by Jim Harris
The telling moment from Saturday night’s show at Stickyz featuring CeDell Davis came when several members of his backing band — some of rock’s royalty, to be sure — took turns taking camera phone shots of the native Arkansas bluesman.
Former Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin, when he pulled himself away from the drum kit behind Davis, said. “I didn’t want to miss getting a shot of this.”
On the stage, R.E.M. multi-instrumentalist Peter Buck, now based in and recording limited vinyl releases out of Seattle, played bass and led a contingent of three guitarists, a pedal steel player, and former Brave Combo member and Little Rock native Joe Cripps on percussion. There was also a late appearance by blues guitarist David Kimbrough.
Martin and fellow Seattle musician Jeff Angell also opened the night with a set of advanced grunge and rock as part of the Walking Papers (other members Duff McKagan, former GNR bassist, and Ben Anderson didn’t show). The Thomas Houston Jones Band, with some of the same players who had backed Davis, wrapped up the night.
With such notables as Buck in the room, not to mention a living legend in Davis, one would have expected a larger crowd. In essence, this might have been one of those shows only a musician or ardent blues lover could truly appreciate.
Davis, whose childhood bout with polio left him unable to use his left hand, suffered a stroke in recent years that took the use of his right arm as well. He no longer plays the guitar. At age 85, he sits in a wheel chair and sings verses to various blues riffs and pacing.
“I’m going to sing y’all one or two more verse and then we’ve gotta go,” he told the energetic crowd as the show grew more intense with each song. Davis encouraged Buck, Cripps and the band to “pick up the tempo on this one” after a dirge-like start, and by the end of the set he had the audience captivated with such CeDell classics as “Rub Me Baby” and “I Don’t Know Why.”
Later, when the Jones Band was playing, Davis sat alone in his wheelchair at a table near the Stickyz bar. “I’ve been all over. I’ve seen a lot of things, yeah. I’ve been blessed,” he told a fan, a fellow Pine Bluffian who spent the evening marveling at the talent assembled, when Seattle converged with the Arkansas Delta.
Meanwhile, Buck, Martin, Angell and others made a full weekend of it in Little Rock, hanging with Scott Diffee’s band Go Fast and also around Diffee’s tattoo parlor, and showing up at an area church on Sunday evening, where (according to Martin on the Walking Papers Facebook) they played songs by The Band, The Who, James Brown and more, bringing the house down with “Mississippi Queen.”
After the jump, check out Martin's incredible account of their trip to Little Rock.
I'm not sure how to tell this amazing story in a paragraph, but I'll try. In short, Jeff Angell and myself spent 3 incredible days in Little Rock, Arkansas playing 2 Walking Papers shows (as a duo) along with Scott Diffee's band "Go Fast" and the legendary Delta Bluesman CeDell Davis. REM's Peter Buck and another Blues legend, David Kimbrough, joined us for the second show, and it was absolutely extraordinary for us to share the stage with these men as a true night of the Delta Blues was laid down for the Little Rock citizenry. Mr. Davis sang his stories of the ancient Delta while Mr. Buck held down the bass, and Mr. Kimbrough strummed along as Jeff played a mean and dirty slide guitar all night. During the course of the evening, several demons were expunged from this world and a few Angels descended, a result of the fierce interplay between the musicians. As a final baptism, Mr. Kimbrough, with his young nephew on drums, closed out the night with an extraordinary set of traditional mountain blues played on a lap dulcimer, and he sung with such a sweet and beautiful voice that the audience felt compelled to weep in the warm darkness of the room. By the 3rd day, (and after a 3rd trip to Waffle House), tattoos and beautiful paintings were given out to mark the occasion by Scott Diffee and his apprentice David in their truly awesome tattoo shop, "The Parlor." By Sunday evening, we decided that we all needed some churchin' to atone for our previous years activities, and by mysterious circumstances, we were asked to play some Rock & Roll at a local church that was doing a fundraiser for the local food bank. When the Lord calls, even the Rockers must oblige, so we played songs by The Band, The Who, James Brown, and several others, but I believe the congregation was most pleased by our version of "Mississippi Queen", which had young and old alike clapping and dancing in the aisles. Even Brother John was smiling and rocking happily back and forth in his permanent armchair by the alter. The Holy Spirit was conjured, the food bank was replenished, and if there is a God, she certainly has a soft spot for Rock & Roll - at least in the American South. We barely caught our flight home, but Scott's '57 Chevy delivered us in style, roaring up to the ticket counter in a fashion that only a man like he could deliver. Such a gracious host that man. I love The South, half of my family originated there, and in this deep and mysterious place you will meet some of the most polite, wonderful, intelligent, funny, and rebellious people that exist in these fine United Sates. Much of the world's greatest music, literature, and art has emanated from this most elegant of regions, and this in turn has made the world a much richer place. So Amen, and God Bless The South, we were honored to play for ya'll and we carry you in our hearts. The photographic evidence of our mini-adventure will be forthcoming, and in one weeks time, the entire Walking Papers band will make the leap across the Atlantic Pond to bring our show to England and France. Our story will continue.... *Barrett