Jesse Ed Davis :: Jesse Davis / Ululu

jesseBacking Taj Mahal in The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus, Jesse Ed Davis plays guitar like a stone cold badass. His face looks almost too at ease to be lucid and focused, yet his deliberate licks on the telecaster are perfectly understated and soulful. When the band drops out during “Ain’t That a Lot of Love,” Davis takes a coolly restrained solo that’s all punchy rock licks but the antithesis of gauche shredding. As he finishes with a climactic, wailing note, his facial expression barely hints at a smile of satisfaction. He’s a satisfying foil to Taj’s bombast. The Oklahoma born, Kiowa bred guitarist got his start playing with Conway Twitty, got famous playing with Taj, and racked up an impressive list of studio credits throughout his career. He was one of the most tasteful guitarists from that late ‘60s high period of electrified blues rock–not a rock star but a rock stylist.

His self-titled 1971 album is awash in celebrity talent comprised of who’s who cast of characters ranging from bonafide rock stars to fellow crack session players–Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, Gram Parsons, Merry Clayton and Clydie King all make appearances. While Davis’ songwriting may not jump out — at times coming across like a vehicle for the next jam — the ace ensemble captures an impressive, swampy, Muscle-Shoals vibe that at times recalls Dr. John’s early Night Tripper material or Link Wray’s “Shack” recordings.

And indeed Mac Rebbenack is credited with playing piano on Davis’ next solo LP, Ululu. Bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn is in the Ululu band too, and its sound is a bit tighter and more focused on Davis’ guitar playing. There are fewer originals and Davis shares a writing credit with Taj Mahal on “Farther On Down the Road (You Will Accompany Me),” but the highlight is his dusty take on Merle Haggard’s “White Line Fever.” Here, he stuffs a rag in the muffler of Haggard’s truck–it’s less pokey, a straight-ahead roadhouse rollick.   When he asks in the opening line “I wonder just what makes a man keep pushing on?” Davis’ ragged, untamed voice sounds desperate, a little frantic. Like his guitar style, Davis’ voice sounds soulfully low-key. It’s easy to imagine coming from mouth of that straight-faced performer in the Rock and Roll Circus. The song is short, sweet, and Davis’ trebly slide guitar is featured prominently throughout, and, really, that’s what we want to hear. words/a spoto

MP3: Jesse Ed Davis :: You Belladonna You
MP3: Jesse Ed Davis :: White Line Fever

10 thoughts on “Jesse Ed Davis :: Jesse Davis / Ululu

  1. Jesse was THE man for me. He wasn’t super-flashy like many of his era, going more for TONE and VIBE. No wonder many sought him out. I think of his outstanding support on Gene Clark’s ‘No Other'(Asylum 1972 look for Rhino re-ish with demos featuring Jesse), Wayne Berry’s 1974 RCA debut ‘Home At Last’, Marc Benno’s `1972 over-looked classic ‘Minnows’ (A&M), several LPs with John Lennon (and Harry Nilsson) in his lost days before the comeback The first three Taj Mahal LPs on Columbia (I would cite the laid back Leslie-spattered Telecaster sweetness of ‘Bacon Fat’ as a Continual influence on my own style and sound…it’s been featured in an even LONGER version on last year’s Taj retro-surprise “The Hidden Treasures of Taj Mahal 1969-1973), his last 2 great studio collaborations with Native American activist/singer/rapper John Trudell, hell, I’ve even got a bootleg of him with The Faces post-Ron Wood! I’m POSITIVE I’ve left out many more and I suppose if I Wiki’d him I’d recall more of his session highlights. All three of his LPs (Self-titled, Ululu and Keep It Coming on Epic) are filled with insanely fine guitar playing. If I had to name high points they would be’ Reno Street Incident’ (check out the middle eight lyrics). ‘Washita Love Child’ (with Eric Clapton trading licks) ‘Every Night Is Saturday Night For Me’, ‘She’s A Pain’ and ‘Natural Anthem’ for starters.

    I was lucky enough to see him touring with a small band (probably all Oakies, I would wager, not remembering at all after 37 years) in support of Keep It Coming in a small club(Red Creek Inn, Rochester, NY) that held 125 on a good night…and it WAS. Phenomenal. I wish I had had my taping rig together back then.

    I grew into music reading LP covers at The Music Lover’s Shoppe near me in Pittsford, NY back in th early sixties. It trained me to watch the credits for who, what when and where. That’s how I found tons of Jesse back in the 70s. There NEEDS to be a definite collection or biography on this criminally under-rated artist.

  2. Give a listen to “Bacon Fat” on Taj’s Giant Step album for a beautiful bit of very tasteful lead guitar.

  3. I agree about the NEED for JED anthology. Session work, solo, live, the same sort of format as the recent Duane Allman box.

  4. Just discovered him while watching the Concert for Bangladesh dvd.
    He is standing to the left of George Harrison and there is something in his face as he tracks on Harrison’s every move. There is a light surrounding him. Maybe it is pure joy or gratitude for the gig but I don’t think so. It is as if something deep inside him understood the moment on stage, the combining of moral purpose, the gifts of all the assembled artists and the rescue of the refugees. Can’t forget him.

  5. Jesse was definitely in a whole different league. The story I heard about Concert for Bangladesh was that Clapton was shaky at best and JED was tagged to cover for him if he folded. Clapton held his own and Jesse held his and everyone else’s. I wore out copies of his 1st 2 solo albums. He is hugely underrated. White line fever and Haunted house by Roy Buchanan I can listen to over and over and…..

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