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Jesse Ed Davis

Born in Norman, Oklahoma, Davis began his musical career in Oklahoma City. His father, Jesse Ed Davis II, was Muscogee Creekand Seminole while his mother’s side was Kiowa. He graduated from Northeast High School in 1962.

Davis began his musical career in the late 1950s playing in Oklahoma City and surrounding cities with John Ware (later Emmylou Harris‘ drummer), John Selk (later Donovan‘s bass player), Jerry Fisher (later Blood, Sweat & Tears vocalist) Mike Boyle, Chris Frederickson, drummer Bill Maxwell (later Andrae Crouch and Koinonia) and others.

By the mid 1960s Davis had quit the University of Oklahoma and went touring with Conway Twitty.

Davis eventually moved to California, where, through his friendship with Levon Helm, he became friendly with Leon Russell. He became a session player before joining Taj Mahal and playing guitar and piano on his first three albums. Davis played slide, lead and rhythm, country and even jazz during his three-year stint with Mahal, making an appearance with the band as a musical guest in The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus.

After the 1969 album Giant Step, he turned to session work for the likes of David CassidyAlbert King and Willie Nelson. In 1970 Jesse played on and produced Roger Tillison’s one and only LP for Atco Records, a division of Atlantic. Jesse and Roger − a fellow Oklahoman − were joined at the Record Plant by Bobby Bruce (fiddle), Larry Knechtel(organ and harmonica), Stan Szeleste (piano); Billy Rich (bass); Jim Keltner (drums) and Sandy Konikoff (percussion); Don Preston and Joey Cooper took care of the vocal accompanists. “Roger Tillison’s Album” was recorded live. This album was finally released on CD by Wounded Bird Records in 2008, with Davis providing electric guitar, bottleneck (slide) guitar and banjo. The Woody Guthrie-penned tune “Old Cracked Looking Glass” has become a standard for Oklahoma bands.

Davis recorded his first solo album when Atco Records signed a contract with him to record two albums with the label. The result of that engagenment was the self-titled albumJesse Davis (1971), which featured backing vocals by Gram Parsons and appearances by Leon Russell and Eric Clapton, among others. After guesting with Russell on Bob Dylan‘s “Watching the River Flow” single, Davis went on to work with George Harrison, performing at the ex-Beatle‘s Concert for Bangla Desh extravaganza at Madison Square Garden, along with Ringo StarrBilly Preston, Russell, Keltner, Clapton and others.

Later in 1971, Davis produced and played on Gene Clark‘s second solo album, White Light. Two more Davis solo albums followed: Ululu (1972), which included the original release of Harrison’s “Sue Me, Sue You Blues“, and Keep Me Comin (1973), occasionally listed as Keep On Coming. Around this time, Davis began playing with John Lennon, for whom he provided lead guitar on Walls and Bridges (1974) and Rock ‘n’ Roll (1975). He also added guitar to Gene Clark’s No Other album in 1974. As well as his work with Lennon, Davis guested on a number of ex-Beatle solo albums in the mid ’70s − Harrison’s Extra Texture (1975) and Starr’s Goodnight Vienna (1974) and Ringo’s Rotogravure(1976).

Prison minister and former band manager Marty Angelo writes about his experiences with Jesse Ed Davis in his book Once Life Matters: A New Beginning (ISBN-0961895446; pages 85−87). Angelo states he was introduced to Davis by drummer Gary Mallaber in 1972 while Davis was living in Marina Del Rey, California. Davis then introduced Angelo to John Lennon, who in turn introduced Angelo to heroin.

Davis’ session work continued for the rest of the decade, and he also performed with The Faces as second guitarist throughout their final US tour, in the late summer and fall of 1975. In addition to the artists listed above, Davis contributed to albums by the likes of Eric ClaptonRod StewartLeonard CohenKeith MoonJackson Browne (he played the solo on “Doctor My Eyes“, from Browne’s 1972 debut), Steve MillerHarry NilssonRy CooderNeil DiamondRick Danko and Van Dyke Parks.

In and out of clinics, Davis disappeared from the music industry for a time, spending much of the 1980s dealing with alcohol and drug addiction. He played in The Graffiti Band, which coupled his music with the poetry of American Indian activist John Trudell. In the spring of 1987, The Graffiti Band performed with Taj Mahal at the Palomino Club in North Hollywood, CA. At this show, George Harrison, Bob Dylan and John Fogerty got up from the audience to join Davis and Taj Mahal in an unrehearsed set which included Fogerty’s “Proud Mary” and Dylan’s “Watching the River Flow”, as well as classics such as “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Peggy Sue”, “Honey Don’t”, “Matchbox” and “Gone, Gone, Gone”.

 

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