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The Traditional Delta and Country Blues

Blind John Davis

John Henry Davis, b. December 7, 1913 in Hattiesburg, MS, d. October 12, 1985 in Chicago, IL. Active 1930s - 1980s.

Davis taught himself piano after being blinded in 1923, and led his own six-piece band for 15 years from 1938. He professed not to care for blues, but his fame rests on the hundreds of blues accompaniments he recorded during the late 30s and early 40s. Among those who used him were ‘Big’ Bill Broonzy, Tampa Red and Peter J. Clayton. Usually he worked in a small band setting, where his generally unspectacular playing would sometimes show a quiet inventiveness. His self-accompanied 1938 vocal recordings are mediocre, but his back-up work, with its rolling right hand figures, was both immediately recognizable and creatively varied.

In the post-war years, Davis was an early visitor to Europe, recording two albums in Paris in 1952, revealing a personal taste for songs such as ‘O Sole Mio’ and ‘Lady Be Good’. Despite his declared preferences his recorded work emphasized blues and boogie, with a smattering of jazz and popular music. Seldom profound (although his song ‘No Mail Today’ is a beautiful piece of controlled melancholy), Davis was always proficient and professional.

In 1955 Davis's Chicago house burned down. His wife died in the fire, and his collection of 1700 unique 78-rpm records, some of unissued recordings, was destroyed. Davis died in his adopted hometown of Chicago in October 1985, at the age of 71.