Jesse Ed Davis
"Red Dirt Boogie: The Atco Recordings 1970-1972 "
Jesse Ed Davis played guitar on dissimilar albums: by Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, John Lennon, Ben Sidran, B.B. & Albert King, Booker T, The Doobie Brothers, Michael Bloomfield, and many others. Born in Oklahoma, Davis earned a degree in literature from his home state university. In the early sixties Davis began his sideman career touring with Conway Twitty. Towards the latter part of the sixties Davis moved to California joining Bluesman Taj Mahal and played guitar on Taj’s first three albums for Columbia Records. During Davis’ three-year stint with Mahal, Davis demonstrated his skill on slide, lead, rhythm, and even jazz guitar. In short order, Davis’ adaptive guitar style and genre flexibility attracted the ears of record industry producers, musicians, and guitar fans.
Although Davis was a well-recorded sideman, he was virtually unknown as a solo artist. “Red Dirt Boogie: The Atco Recordings 1970-1972” displays every track (though sequenced differently) from his self-titled “Jesse Davis” album, and all but one tune: “Oh! Susannah” from his second recording: “Ululu.” There are also two unreleased tracks. All in all nineteen songs presented in different order from their original recordings. I guess someone felt it was wiser to rearrange these songs for a more cohesive flow. I prefer leaving order as it was originally intended, but I could be wrong about this reissue; read on.
This 2 LP’s on 1 CD recording opens with Davis’ upbeat, solid, and oddly arranged “Every Night is Saturday Night” revealing Davis’ shortcomings as a vocalist. Note Clapton joining the band late for spirited soloing that buzzes Davis’ guitar for a crazed-chaotic ending. Davis’ “Washita Love Child” finds Davis vocally sounding like a warped-out Leon Russell and man does he ever unleash a somewhat lengthy, yet killer guitar solo that alas ends abruptly. Davis’ “Red Dirt Boogie, Brother” is taken from Davis’ second album; it’s weird – especially Davis’ oddly mixed vocals. The unreleased version “Rock N Roll Gypsies” (while interesting) could have been left unreleased. Taj Mahal’s and Davis’ “Farther On Down the Road (You Will Accompany Me,)” is intoxicating and sumptuously tasty, it’s also reminiscent to Taj’s “Ain’t Gwine Whistle Dixie (Any Mo’)” from Mahal’s double LP-one CD classic “The Real Thing” (sans Mahal’s whistling.) The mildly funky “Reno Street Incident” originally opened Davis’ first LP, it shucks and jives a bit but it’s not especially memorable. George Harrison’s “Sue Me, Sue You Blues” is especially Bluesy with Davis’ sharp slide-guitar work. Davis’ “You Belladonna You” chugs along well enough, gets a lift from the chorus of female background vocalists but isn’t an overly convincing tune. The intro from Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love” arrangement sounds a bit like the earlier “Farther On Down the Road,” but Davis’ vocals don’t cut it, even with the assistance of the (famous) female vocalists who try to cover for Davis’ vocal deficiencies. Davis’ “Ululu” emulates a “Dear Prudence” Beatles vibe that’s similarly spacey and sweet. Leon Russell’s “Alcatraz” finds Davis sounding slightly like Leon who appears on this recording, it was also the closing tune from “Ululu.” How about Merle Haggard’s “White Line Fever,” how about not; ditto for Pamela Polland’s “Tulsa County,” and Levon Helm’s and Robbie Robertson’s “Strawberry Wine.” As we approach the end of this recording; forgettable Davis’ penned tunes, such as “My Captain,” “Make a Joyful Noise,” and the strangely trippy and generational “Golden Sun Goddess” are sequenced appropriately at the back of the pack. Roger Tillison’s “Rock N Roll Gypsies” is the originally released version but like the unreleased bonus track – it isn’t compelling. The concluding Davis’ authored “Kiowa Teepee (Washita Love Child)” is the second previously unreleased track. It opens with a Native Indian drum-chant that shifts into an instrumental jam of “Washita Love Child.” Note when this Love Child segment kicks into gear and becomes a potent workout for the entire band, it also features some of the hottest Jesse Ed Davis guitar licks on this recording, unfortunately it ends abruptly. But it’s a cool jam.
In and out of clinics Davis spent most of the eighties dealing with alcohol and drug addiction issues. Finally in 1988 Jesse Ed Davis passed due to a suspected drug overdose; he was only forty-three.
For those who prefer Jesse Ed Davis’s two Atco albums sequenced as originally issued on vinyl, try finding the original LP’s, or a CD copy from the fools at Wounded Bird Records. Ah, but unlike Real Gone Music; the Wounded Bird clowns make no-(0)-zero efforts to enhance their recordings, they don’t remaster, they do not add updated liners, nor do they offer any bonus tracks. That being said, it’s nice to have these forgotten and enjoyable treasures back in print again. This Real Gone edition offers upgraded audio quality, (and, yes) the added 2017 liner notes by compilation producers Mike Johnson and Pat Thomas, alongside of Real Gone’s co-conspirator and (always there) co-producer Gordon Anderson.
For my ears; Jesse Ed Davis wasn’t a convincing solo artist, he also was not a very good vocalist. At best Davis was an adequate songwriter, yet he was a very, very talented guitarist. These early seventies’j recordings are exhumed from an era when many sideman were offered solo recording contracts, which is probably how Davis was able to assemble his two original Atco albums.
Kudos to Real Gone Music’s team; they truly understand how to enrich; (often) out-of-print albums that they carefully preserve and reissue onto physical CD’s. They also keep the old-school cool-groove alive, may they forever prosper.
For 17 years Bob Putignano has been pivotal with his Sounds of Blue radio show. Hear new Homegrown Sounds of Blue internet radio shows: http://soundsofblue.com/radioshowsmp3.htm
Previously a contributing editor at Blues Revue, Blueswax, and Goldmine magazines, currently the Music Editor for the Yonkers Tribune www.YonkersTribune.com & www.MakingAScene.org Bob was also the 2003 recipient of the “Keeping the Blues Alive” award (given by the Blues Foundation in Memphis) for his achievements in radio broadcasting. Putignano can be contacted at: BobP@SoundsofBlue.com