01. Reno Street Incident 4:10
02. Tulsa County 2:21
03. Washita Love Child 3:47
04. Every Night Is Saturday Night 7:11
05. You Belladonna You 6:29
06. Rock N Roll Gypsies 4:14
07. Golden Sun Goddess 4:48
08. Crazy Love 3:36
Backing Vocals – Bobby Jones, Clydie King, Gloria Jones, Gram Parsons, Maxine Willard, "The Magnificent" Merry Clayton, Nikki Barclay, Vanetta Fields
Baritone Saxophone, Clarinet – James Gordon
Bass – Billy Rich, Steve Thompson
Drums – Alan White, Bruce Rowland, Chuck "Brother" Blackwell, Steve Mitchell
Guitar – Eric Clapton, Joel Scott Hill
Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals – Jesse Edwin Davis III
Keyboards – Ben Sidran, John Simon, Larry Knechtel, Larry Pierce, Leon Russell
Percussion – Alan Yoshida, Jackie Lomax, Johnnie Ware, Pat Daley, Pete "Big Boy" Waddington, Sandy Konikoff
Tenor Saxophone – Frank Mayes
Tenor Saxophone [Solo] – Jerry Jumonville
Trombone, Trumpet – Darrell Leonard
Davis was born in Norman, Oklahoma. His father, Jesse Ed Davis II, was Comanche, and his mother's side was Kiowa. His father was an accomplished artist known for his "true Indian" painting style; his works were exhibited in the capitol in Oklahoma City.
Davis graduated from Northeast High School in 1962. He began his musical career in the late 1950s in Oklahoma City and surrounding cities with John Ware (later a drummer for Emmylou Harris), John Selk (later a bass player for Donovan), Jerry Fisher (later a vocalist with Blood, Sweat & Tears), Mike Boyle, Chris Frederickson, drummer Bill Maxwell (later with Andrae Crouch and Koinonia) and others.
Davis attended the University of Oklahoma but by the mid-1960s had quit school and went touring with Conway Twitty.
Davis eventually moved to California. For eight years, he lived in Marina del Rey, with his companion, Patti Daley, and her son, Billy. Through his friendship with Levon Helm, he became friends with Leon Russell, who introduced him to session work. Davis joined Taj Mahal and played guitar and piano on Mahal's first three albums. He played slide, lead and rhythm, country and even jazz during his three-year stint with Mahal, making an appearance with the band as a musical guest in The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus.
After Mahal's 1969 album Giant Step, Davis turned to session work for David Cassidy, Albert King, Willie Nelson and others. In 1970 he played on and produced Roger Tillison's only album for Atco Records, a division of Atlantic. Davis and Tillison - both Oklahoman - were joined at the Record Plant by Bobby Bruce (fiddle), Larry Knechtel (organ and harmonica), Stan Szelest (piano); Billy Rich (bass); Jim Keltner (drums) and Sandy Konikoff (percussion); Don Preston and Joey Cooper were vocal accompanists. Roger Tillison's Album was recorded live. This album was finally released on CD by Wounded Bird Records in 2008, with Davis playing electric guitar, bottleneck (slide) guitar and banjo. The Woody Guthrie song "Old Cracked Looking Glass" has become a standard for Oklahoma bands.
Davis recorded his first solo album when Atco Records signed a contract with him to record two albums with the label. The result of that engagement was the album Jesse Davis (1971), which featured backing vocals by Gram Parsons and performances by Leon Russell and Eric Clapton, among others. After guesting with Russell on Bob Dylan's single "Watching the River Flow", Davis went on to work with George Harrison, performing at the ex-Beatle's Concert for Bangla Desh extravaganza at Madison Square Garden, along with Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, Russell, Keltner, Clapton and others.
Two more Davis solo albums followed: Ululu (1972), which included the original release of Harrison's "Sue Me, Sue You Blues", and Keep Me Comin (1973), occasionally listed as Keep On Coming. Around this time, Davis began playing with John Lennon, for whom he played lead guitar on the albums Walls and Bridges (1974) and Rock 'n' Roll (1975). In addition to his work with Lennon, Davis was a guest performer on other albums by former Beatles: Harrison's Extra Texture (1975) and Starr's Goodnight Vienna (1974) and Ringo's Rotogravure (1976).
Davis was close friends with Gene Clark. He played on and produced Clark's second solo album, White Light, in 1971 and provided lead guitar on Clark's album No Other in 1974. He also played on Leonard Cohen's Death of a Ladies' Man (1977), produced by Phil Spector.
