Original Album Liner for Rev Gary Davis Ragtime Guitar



Reverend Gary Davis is an incredible guitarist. This record is a collection of rags and ragtime songs. These tunes are not bound by one guitar style. Rev. Davis has perfected many techniques and styles that he freely incorporates into a song. The music ranges from simple fingerpicking patterns to complex linear and rhythmic counter-point techniques. It is interesting to hear his development of a theme from a basic melody to an intricate arrangement.

The music of Rev. Davis has been the inspiration for many bluesmen and guitarists. Blind Boy Fuller, Brownie McGhee, Larry Johnson, Ry Cooder, Dave Van Ronk, and Taj Mahal are only a few of the names that have been influenced by the “singing Reverend”.

This record is just the first in a series devoted to the songs, stories and instrumentals of Rev. Davis. All the selections were recorded over an eight year period, from 1962-1970. They were recorded at my home, in concerts, at church meetings, or at Rev. Davis’ house. I think that they finally capture some of the excitement that is so powerful in his playing. I have found many previous recordings of Rev. Davis very clinical. It is a serious mistake to place an artist like Rev. Davis in a studio for a few hours and hope to capture his “genius”. You need much more time. The ambience must be just right for an artist to play at his best. I think that these recordings capture this spirit.

The songs of this album as well as the future releases will serve as the basis for my guitar instruction book devoted to the styles of Rev. Davis. This book should hopefully be completed by 1972. It will be published by Robbins.

The sound reproduction for most of the selections presented here is of good quality. Several of the tunes were done in halls not ideally suited for recording master tapes. But when I have thought the performance exceptional I have felt the sacrifice in sound was justified.

CINCINNATI FLOW RAG: This has also been titled SLOW DRAG. This is an imitation of the old ragtime piano. It is reminiscent of Blind Blake though the guitar technique is quite different. The tune is played in the key of C. Sections of this sound similar to the second part of MAPLE LEAF RAG.

WEST COAST BLUES: This is the famous Blind Blake tune. Rev. Davis plays this on a six string banjo, I had been learning many rags from Rev. Davis when I decided to ask him about Blake’s playing. I didn’t realize that many of Blake’s instrumentals were part of his repertoire. I was quite amazed to hear this rendition. When asking Rev. Davis whether this style was hard he just shrugged his shoulders and said, “Why no, it’s all in the basic roll!”

BUCK RAG: This is an old turn of the century rag. It is played in the key of C.

ST. LOUIS TICKLE: This tune was very popular amongst New York guitarists in the mid-sixties. I asked Rev. Davis if he played this tune and he proceeded to play this version. It is interesting as it is basically one theme done in various ways. The variations are quite difficult. The over-all sound is very “old-timey”. Most other versions sound tame compared to this. Rev. Davis has an unique way of imitating a piano sound. Many guitarists try to imitate the right and left hand of the piano on the guitar. But Rev. Davis instead imitates the over-all sound and texture.

TWO STEP CANDYMAN: This is perhaps Rev. Davis’ most popular song. It has been done by scores of folk-singers. This is the two-step version. A sung version will appear on the forthcoming Rev. Davis album.

WALKIN’ DOG BLUES: This is an imitation of the blues piano playing of the twenties. It is a difficult piece of guitar playing that varies from counter-point lines to single string runs. It is played in the key of C.

ITALIEN RAG: This is a fascinating and humorous rag. It is played in the key of Am on a twelve string guitar. Rev. Davis always played this tongue in cheek.

C-RAG: This is an old piano rag played in the key of C.

WALTZ TIME CANDYMAN: This is another version of Candyman, this time played in ¾ rhythm. Another variation of this song appears on HOW TO PLAY BLUES GUITAR (Xtra 1113). This is a duet arranged by Rev. Davis. Rev. Davis also had several five-string banjo arrangements of this tune.

MAKE BELIEVE STUNT: This is a rag played in the key of A. The second section is an imitation of a piano playing the two step. This is one of Rev. Davis’ most exciting instrumentals. Some parts of this sound similar to MAPLE LEAF RAG. However, the chord structure and feel of MAKE BELIEVE STUNT is quite unique.

