A bluesman and a storyteller
"There is no tale so tall I cannot tell it, nor song so sweet I cannot sing it," says blues singer, songwriter and storyteller Guy Davis.
Davis is touring in support of his two-CD audio play, "The Adventures of Fishy Waters: In Bed With the Blues," to be released later this month on his own Smokeydoke Records label.
He'll perform his one-man play at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 4, at the Unitarian Fellowship, 87 Fourth St., Ashland.
Davis' new release marks the debut recording of a production that he's performed on and off since 1994. "Fishy Waters" features a number of his original compositions along with songs by such blues icons as Robert Johnson, Rev. Gary Davis, Blind Willie McTell and Big Bill Broonzy.
The album is a "road story" in the truest sense. Davis performs the songs and tells the stories as Fishy Waters, a person who's traveled throughout the South, met dozens of vivid characters and created lasting impressions that are sometimes humorous and playful, sometimes mysterious and powerful.
"Storytelling is the most ancient, most powerful magic of the universe," Davis says in a news release. He is the son of actors Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis. "I grew up in a house full of storytellers."
Davis' father could tell a story over and over and make it fun every time, and his grandfather was known for his rascally tales and jokes. His family experiences were a big influence on "The Adventures of Fishy Waters."
The idea for "Fishy Waters" came to Davis while he was working as an understudy on another play, "Mule Bone," at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Broadway.
"One of the parts was the traveling blues musician played by Kenny Neal. The greenroom was directly underneath the stage. Night after night, I heard the actors as they danced and spoke. I longed to be onstage telling those tales and singing those songs."
After "Mule Bone," Davis was cast in the title role of "Robert Johnson: Trick the Devil," which ran off-Broadway at the Henry Street Settlement and earned him a Harlem Theatre award and a Blues Foundation award.
Henry Street also is where "The Adventures of Fishy Waters" made its debut in '94.
"The task of a storyteller is to include stories that encompass the full range of emotions," Davis says. "Funny stories, serious subjects, even ugly things. It must be done is such a way that a white audience won't feel accused and uncomfortable, or a black audience won't feel offended by a perceived return to 'Uncle Tom' humor. As a storyteller, I strive to present thought-provoking images. The fewer words it takes me, the better. I didn't set out to write a book. I didn't set out to explain, represent or save black people. The piece is written to communicate as simply as possible a sense of humanity."
"The Adventures of Fishy Waters" contains a mix of small stories, tall tales and music. The subjects are survivors, not victims. The culture is black. The music is blues. The message is human.
Tickets for Davis' show cost $20 in advance and are available at Music Coop in Ashland and www.stclairevents.com or by calling 541-535-3562. Tickets will cost $22 at the door, $10 for ages 12 through 17. Children 11 and younger will be admitted free.