Review: Davis brings modernized Delta blues to packed Linda
ALBANY “I’ve stole so much, this song doesn’t even have a title,” blues man Guy Davis told a packed auditorium at the Linda on Friday night before singing his first song, which he called a “blend of Charley Patton, Willie McTell and others.”
Davis, a one-man show who has modernized the delivery of Delta blues, played a host of songs young and old with guitar, banjo, harmonica and a huge growl of a voice. A writer, an actor from soap operas and off-Broadway plays, but a musician first, he filled the night with traditional blues tunes and wide-ranging, hilarious stories that may or may not have been true, he warned.
Davis had the audience bark like dogs and howl like wolves at the appropriate times during Willie Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster.” The standing-room audience consistently howled and barked with surprising vigor, setting the tone for the night.
Before singing “Can’t Be Satisfied,” he talked about playing the song in the Royal Albert Music Hall with England’s Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip and other royalty in the audience. He said not to be too impressed, “it may not be true.”
He played a few pretty, non-bluesy ballads, including Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” and “Love Looks Good on You.”
He played a fast-paced harmonica solo, “Did You See My Baby,” his tribute to Sonny Terry.
“Took me 20 years to learn how he played. There were no Sonny lessons, unless you knew Sonny, and I didn’t,” he said.
With Davis’ stomping foot and physical antics, the feel of the tune hinted back to the old Vaudeville shows, skillful playing laced with satire.
A loyal blues man, Davis makes no bones about growing up in a New York City suburb, telling the audience that the “only cotton he’s ever picked is underwear off the floor.”
He opened his second set with “That’s No Way to Get Along,” from his latest album, “Juba Dance.” A juba dance, also known as hambone, is an African style of dance that calls on stomping feet and slapping arms, legs and chest.
He sang a slow, sad version of “The Loneliest Road I Know” about Highway 61. The original version refers to the longest road, not the loneliest, but Davis said he recorded it before he realized it was “longest.”
He broke out his banjo again for “Shakey Pudding.” He rambled a bit here, comparing pudding in the U.K to pudding in the U.S. His banjo playing — so fluid and natural despite the speedy tempo — made up for the silliness.
For “Statesboro Blues,” a Blind Willie McTell tune made famous by the Allman Brothers, Davis stripped out the blues and sang it as a country-folk tune, softly, as one might hear on the front porch of a southern home.
He didn’t sing much about whiskey through the night, a pervasive blues theme, but plenty about whistling trains, women and moving on.
It’s a noble thing Davis is doing, keeping the Delta blues alive, which one can argue is one of the only art forms made and nurtured in the United States. He also spends time in schools educating children in the blues.
“I want them to be my audience in 15 years,” the 61-year-old joked.