Music professor, Dr. William Ellis, himself a Memphis blues musician, classical guitarist, and ethnomusicologist, recently landed a contract for his book, I Belong to the Band: The Music of Rev. Gary Davis, to be published by the University Press of Mississippi.
Ellis’ book on the Rev. Gary Davis, 1896-1972, will be welcomed in the music world as Davis has been regarded as one of the very best guitarists, and as someone who has not been widely understood as the important figure he is.
Ellis said he chanced upon, “a musician who would change my life: Piedmont blues giant Reverend Gary Davis,” while he was earning a master's in classical performance from the University of Cincinnati-College Conservatory of Music. He discovered Davis's intricate finger-picking style, which fascinated the classically-trained guitarist.
“Davis was a great sacred bluesman, and that's a genre I love dearly,” Ellis said. “There’s combination of the heavenly and the hellish, there are wonderful dynamics… tension and drama.”
What other musicians have said about Rev. Gary Davis:
"He was the most fantastic guitarist I'd ever seen." -Dave Van Ronk
“More than three decades after his death, the influence of Reverend Gary Davis can still be felt. As each new generation is introduced to blues, folk, and other forms of traditional American music, Davis’ signature guitar stylings and heartfelt vocals continue to move, entertain, and educate.” - Paul Andersen
“Rev. Davis taught me, by example, to completely throw out my preconceptions of what can or can’t be done on the guitar.” -Bob Weir (of the Grateful Dead)
"Gary Davis took you out of playing baby guitar and made you play it like a grown man." -Taj Mahal
“In Davis we encounter a complete musician, a composer aware of all musical details, exploring new possibilities. Davis has not been acclaimed as Robert Johnson, yet he alone brought many traditions to culmination through an artistry which surpassed nearly all others during his lifetime.” -Allan Evans
Professor Ellis—a voting member of the Grammys
Professor William Ellis is one of the voting members on the Grammys, serves on their Board of Governors in Memphis, and chairs the liner-note committee that screens contributions and makes nominations. Additionally, he is on the 60-member National Grammy Hall of Fame Committee, which nominates historically important overlooked records. He is currently at work on a chapter on Delta music for a University of Arkansas Press book on The Delta. “That’s the source of all the great blues musicians,” Ellis said, “Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, and other greats.”
William Ellis resides in Jericho with his wife Julie Coffey and their daughter Jessa.