“If two could become one
It’s you and I…”
      –Jesse Ed Davis

Jesse Ed Davis, a Native American guitarist, played on many legendary recordings. He died in relative obscurity at the age of 43 in Los Angeles of a drug overdose. Red Dirt Boogie contains his first two albums.

In the 60s, an Oklahoma-native, Davis toured with Conway Twitty. Then he joined Taj Mahal’s band, recorded albums and appeared in the Rolling Stones film Rock & Roll Circus. Davis also performed in George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh.

His resume proves undeniable. Davis contributed to albums by Bob Dylan, Albert King, John Lennon, John Lee Hooker, Buffy Sainte Marie, Bert Jansch, Albert Collins, Ringo Starr, Arlo Guthrie, Mac Davis, Rod Stewart, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Lightning Hopkins, B.B. King, the Pointer Sisters, Jackson Browne, Captain Beefheart, Ry Cooder, Gene Clark and Leonard Cohen to name a few. 

Davis even played with the Faces in 1975 on their final tour. In the 1980s, Davis recorded on the Native American poet John Trudell’s album Grafitti Man before he died. Davis is featured in a documentary called Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World

Davis told B. Mitchell Reed about growing up in Oklahoma as a kid: “I was always a little weird, being an Indian in Oklahoma–Oklahoma is kinda like a six-gun city, you know? It’s still the Wild West back there. It’s really provincial. Since I’ve grown up, I really look back and see a lot of the racial things I went through that were really heavy formative trips in my life.” Davis graduated with a degree in English from the University of Oklahoma.

These nineteen recordings culled from the Atlantic Records vault that comprise Red Dirt Boogie were released by Real Gone Records in 2017. Notable musicians that played on Davis’ first two albums include “Duck” Dunn, Jim Keltner, Dr. John, Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, Gram Parsons and Merry Clayton among others. Of the nine songs on Davis’ debut album–six are original compositions. He handles all vocal duties. Davis’ father painted the cover to this first album that was released in 1971.

“Every Night Is A Saturday” begins the collection with roadhouse grit–a steady-beat laced with horns, bass, drums and a slick guitar work by Davis. “Washita Love Child”, another guitar-driven ditty captures Davis at his best. In 1972, Davis told Maurice Goldman in a radio interview about this tune: “Washita Love Child is about my background as a Kiowa Comanche from Oklahoma. I was born in Washita River country.”

“Red Dirt Boogie, Brother” opens with the lyrics: “Ain’t No Beatle/Ain’t no Rolling Stone,” and sustains a low-to-the-ground groove that could fit easily on any funk album. A soulful cover of Roger Tillson’s “Rock N Roll Gypsies” proves why Davis was a highly sought after musician. “Farther On Down The Road” counts as one of Davis’ more well-known tunes because his co-writer Taj Mahal frequently plays it during live performances.

Davis revealed the story behind “Reno Street Incident” to Maurice Goldman: “Reno Street is in Oklahoma City, it’s down in the equivalent of the bowery slums, a lot of bible missions and down and outers are down there and of course there’s a couple of funky hotels that are like whore houses, and so Reno Street Incident is about the first time I got laid, man! Thanks to a wonderful lady named Helen.”

Davis’ blues-based slide guitar work on the George Harrison number, “Sue Me, Sue You Blues”, causes the listener to tap their foot to the beat. One can hear why Duane Allman paid close attention to Davis’ playing. Allman admired Davis’ slide work on the Blind Willie McTell song Davis recorded with Taj Mahal–“Statesboro Blues”–that later became a staple of the Allman Brothers live repertory. An original composition, “You Belladonna You”, features fine piano work by fellow Oklahoman Leon Russell. A cover of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love” ends the first half of Red Dirt Boogie

One of Davis’ finest compositions “Uhulu” starts his second album. This track crystallizes Davis’ complete guitar, vocal and lyrical magic. Pure gold. A rendition of Leon Russell’s “Alcatraz” emits a cosmic mojo. Davis delivers a fantastic version of Merle Haggard’s “White Line Fever”. 

Davis demonstrates his amazing dobro intro on the Band’s “Strawberry Wine”. Another original, “My Captain” (dedicated to Taj Mahal), showcases a barroom ballad that verges on gospel music with Dr. John playing piano. “Golden Sun Goddess” inspires a high view from Laurel Canyon with amazing back up vocals by Merry Clayton (she sang the glorious back-up on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”) and Clydie King.

The final track, “Kiowa Teepee” contains a Native American drum chant that disappears like a smoke signal within the first minute before accelerating into an electric full band instrumental of “Washita Love Child” that could have served as a theme song to a 70s hit TV show. 

Jesse Ed Davis’ music resonates on a deeper level knowing he died an early death. For years, his albums were out of print. Red Dirt Boogie preserves the vast talent of Jesse Ed Davis, and offers a chance to hear his timeless work.