I hope that these pieces will give the listener an appreciation of the guitar talents of Rev. Gary Davis. There are many more interesting instrumentals in Rev. Davis’ repertoire, i.e. Soldier’s March and Honey, Get Your Towel Wet, and these will be appearing on future discs. The accompanying techniques and singing styles of Rev. Davis will be explored further in the next record: CHILDREN OF ZION.

I am very grateful to Annie Davis, Manny Greenhill and Nat Joseph for help in this project.

I hope you enjoy.

Side One:






Side Two:



C-RAG 2.56




Production Mastering: Nic Kinsey, Livingston Studios

Cover design and photos by Hipgnosis

Art direction by Paul Leeves

THIS RECORD IS STEREO. It can be played with excellent results and without damage on most mono players provided they are fitted with a compatible or stereo cartridge wired for mono sound. If in doubt consult your dealer.

Manufactured and distributed by TRANSATLANTIC RECORDS


Original Album Liner for Harlem Street Singer

The blind [redacted] street singer is rapidly disappearing from the sidewalks of America. At one time the only course open to a blind man was to adopt the role of the street minstrel as a means of making an honest though frequently meagre-living.  But various economic, social and educational factors in American life have tended to destroy such an occupation.  The blind man of today is assisted by numerous government and private agencies to achieve technical and other skills necessary to support himself and his family by more socially acceptable means.  Governmental ordinances at both the state and local level have outlawed itinerants of all classes – beggars, unlicensed salesmen, and street musicians no longer are free to ply their “trades”.  Often such ordinances have been the result of campaigning against noise and nuisances by civic minded groups and individuals; occasionally the driving force behind such moves has been professional musicians organizations and/or unions who seek to protect the livelihood of their members by removing any and all sources of “free” music, which the street musician represents in its epitomy.

Today, when one comes upon a street singer plying his trade under the eyes of the policemen on the beat, most often he will be heard singing religious music.  Public temper will not permit the minions of the law to carry out their duty if it means interfering with religion, the most “sacred cow” in modern American culture.

GARRY DAVIS is one of the last of a long line of religious street singers.  But his performance of religious songs is motivated by other than a desire to be allowed to continue his street singing.  Davis is an ordained minister who appears frequently before numerous store front church congregations in Harlem.

Whether he is singing to passing street audiences or to his “flock”, his performances are always restricted to song-sermons and spirituals.  As a young boy in South Carolina, he was raised on blues and party music, as well as religious music.  But as a minister of the church he preserves the traditionally adhered to dichotomy between singing religious and secular music – the blues representing “the Devil’s music” to most “hell-fire and brimstone” preachers.  Although the Reverend Davis hasn’t sung the blues since his conversion to the church in the early 1930s, his guitar playing and singing style is still basically that of  a blues performer.  This was also true of many of the street singers of the past.  The repertoire of many of them consisted of both blues and spirituals, but a basic blues tonality permeated all of their performances. GARRY DAVIS epitomizes this tradition.

Born in 1896 in Lawrence County, South Carolina, Davis took to string instruments at a very early age, and was an accomplished blues guitarist before he reached his teens.  As a young man he played for a short time in a string band in Greenville, South Carolina, his only group experience as an instrumentalist.  But dance music and the blues were left behind when Davis was ordained as a minister in Washington, North Carolina, in 1933.  Two years later he came to New York City to record a series of remarkable recordings for the now long-defunct Perfect label.  Davis became a near-legendary figure as a result of those recordings, though for those in the know he was a live enough reality whose stirring music could be heard on the streets of Harlem on almost any day of the week.

Almost 20 years passed before he was again recorded in April, 1954.  In 1956 he once recorded some his “holy blues”, but both of these records have been deleted from their companies catalogs and are now collector’s items.

In August 24th, 1960, Davis was brought to Rudy Van Gelder’s recording studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, by folklorist Kenneth S. Goldstein (who had also been responsible for Davis’ previous recording dates in the ’50s) and “Tiny” Robinson, niece of the late Huddie Ledbetter and long-time friend of Reverend Davis.  With his battered, weather-beaten Gibson guitar which had served him so well on the streets of Harlem, Davis immediately became the focus of attention in the magnificent cathedral-ceilinged studio.  As the first notes of his fabulous guitar-playing came through the speaker in the control room, it was evident that this was to be Davis at his very best.  The recorded results are certainly proof of this.

