June 22, 1988 – Jesse Edwin Davis was born on September 21, 1944 in Norman, Oklahoma. His father, Jesse Ed Davis II, was Muscogee Creek and Seminole while his mother’s side was Kiowa. He graduated from Northeast High School in 1962. He earned a degree in literature from the University of Oklahoma before beginning his musical career touring with Conway Twitty in the early ’60s. Eventually the guitarist moved to California, joining bluesman Taj Mahal and playing guitar and piano on his first three albums. It was with Mahal that Davis was able to showcase his skill and range, playing slide, lead, and rhythm, country, and even jazz guitar, also making an appearance with the band as a musical guest in The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus.
The period backing Mahal was the closest Davis came to being in a band full-time, and after Mahal’s 1969 album Giant Step, he went on to work closely with ex-Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison, playing guitar on several of their solo albums. He released his first solo album the self-titled album Jesse Davis in 1971. Davis also began doing session work for such diverse acts as David Cassidy, Albert King, Willie Nelson, Ringo Starr, Leonard Cohen, Keith Moon, Jackson Browne, Steve Miller, Harry Nilsson, Van Dyke Parks and others. In addition, he also released three solo albums featuring industry friends such as Leon Russell and Eric Clapton.
Prone to addictions, Davis disappeared from the music industry for a time, spending much of the ’80s dealing with alcohol and drug addiction. Davis resurfaced playing in the Graffiti Band in late 1986, which coupled his music with the poetry of American Indian activist John Trudell. The kind of expert, tasteful playing that Davis always brought to an album is sorely missed among the acts he worked with.
Jesse Ed Davis was perhaps the most versatile session guitarist of the late ’60s and early ’70s. Whether it was blues, country, or rock, Davis’ tasteful guitar playing was featured on albums by such giants as Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, John Lennon, and John Lee Hooker, among others. It is Davis’ weeping slide heard on Clapton’s “Hello Old Friend” (from No Reason to Cry), and on both Rock n’ Roll and Walls & Bridges, it is Davis who supplied the bulk of the guitar work for ex-Beatle Lennon.
In the Spring of ’87, The Graffiti Band performed with Taj Mahal at the Palomino Club, and George Harrison, Bob Dylan and John Fogerty rose from the audience to join Jesse and Taj Mahal in an unrehearsed set which included Fogerty’s “Proud Mary” and Dylan’s “Watching the River Flow” and “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Peggy Sue”, “Honey Don’t”, “Matchbox”, and “Gone, Gone, Gone”.
He tragically died of a suspected drug overdose on June 22, 1988 at the age of 43.