September 27, 2017 – CeDell Davis was born June 9, 1927 in Helena, Arkansas, where his family worked on the local E.M. Hood plantation. He enjoyed music from a young age, playing harmonica and guitar with his childhood friends.
When he was 10, he contracted severe polio which left him little control over his left hand and restricted use of his right. He had been playing guitar prior to his polio and decided to continue in spite of his handicap, which led to his development of the “knife” method. Davis played guitar using a table knife in his fretting hand in a manner similar to slide guitar. Like Sister Rosetta Tharpe before him or Joni Mitchell after, he developed his own logic when it came to tuning the guitar, a style that Robert Palmer wrote, “resulted in a welter of metal-stress harmonic transients and a singular tonal plasticity.”
Once he sufficiently mastered his variation on slide guitar playing, Davis began playing in various nightclubs across the Mississippi Delta area. He played with Robert Nighthawk for a ten-year period from 1953 to 1963. While playing at a St.Louis Tavern in 1957, a police raid caused the crowd to stampede over Davis. Both of his legs were broken in this incident and he was forced to use a wheelchair from that time on. The hardships resulting from his physical handicaps were a major influence in his lyrics and style of blues playing.
Davis moved to Pine Bluff, Arkansas in the early sixties and continued his artistic work. In more recent times, Davis’ music had been released by the Fat Possum Records label to much critical acclaim. His 1994 album, produced by Robert Palmer, Feel Like Doin’ Something Wrong, received a 9.0 from Pitchfork Media who called it “timeless.”
The Best Of CeDell Davis (1995) was also released, with help from Atlanta’s jamband phenomenon Col. Bruce Hampton and The Aquarium Rescue Unit. The Horror of It All followed in 1998. His album When Lightnin’ Struck the Pine, released in 2002, included work by musicians Peter Buck, Barrett Martin, Scott McCaughey, and Alex Veley. In later years he still recorded: Highway 61 – 2003
Keep It to Yourself: Arkansas Blues, Vol. 1 – 2004 (4 tracks of the 23 tracks)
Last Man Standing – 2015
Even The Devil Gets The Blues – 2016
Davis died on September 27, 2017, while recovering from a heart attack.