A Blues Loss
Armed with standout charisma and dynamic guitar chops gleaned from blues masters, at 41-years-old, Eric “Guitar” Davis represented the next generation of Chicago blues. He avoided blues stereotypes and tired classics, preferring to stay true to his own bandana-wearing, tattoo-flashing sensibilities.
Influenced by hip hop as well as traditional blues, he played on the upbeat instead of the downbeat, creating an exciting “new school” sound that was destined to make a mark in contemporary blues. His performances brimmed with energy and he always interacted with his audience, joking and hopping off stage to give close-ups to the fans.
Davis wrote his own material and made sure he performed unusual interpretations whenever he covered classic blues, determined to leave his own mark instead of retreading the past. He had just signed a recording contract with Delmark records and was poised to grab the national spotlight. But on December 19, 2013, Davis was found dead in his car resulting from multiple gunshot wounds.
Chicago’s blues community and the worldwide blues community is reeling and mourning a loss that hurts on several levels. It’s always difficult to lose any blues musician because that person takes a piece of living history with him. But unlike the long-lived blues masters we have recently lost, who had the chance to record many albums, tour widely and influence the generation behind them, Eric was just beginning to ascend the long path of a blues musician. He was cut down before he had the chance to really explore and expand the Chicago blues genre as he was destined to do. To add to the tragedy, he left behind a wife and six young children who he had been grooming in the blues as his father, noted drummer Bobby “Top Hat” Davis had done with him.
“I nearly raised Eric, I knew his daddy, Bobby Davis, well. He came from a family of musicians, he was well educated in the blues,” says legendary Chicago bluesman Eddie Shaw. “It’s tragic to lose him at this point. It takes 20-25 years to mold a blues musician. You can’t just jump up and be a blues musician. You can’t be Eric Davis overnight. Eric was a very talented young man. He had great potential all his life. This is a great loss to the blues world, not just his family.”
Gigging with his dad Bobby Davis, a fixture on the blues scene since the ’50s, Eric started playing drums at 5-years-old and by 10-years-old, he was good enough to play guest spots behind his father. Eric grew up in the rarified world of the ’70s Chicago blues scene, hanging out at Theresa’s and The Checkerboard and watching greats like Buddy Guy, Lefty Dizz and Albert Collins up close. “I remember seeing Eric as a kid of 6 or 7-years-old in the clubs with his dad,’ says Grammy-nominated harp master Billy Branch. “He was always good but he was about to make the leap into the national spotlight. He was going to at the top of his generation. It’s a very tragic loss. The world lost a rising star.’
After playing drums behind the likes of Tyrone Davis and Junior Wells, Eric was convinced to switch to the guitar by none other than Buddy Guy. Guy demonstrated a chord on his Fender, with the caveat that girls would soon follow, and Eric was hooked on the guitar ever since. He honed his skills, practicing and watching blues club performances every night for four years straight. Many blues insiders took notice of his efforts. “He put a lot of effort into everything. He worked hard. He was concerned about growing as a musician, he wasn’t so caught up in the budget,’ says Tony Manguillo, owner of Rosa’s Blues Lounge of Eric’s work ethic. “There was something powerful about the way he presented himself. He was a good singer and growing as a great player. He was definitely one with great promise for the younger generation.’
Rallying together on this sad occasion, the Chicago blues community has organized a memorial fundraiser for Eric’s six children. At Rosa’s Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage, on January 19, 2014, a who’s who of Chicago’s blues musicians will perform in tribute to Eric Davis to raise money for his family. Scheduled to perform are: Lurrie Bell, Eddie C. Campbell, Billy Branch, Sugar Blue, Deitra Farr, Jimmy Burns, Katherine Davis, Mike Wheeler, Toronzo Cannon, Mathew Skoller, Big James, Brother Jacob, Charlie Kimball, and Tom Holland. Showtime starts at 5PM and the minimum donation is $25. Tickets are on sale at www.rosaslounge.com. All proceeds go directly to the Eric Davis Memorial Fund.
If you can’t make the show, you can tune into to a live broadcast at http://gigity.tv/EricGuitarDavis/. The minimum donation to view the broadcast is $6. A trust fund has also been set up for the family. Please consider donating at the site here: www.youcaring.com/memorial-fundraiser/eric-davis-memorial-fund/119080.
Unfortunately, there’s more sad blues news. Local blues singer Patricia Scott also passed away in December. Pat was a fixture at Lee’s Unleaded Blues and Blue Chicago, wowing audiences with her throaty, soulful vocals. She had also been married to legendary Chicago blues musician Buddy Scott, whose seminal group Buddy Scott & The Rib Tips, she sang with until Buddy passed away in 1994 and she became the front woman.
Pat flaunted a rich repertoire that featured soul and gospel as well as blues. Her versatility served to influence many Chicago blues women. “Pat Scott was an old school entertainer, not just a blues singer,’ says fellow blues diva Deitra Farr. “I enjoyed listening and watching her back in the day with Buddy Scott And The Rib Tips and in later years with Willie Kent And The Gents. We all missed her when she became ill a few years ago and was no longer able to perform. She inspired quite a few ladies on the blues scene.”
Blues singer Sharon Lewis considers Pat Scott to be one of the reasons she joined the blues scene. “She was my inspiration since she was the first blues diva I ever saw,” she says. “She was the whole package for a diva! For those who never got a chance to witness her, your life is not complete.”
-Rosalind Cummings – Yeates