and Davis joking mercilessly and pounding away on their two guitars. The great Reverend, whose music was sacred to me, playing, singing, and quipping with Stefan. When teaching, he never slowed down to explain, he simply played it at you with lightning speed and had a lot to say if you couldn’t catch on. His formidable little wife entered the room from time to time to remind him that playing blues was not acceptable in God’s sight, and instructed him to play only gospel for the salvation of his mortal soul. I did two drawings of the Reverend—one from a photograph taken at a festival, and another sketched while he was sitting in our living room.

Bronx, New York 1964
First, the long subway ride. Then, the stares from the locals—what were city folk doing venturing so far out of town? This was “rural” Bronx, with little wood and brick houses on scrubby lots, trees and beat-up sidewalks. This was a pilgrimage to a sacred land. Inside there was the element of soft lighting—a warm glow from a small lamp with a tilted shade which lent a beautiful, burnished bronze cast to the room—the flavor of an old house from another era, walls adorned with framed plaques reading “God Bless This Home,” doilies gracing the arms of threadbare easy chairs, the grayish haze from a cigar, and a room filled with too many salvaged and cherished things to fit into one small space—cozier and more wonderful than ever—filled with sweetness and profound meaning to a fifteen year old girl who had already dedicated her life to playing and living inside this absolutely mystical, overwhelmingly meaningful music. Blues—one guitar, one voice, one thumping heart and a soul so powerful it could speak straight to God... Holding court was the magnificent Reverend. With his Jumbo in hand, he danced across the strings with a smile so sly that his mocked irritation was like a ritual blessing. On the one hand were the jokes—the flood of wisecracks that always

brought a chuckle or a belly laugh—then came the reprimands, and your fingers turned to jelly before the master. He growled, he cajoled, he sang with his throaty, raw voice: gospel tinged with blues, blues coated with gospel, till his wife entered the room, dish towel in hand, to remind him that he was not to digress into the devil’s music. This was Reverend Gary Davis’s house, this was everything that mattered, this was blues to me in 1964.

Return To The East
One day Stefan brought Gary Davis over to the apartment. No doubt the stairs were an immense chore for an old man, but he never complained and made it to the top, clutching Stefan’s arm and joking the entire way. He sat there smoking a giant cigar and playing his big Gibson J200. Stefan used to reach over and flick the ash off the end from time to time so it wouldn’t burn down the house. I did a pen and ink drawing of the Reverend which attempted to capture some part of his fabulous, imposing demeanor.

Upstate New York, January 2012
Just before recording, I called Stefan hoping for a lesson. He was traveling, but sent a copy of Ernie Hawkin’s teaching dvd. This got me started, challenged me, jogged my memory, and filled in the gaps. It gave me the courage to leap into the abyss,

and suddenly a fair amount began coming back to me. I had dabbled in several songs years ago, and now bits and pieces started to reappear in my fingertips, including the all-important pointcounterpoint of the reversed base lines. Every time I reached an impasse, I would open Ernie’s video (one of the best resources on the subject). Thanks to my other favorite guitar wizards and friends—David Bromberg, Roy Bookbinder, and Woody Mann, who were also fortunate enough to spend in-person time with the Reverend—I’m sure we all agree that the experience changed us permanently. Thanks to Jorma Kaukonen, Marc Silber and Larry Campbell, whose capable hands seem to just magically play the notes, proving to me that somehow or other I might manage.
Also available:

Produced by Rory Block and Rob Davis for Aurora Productions. Executive Producer: Holger Petersen Engineered and mixed by Rob Davis Mastered by Larry Alexander and Rob Davis at Studio L, Valley Cottage, NY. All guitars and vocals: Rory Block. Rory plays her Signature Model OM40 Martin guitars In addition D-28 Merle Travis Prototype Martin Guitar supplied by Dick Boak of Martin Guitars for this recording. Many thanks to Dick and the wonderful people at Martin Guitars! Photography: Sergio Kurhajec Original artwork: Rory Block Graphic art: Mark Dutton at Halkier + Dutton Design Exclusive worldwide bookings: Ted Kurland Associates contact: Tracks 2,3,6,7,10,11: Gary Davis, Chandos Music Company Tracks 4,9: Gary Davis, EMI Robbins Catalog Inc Track 5: Gary Davis, Happy Valley Music Track 1: Traditional, Gary Davis, Warner Bros Music Track 8: Traditional, Arranged by Gary Davis, Chandos Music Company

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