Guy Davis Narrative Blues

“Do it because you love it.” That’s the advice of master blues musician Guy Davis. Besides performing in Broadway musicals such as Zora Neale, Davis has acted as the legendary bluesman Robert Johnson and written his own one-man show, In Bed With The Blues: The Adventures of Fishy Waters. His latest release, Skunkmello [Red House], showcases Davis’ skills on 6- and 12-string acoustics, banjo, and harmonica, as well as a distinctive sound inspired by Blind Willie McTell and Furry Lewis.

“When I first heard blues, I was probably about eight,” says Davis. “In the ’70s, when I was playing folk music, a fellow named Eric showed me how he picked ‘Atlanta Strut’ on a 12-string guitar. That was my hands-on intro to Blind Willie McTell.”

All the songs on Skunkmello are new—except for “Blues In The Midnight Hour,” which wasn’t recorded until recently.

“I wrote that song in England years ago,” he says. “I called up a girlfriend, and I played it to her over the phone. Actually recording the song wasn’t as simple. It took us about five or six sessions. The logistics of getting all the musicians in the studio at the same time was a nightmare, but thanks to my producer, John Platania, it got done. Post-production took even longer. Between the tweaking, the editing, the boosting, the overdubbing, the re-recording, the speeding tickets, and the lack of sleep, it felt like it took forever to get that song down.”

Although Davis started out playing a black Hagstrom III electric guitar—which he had to persuade his dad to buy for him—he now uses a Gibson J-45, a Guild 12-string, and a cheap “road knocker” banjo called a Rover. He tunes the J-45 to either standard or dropped-D, and puts the 12-string in open C. His claw hammer banjo technique has been developed in recent years—“the secret is practicing real slow, because speed and accuracy come with repetition”—and the reward is the impressive banjo duet, “Shaky Pudding.” “Because I’m mostly self- taught, it has taken me longer to get where I am, but good-quality playing is timeless,” he says. “I learned fingerpicking one night from a nine-fingered stranger while on a train to New York. He was sitting opposite me, watching me play. I don’t remember his name, but, after a while, he asked if he could play my guitar. I handed it to him, and he showed me Travis picking. He was missing his right index finger, so what I pick with my ring finger, he was doing with his pinky. At the time, I was a big Leo Kottke fan, so I paid close attention to what this mysterious stranger was doing.” Davis’ songs feature a huge cast of characters, from a trench-coat wearing gambler with a fondness for pie in “Blackberry Ramble” to the lively chicken thief, Skunkmello, and his Lazy Liars and Loafers Club.

“I think I’ve always just been dying to tell stories,” says Davis. “Stories have magical powers.”