BY RICHARD SKELLY
Multi-faceted, but mostly blues performer, Guy Davis was the featured musician on Friday, Dec. 10 in Princeton, via one of the oldest performing arts organizations in the state, the fabled [non-profit] Princeton Folk Music Society. Far from a “society,” that it once may have been, the group of folk and acoustic music enthusiasts these days from the Princeton area is a down-home group of dedicated, mostly working class people that includes WTSR-FM folk show host Peter Kernast. Kernast’s show can be heard Monday nights and emanates from the Ewing Township campus of The College of New Jersey.
I first met bluesman, actor, playwright and storyteller-environmentalist Guy Davis in the mid-1980’s when I was just out of Rutgers College and he was just beginning his career. I met Guy thanks to the late socialist [but beautifully non-partisan] folksinger who lived in upstate New York, Pete Seeger. Disgusted by pollution he saw in the mid-Hudson River near his rustic cabin home in Beacon, N.Y., Pete started ‘The Great Hudson River Revival,’ in the early 1970’s and it was at one of these annual environmental themed festivals in 1984 that I first met Guy and saw him perform a few tunes. [Years later, I would witness his true genius with his play, “In Bed with the Blues, the Adventures of Fishy Waters,” and another one of his plays with his famous parents, “Two Ha-Ha’s and a Homeboy.” Guy’s parents, based in New Rochelle, N.Y. for many years, were noted actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, and like most really good writer-actors, they took an active interest in all kinds of music, including blues and jazz.]
Thanks to Pete and his resourceful wife, Toshi, and the efforts of thousands of volunteers with the Hudson River Clearwater [non-profit] environmental organization, we now enjoy cleaner waters in Sandy Hook Bay, the Raritan River and in all of the tributaries around New York Harbor and Lower New York Harbor.
Guy has been surviving the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and into this year by doing hundreds of virtual shows via Facebook and other platforms, and he was enthused to be performing for a live audience again at the Christ Congregation Church, where PFMS concerts have been held for years. He was accompanied by an excellent bassist, Mark Murphy, who is related to the late jazz vocalist of the same name, who passed away a few years ago. Guy played an artful blend of originals like “Letter in My Pocket,” “Watch Over Me,” and “Be Ready When I Call You,” with blues tunes popularized by Muddy Waters and others, like “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” and “My Eyes Keep Me In Trouble.” He also threw in some bluesier versions of Bob Dylan chestnuts like “Just Like A Woman,” and “Lay Lady Lay.”
Fortunately, Guy’s inspired live performances and generally superb recordings—since the 1980’s—have been recognized by groups like the Memphis-based Blues Foundation and our own Jersey Shore Jazz and Blues Foundation. We presented a concert with Guy years ago in the early 1990’s at Brookdale Community College that was a success.
Most recently, Guy’s current album, “Be Ready When I Call You,” has been nominated for a Grammy Award in the Traditional Blues category. Take the time to look him up on Google, and you’ll see he has a long discography. If you seek out a few of his albums, you’ll come to appreciate his genius as a serious songwriter. Thankfully for us as blues fans, Guy truly has the potential—with all his talent and experience as an actor, playwright, humorist and storyteller—to turn a whole lot more people on to the simple-yet-complex beauty of blues as poetry and blues as music to live by. In blues years, Guy is still very young, and when you consider how well he can do it all, as a solo artist, with a band and his gift for funny stories in between tunes, many would argue, and I would agree, that the best is yet to come from young Guy Davis!