Davis planned his own program and was well rested for the session.  With the exception of one number, all of the tracks on this record are first “takes”.  Several times when the engineer suggested resting between takes, Davis insisted on continuing, so intently was he wrapped up in his music.  In three hours, he had recorded 20 numbers, a fabulous feat of near-perfection.

His strong, rasping voice, the result of many years of street singing, seemed a perfect complement to the vibrant timbre of his big Gibson guitar.  At times it was difficult to tell where the voice ended and the guitar began.  Utilizing a device used by many religious and blues singers of the ’20s and ’30s, Davis frequently let the guitar “talk” for him, omitting the singing of a word or phrase and letting the instrument become the “singing voice”.

Davis’ guitar style is basically that of the old country blues singers – a “finger-picking” one.  But Davis uses only two fingers, a thumb and forefinger, whereas most guitarists who play in this style use three fingers in addition to the thumb.  Not only is Davis’ style unique, but he is also remarkable in that he gets more music out of his instrument with two fingers than most of the finest guitarists can do with three, four of five.

When asked what key he mostly plays in, Davis replied: “I play all over the guitar!”  This is an understatement, to say the least.  A fascinating bit of his artistry is to play part of a song by sharply hitting the strings with his fretting (left) hand while his right hand takes a short rest.

The numbers themselves are a small part of the vast repertoire of songs which Davis draws from when singing on the streets of Harlem.  Samson and Delilah was generally associated with the legendary religious singer, Blind Willie Johnson, who recorded it in 1927 as “If I had My Way I’d Tear that Building Down.”  This song-sermon, Davis’ signature tune, together with another biblically-based song, Twelve Gates to the City, are his most frequently requested numbers, now associated with Reverend Davis in much the same way that they were with Johnson more than 30 years.

The camp meeting flavor of an old-time revival is suggested by Let Us Get Together Right Down Here and Goin’ to Sit Down on the Banks of the River. I Belong to the Band speaks of the great day when the Rev. Davis will take his seat in the greatest orchestra of them all – the heavenly band.

Pure Religion, perhaps the most widely known of the songs here recorded, is a sermon sung to the liar, the gambler, and other sinners, warning them that to cross over to salvation they must have that “pure religion,” while Great Change Since I Been Born tells of his own conversion to the church and the change that this new “birth” brought to his life.

Death Don’t Have No Mercy is an ominous recital of the sad inevitability of death for “old death never takes a vacation in this land.”

Trying to Get Home is a shouting spiritual dealing with the oft-recurring theme of “crossing over” to the other side where one is “done with the work of the Devil.”  In striking constrasts is the sedate Lo, I Be With You Always, almost psalm-like in its cadences.

I Am the Light of This World and Lord, I Feel Just Like Going On are joyful songs of hope. The latter, perhaps the brightest and most cheerful of all Davis’ numbers, abounds with some remarkable blues forms.  In the former, the theme of “heavenly band” is again present, no accidental motif to a musician like Davis.

Reverend Davis’ songs are “holy blues” in the truest sense of the expression.  With their roots deep in older religious pieces and their tonality and music configurations in the best tradition of blues and jazz, they form a bridge between the [redacted] folk religion of the last century and the most meaningful American music of today.

Notes: Larry Cohn

Notes reproduced from the original album liner.

YouTube Videos

Memories of Reverend Gary Davis | Published by Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Video Workshop

Reverend Gary Davis playing “Candyman”

Reverend Gary Davis playing “Cincinnati Flow Rag”

Reverend Gary Davis playing “Make Believe Stunt”

Advice on Guitar Playing from Rev. Gary Davis

Reverend Gary Davis playing “Sally Where’d You Get Your Liquor From”

Dedicated to the Memory of Blind Gary Davis

Reverend Gary Davis, also Blind Gary Davis, (1896 – 1972) was a blind African American Blues and Gospel singer and finger-picking style guitarist, who was also proficient on the banjo guitar and harmonica. – Source: Wikipedia.org

In the original old 78s that Reverend Gary Davis recorded, he was called Blind Gary Davis, but he was a Reverend. He was a Baptist preacher, and his audience was basically Black Baptist people. And when he combined his great guitar skills with his religious repertoire, something incredible developed (for example, “When the Train Comes Along”, which combined these two enormous talents).

He is famous for his Cocaine Blues, Candyman and other rags such as The Cincinatti Flow Rag, Twelve Sticks, and more.