Davy (or Davey) Graham’s Folk, Blues & Beyond is a reissue of his 1965 Decca album on licence to Bread and Wine Records/East Central One, due for release on October 27th 2017. It retains the same tracks and running order as the original vinyl release and the Topic reissue CD from 1999, unlike the 2005 reissue from Fledg’Ling which also included five rarely-seen earlier recordings. It does include the original sleeve notes from producer Ray Horricks and a booklet including a 2016 article for Rolling Stone by David Fricke.
There are few folk-ish guitarists of my generation who haven’t owned or at least heard this album at one time or other, and even fewer who were not influenced by his work directly or indirectly. Indeed, that influence extended far beyond the folkier types who picked up on his use of modal tunings, and eclectic pickers like Bert Jansch and John Renbourn. Even in the 60s/70s it extended into the commercial and rock ecologies with (for instance) Paul Simon and Chicken Shack’s Stan Webb – two of many guitarists who recorded Davy’s instrumental ‘Angi’ (a.k.a. ‘Anji’).
Here’s the track-by-track summary:
- ‘Leavin’ Blues’ is credited to Leadbelly, though it strays quite a long way from Louisiana and the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) railroad so beloved of so many blues and old-timey singers. The intro has a decidedly Eastern feel, often described as raga-like or sitar-like, though to me it’s more Middle Eastern in intonation than Indian. The main body of the song uses octaves in a guitar figure that recalls Leadbelly’s version while going far beyond it, returning to some Eastern voicings in the mid-song instrumental break. I suspect that this was played in DADGAD tuning: at any rate, it falls off the fingers quite easily that way.
- ‘Cocaine Blues’ has been a folk club staple for many years: this version apparently derives at least in part from Rambling Jack Elliot – it’s a song with a multitude of floating verses – though Davy’s guitar gives it extra swing and fluency. Still my favourite version, 50 years on.
- ‘Sally Free And Easy’ is another folk club standard, written (of course) by Cyril Tawney, though more often performed in a more ‘traditional’ manner. I’ve always thought that this rhythmic, drum-driven version has an entirely appropriate maritime-motor feel, though it can be sung very prettily unaccompanied.
- ‘Black Is The Colour Of My True Love’s Hair’ uses more or less the same lyrics to this (originally traditional) song as Nina Simone’s. Simone used the tune written by John Jacob Niles, as does Davy. Wisely, perhaps, he doesn’t attempt the vocal pyrotechnics that both Simone and Niles tended towards. Not the strongest performance on the album, vocally, but worth it just for the subtle, restrained musicianship of the guitar part.
- ‘Rock Me Baby’ is one of a group of blues songs with similar titles and themes: the version here is very much as Big Bill Broonzy wrote and recorded it (also recorded as ‘Rocking Chair Blues’) though the drums and bass here augment a typically jazzy arrangement. I suspect that Broonzy, who often played and recorded in a jazz context, would not have been unhappy with this version. I love it.
- ‘Seven Gypsies’ recalls his collaboration with Shirley Collins Folk Roots, New Roots, released a little earlier if I recall correctly, being a traditional ballad (Child 200) treated to a typical guitar accompaniment, athletic but not flashy. While there are longer, more dramatic and certainly more ‘authentic’ versions, I’ve always liked the way this version, like some American versions, strips the story to its barest bones. I’d love to have heard Shirley sing this version, but I don’t know if she ever did.
- ‘Ballad Of The Sad Young Men’ is an abbreviated version of the song by Fran Landesman and Tommy Wolf from the 1959 musical The Nervous Set. While the whole lyric bears close examination, Davy’s version gets to the point, and it suits his voice.
- ‘Moanin” is the classic Bobby Timmons composition, played faster and harder (and more succinctly) than the Jazz Messengers version, and no worse for the experience.
- ‘Skillet (Good ‘N’ Greasy)’ is a song associated with Uncle Dave Macon, among others: this version, from an unnamed banjo player, is fairly similar to a version recorded by Woody Guthrie, but Woody never played guitar like this. But then, who apart from Davy did?
- ‘Ain’t Nobody’s Business What I Do’ is a blues standard from the 1920s that has branched off into many variations of tune and lyric. According to the original sleeve notes “Davy says ‘In my lyrics, I’ve chosen to bring out the loneliness side of the song.’” There aren’t too many examples of Davy’s lyrics around, but if these are original, they’re entirely suitable. In any case, it’s a great version.
- ‘Maajun (A Taste Of Tangier)’ is Davy’s take on “a melody he found in Tangier”. It’s a stunning instrumental track with sympathetic bass and drums.
- ‘I Can’t Keep From Crying Sometimes’ is a song mostly associated with Blind Willie Johnson, as credited here. However, this is very different from Johnson’s growl and slide version. (I don’t believe I ever heard Davy play slide.) But just as effective.
- ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ is a song by some American singer/songwriter whose name escapes me. Faster than most people seem to play it, and it works fine that way. It suits Davy’s voice very well.
- ‘My Babe’, Willie Dixon’s secular rewrite of ‘This Train’ for Little Walter, was long popular with British R&B and pub rock bands, and probably still is. Davy’s “Chico Hamilton-ish” version swings a little more than was usual in those contexts, and is all the better for it.
- ‘Going Down Slow’ is a classic if lugubrious blues. This version was learned from Champion Jack Dupree, but the interpretation is pure Davy Graham.
- ‘Better Git In Your Soul’ (Charles Mingus) is an exquisite example of how Davy, on the right day, could take a jazz theme and make it sound as if he wrote it himself. Fine work (as on several other tracks) by Tony Reeves (bass) and Barry Morgan (drums).
Davy Graham made many fine albums, but perhaps this and Folk Roots, New Roots (which provided a template of sorts for the English folk rock bands that came later) were the most influential. He was capable of phenomenal instrumental technique, and a pleasant voice, if a little erratic in pitch at times. At least as importantly, he defied categorization and musical boundaries, and generations of guitarists have benefited from that breaking of barriers. If you don’t know Davy’s work or this album specifically, you owe yourself the opportunity to hear it.
Artist’s website: www.daveygraham.moonfruit.com/
Not on the album but try finding appropriate footage. ‘All Of Me’ – Davy Graham on TV:
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