Classic Blues and Gospel Songs: Reverend Gary Davis
There is something special about the guitar tune of “I’m The Light Of The World”, it represents the guitar skills of Reverend Gary Davis brilliantly . This classic song is one of my favorite Ragtime gospel blues songs. For an eighty plus year old song it somehow surprises me that every aspect of songwriting is perfect.
Origins Rev. Gary Davis
The Rev. was born on April 30, 1896, in Laurens County, south of Spartanburg, in the Piedmont section of upstate South Carolina. At a young age Davis started playing harmonica and guitar. He teamed up with some ragtime musicans around 1910 or 1911 and since that day Reverend Blind Gary Davis performed a lot in the streets.
Blues Street performer
Gary Davis was a street performer, according to his official biography. His repertoire consisted Blues, Gospel and Ragtime, and he switched often between those styles “to make it harder for the police to interrupt him”. (Bruce Eder, All-Music Guide)
He began taking the gospel material more seriously, and in 1937 he became an ordained minister. After that, he usually refused to perform any blues.
Harlem, New York Days – Reverend Gary Davis
During World War II Davis moved to New York , and began preaching and playing on streetcorners in Harlem. About his Harlem Days Trevor Laurence & Simeon Hutner made a fantastic film-documentary called “Harlem Street Singer” The film traces Davis’s journey out of poverty in the Deep South to his iconic status in the folk and rock scene in 1960s New York. Watch the trailer below.
Harlem Street Singer trailer
Rediscovery by the Folk Revival Movement
During the fifties and sixties in New York folk and blues had a huge revival movement. Son House, Big Bill Broonzy and many others experienced the impact. Also Reverend Gary Davis was “rediscovered” by the folk revival movement, and after some initial reticence, he agreed to perform as part of the budding folk music revival.
Jorma Kaukonen, the guitarist of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna, recorded a beautiful version of “I’m The Light of This World” on his 1974 Quah album. He took lessons from Gary Davis an Rolling Stone magazine ranked him #54 on its list of 100 Greatest Guitarists.
Jorma Kaukonen – I’m The Light Of This World – 5/20/1978
Photo: Jefferson Airplane on who Rev gary Davis had a big influence Credit By KRLA/Beat Publications-page 1 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons