The film tells the little-known story of Davis, a great ragtime and gospel musician who impacted a generation of major musical performers. Though not finished yet, the project is nearing completion with a release date expected to be early next year.
Still to be shot is an interview with Peter Yarrow, but already in the film are Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead (with the Dead performing the music of Rev. Davis), Jorma Kaukonen, David Bromberg, Stefan Grossman, Happy Traum, John Cohen and others.
The film is being produced by Woody Mann and Trevor Laurence. Mann is a guitarist who studied with Rev. Davis in Harlem as a teenager. The film features tapes of Mann’s sessions with Davis. Mann is also an expert on American blues and folk music and has been a faculty member at the New School in New York City. He performs in the film.
Laurence is also well schooled in the Rev. Davis’s music and has been a teacher of Davis’s style himself. He is also a directer and producer of videos and DVDs for the music industry.
Rev. Davis, from near my hometown in rural South Carolina, came to Harlem with a bag of guitar tricks that influenced some of the most prominent musicians of the 1950s and 60s. He gave guitar lessons to many of the performers who are well known today. He was close friends with a young Bob Dylan and his girlfriend, Suze Rotolo.
As Weir quipped in the film, because Davis was blind he couldn’t see that it was essentially impossible to play a guitar the way he did. But he did play in ways that other guitarists could only imagine. He was able to conjure the sound of a piano from a guitar as well as emulate orchestras and choral groups. Kornfeld, who used to "lead" Davis, said no decent guitarist of his generation escaped Davis’s unique style of music.
Davis, being a preacher from the deep South, was always conflicted between the devil’s music and the songs of the church. He liked whiskey and cigars, loved women, carried guns and was arrested several times for his antics. He was a tough street player with amazing wit and charm. Audiences loved him.
The filmmakers still need money to finish the project and have a website for fundraising. Or you can e-mail them at: email@example.com. It’s a very worthy project, seeking to tell the story of one of America’s greatest musicians.