Davis continued to work as a session player for the rest of the decade. He also performed with the Faces as second guitarist throughout their final US tour, in the late summer and fall of 1975. In addition to the artists listed above, Davis contributed to albums by Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, Keith Moon, Jackson Browne (he played the solo on "Doctor My Eyes", from Browne's 1972 debut), Steve Miller, Guthrie Thomas, Harry Nilsson, Ry Cooder, Neil Diamond, Rick Danko, Van Dyke Parks and others.
In and out of clinics, Davis disappeared from the music industry for a time, spending much of the 1980s dealing with alcohol and drug addiction. Throughout the 10 years he was with Patti Daley, they never married. In the following years he married twice. While married to his second wife, he formed and played in the Graffiti Band, which coupled his music with the poetry of the Native American activist John Trudell. In the spring of 1987, the Graffiti Band performed with Taj Mahal at the Palomino Club in North Hollywood, California. At this show, George Harrison, Bob Dylan and John Fogerty got up from the audience to join Davis and Mahal in an unrehearsed set which included Fogerty's "Proud Mary" and Dylan's "Watching the River Flow", as well as classics such as "Blue Suede Shoes", "Peggy Sue", "Honey Don't", "Matchbox" and "Gone, Gone, Gone".
While Jesse Ed Davis’ legacy has finally started to see the light of recognition, there is still a long way to go in establishing his rightful place in the pantheon of rock and roll legends. The Kiowa guitarist’s career encompassed work with everyone from Conway Twitty to John Lee Hooker to Bob Dylan, and his time served in the original Taj Mahal band would be highly influential on up-and-coming guitar slingers like Duane Allman (he being the inspiration for the latter’s taking up bottleneck-style guitar in the first place). Davis never really managed to establish himself as a commercially successful singer in his own right, but that did not prevent him from cutting a series of strong and invigorating records in the early 1970s, the first and foremost of these being Jesse Davis.
Davis has surrounded himself with a real who’s-who of rock and roll musicians here, including Eric Clapton, Joel Scott Hill, Gram Parsons and the oddly-omnipresent Leon Russell. This is a hearty American brew; it’s only too bad that the liner notes do not include a track by track breakdown of who is playing what on which songs. Davis’ voice may be an acquired taste – being slightly nasally and, yes, sometimes a little pitchy – but it also has a lot of character, and its hard not to give the guy a break; in the end, whatever vocal limitations the cat may be accused of are more than made up for by his exemplary musicianship. In his guitar playing I have noticed that Davis exhibits a certain degree of Curtis Mayfield influence (similar to that of Woodstock-era Robbie Robertson) in his ability to always serve the song and the rhythm; that is, until it comes time to let loose into a sharp and jagged solo, such as that which leaps out from the end of the otherwise lethargic “Reno Street Incident” – an original composition which was also recorded by Southwind’s Jim Pulte. The expansive horn arrangement on “Every Day Is Saturday Night” falls somewhere between Memphis boogie-woogie and red dirt dixieland, with Davis’ sharp staccato guitar leaping and swerving through the collective improvisation until its gleeful collapse. Make a joyful noise, indeed.
Perhaps the most memorable number here is “You Belladonna You,” which not only manages to lock into a serious groove, but also boasts an inescapable vocal hook. The extended jam at the end is the reason I harbor such ill will towards “the fade-out” on rock and roll records: is this not where the real magic happens? On the other hand, the oddest moment on the record comes with “Golden Sun Goddess,” which is an uncharacteristic detour into Los Angeles yacht rock replete with groovy electric sitars and a lava lamp vocal choir. It sounds like the album’s closest thing to a hit single, though its Steely Dan-isms are pretty jarring. Pretty much everywhere else Davis leans on an earthy, deadpan charm that betrays his deep Oklahoma roots. “Redheaded woman wants me to get a haircut,” Davis grumbles at the end of Pamela Polland’s “Tulsa County” before cracking, “man, I can’t get no haircut. Redhead? That’s a redneck.” Alright, so the Byrds may have cut the definitive take on this one, but they never let themselves have this much fun in the studio. Davis may be criticized for relying so heavily on other people’s material for his own albums, but his takes on these songs are always individualistic, and anyways, the guy’s got some good taste.
Jesse Davis has been reissued both individually and as a set with the follow up release, 1972’s Ululu, but somehow both are currently out-of-print and demanding ridiculously high prices. Your best bet is to keep an eye out for some original vinyl or else sucking it up and purchasing a digital copy, which may in fact be the most affordable choice at the moment though it does entail missing out on the righteous jacket artwork.