Walter Davis - Biography



By J Poet

Walter Davis was a songwriter and blues piano player noted for his mellow, laid back vocal style and unpredictable right hand improvisations. He was one of the most popular blues recoding artists of the 1930s, although today better known for the musicians he collaborated with including Roosevelt Sykes, who played piano on Davis’s earliest records. After a stroke in 1953, he retired from the music business and lived out his days as a preacher and hotel clerk.

 

Davis was born in Grenada, Mississippi and left home by the time he was 13. He was a fine piano player, known for a slightly skewed style that included his slow, rhythmic left hand and volatile right hand improvisations with a percussive quality. He settled in St. Louis and in the 20s and 30s toured widely in the south and Midwest with guitarist Henry Townsend and pianist Peetie Wheatstraw. He was a songwriter too, composing tunes that detailed the trials and tribulations of the everyday life of African Americans. He also wrote about the foibles of white folk and was adept at describing people’s sexual peccadilloes. White people often found his songs puzzling, but black Americans made him a best selling recording artist. Roosevelt Sykes, who worked for RCA as a talent scout, signed him to the label in 1924. Sykes played piano behind him on his early records, collected on First Recordings (1930-1932) (2002 JSP/Koch.) He recorded prolifically for Victor until the early 50s, when his health forced him to retire. He died in 1963 and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2005.

 

Document Records has released his entire output on seven CDS: Walter Davis: Complete Works in Chronological Order, Vol. 1 (1933-35) (2005 Document UK), Walter Davis: Complete Works in Chronological Order, Vol. 2 (1935-37) (2005 Document UK), Walter Davis: Complete Works in Chronological Order, Vol. 3 (1937-38) (2005 Document UK), Walter Davis: Complete Works in Chronological Order, Vol. 4 (1938-39) (2005 Document UK), Walter Davis: Complete Works in Chronological Order, Vol. 5 (1939-40) (2005 Document UK), Walter Davis: Complete Works in Chronological Order, Vol. 6 (1940-46) (2005 Document UK), Walter Davis: Complete Works in Chronological Order, Vol. 7 (1946-52) (2005 Document UK.) Less obsessive fans can pick up the two-disc 36 track compilation The Essential Walter Davis (2001 Classic Blues.)

 

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