From Texas to the Delta: #1 Reverend Davis

From Texas to the Delta is a free weekly video guitar lesson series covering acoustic blues picking techniques. Your instructor is Jim Bruce, who has many years of experience teaching guitar players of all skill levels and styles, and will have an online classroom at TrueFire soon — stay tuned!

Video Guitar Lesson:

Reverend Gary Davis was a legendary figure in the world of acoustic blues, ragtime and gospel and influenced many guitarists such as Stefan Grossman and Ry Cooder. Althougb well versed in all styles of blues picking, he found religion in his thirties and was ordained as a minister, after which time he refused to play the ‘Devil’s music’.

In this video, I take a look at his basic technique when playing in the key of C, using ‘Cocaine Blues’ as an example. Gary Davis played a jumbo bodied Gibson and favored finger picks, which helped to amplify his sound when performing on the streets of Harlem, as was his habit when living in New York. It’s fair to say that Davis had no betters in this field, while other men that he mentored, such as Blind Boy Fuller, enjoyed much greater commercial success. Perhaps Blind Blake and Willie Walker were the only two guitarists to equal Davis, and of these, Blake’s playing was limited mostly to fast ragtime picking and didn’t have the range of the Reverend’s repertoire.

Davis’ guitar work was creative and complex, which was all the more impressive when we realize that he only used his thumb and forefinger to pick. His finger was nimble, and his picking thumb could move across all six strings producing a syncopated sound. A characteristic feature of the Reverend’s playing was the creation of fast single string runs picked with the thumb and forefinger.

From Texas to the Delta is a free weekly video guitar lesson series covering acoustic blues picking techniques. Your instructor is Jim Bruce, who has many years of experience teaching guitar players of all skill levels and styles, and will have an online classroom at TrueFire soon — stay tuned!