Missouri-born musician and songwriter Fred “Dave” Davis was a character of note. A Cleveland-based laborer and performer whose influence was felt almost exclusively by those who came face to face with the man, “Dave’s” unique musical touch and almost spiritual take on Kansas City blues would be virtues to which but a select few could attest.
His path would cross with those of a great many individuals over the course of his tragically abridged life, and his hard-earned wisdom would, in their own capacity, inform the rhythms and structural approaches of players generations down the line. But like the great bluesmen before him, his legend was just that - a legend; a myth; a series of tales the composite of which amounted to the lifetime of a man who had all but been considered a ghost to those carrying on his legacy. That is, until now.
Professional musician Eli “Paperboy” Reed has been perhaps the primary musical descendant of Fred Davis to this point, having been schooled on the distinct chord fingerings and stylized take on the blues by his father, who had been taught by the man himself. Still, it was difficult for Reed to conceive of the existence of such a character.
“Fred Davis was a legend, but only in my living room,” Reed says. “Fred taught my Dad the rudiments of blues guitar, but his style. Fred could play up and down the neck and, even when he played and sang just by himself, he sounded like a full band. Or, at least, so the legend went.”
As Reed’s father Howard Husock tells it, he met “Dave” during the Summer of ‘69 while working a labor job at a Cleveland factory. Davis, the more seasoned of the two - having even served prison time - took the younger Husock under his wing, as it were, showing him the ropes of blues guitar in his own style.
These events occurred just following the boom of blues-inspired British heavyweight acts such as The Beatles, Cream, and The Rolling Stones. As a result, blues titans like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Willie Dixon were beginning to achieve a level of widespread prominence. With this in mind, Husock took it upon himself to bring attention to the work of Fred Davis.
Assembling Davis and a backing band, The Blues Express, in the living room of his parents’ house in a small Cleveland suburb, Husock set up a tape recorder to capture Davis at work in hopes that the recordings could help to secure live gigs for the bluesman. The tapes remained unheard for decades, and though Davis would have varying success as a live performer, he never achieved the acclaim of which Husock had long believed him deserving.
The two would eventually part ways, with Husock heading off to college while Davis remained in Cleveland. Years later, it would come to light that Davis had lost his life in 1988, the victim of a gunshot wound to the chest at 49 years old. The altercation purportedly occurred as two men were attempting to rob Davis of cash in a liquor store parking lot.
When Reed finally heard the recordings of the mythological bluesman from whom so much had been passed onto his own playing, he was in awe of the revelation that the stories were indeed true. Not only did “Dave” truly exist, it was all right there on tape; the soulful Lenoir-style vocals, the thumbed barring which allowed for bombastic, ringing chords akin to a horn section; the legends were true.
Thus, Reed took it upon himself to continue his father’s work; he resolved that this music had to be heard. The quarter-inch reel of tape which had long sat in an unmarked cardboard box was remastered for release in the digital age, and on April 7, 2023, the music of Fred “Dave” Davis was finally released to the world.
The digital release of Cleveland Blues precedes a limited edition Record Store Day release of the album on Saturday, April 22, 2023, through Colemine Remined Records pressed to “Cuyahoga River Fire Smoke” vinyl.
“If it weren’t for the tape, Fred ‘Dave’ Davis might be forgotten,” says Reed. “But with its release, the legend can finally go [beyond] the confines of my living room and, with any luck, to the whole world.”
Cleveland Blues can be streamed and purchased at https://ymlpcdn2.net/