"Watch your women," the loudspeaker boomed, "because CeDell will be at the entry tent after the set taking pictures."
That was on Saturday, June 18, 2016, at the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Eureka Springs, where a couple hundred people gathered to hear the blues in a treeless field, a host of exotic cat refugees held safely out of sight a few hundred yards away.
Cedell Davis, the blues legend from Helena-West Helena, died on Wednesday. He was 91.
At Turpentine Creek, I'd fashioned a makeshift shade pod out of an umbrella I picked up at the Dollar General on Highway 62, sitting on the ground so it covered me completely. Even then, the heat crept in under the cracks and the pale, sun-bleached blades of grass seemed to sizzle. Davis sang "She's Got the Devil In Her." He forgot some of the words, but it didn't really matter. Aside from the vendors there to hawk airbrushed vanity license plates and pewter earrings and dream catchers, most in attendance likely knew what sort of grit it had taken for him to be sitting on that stage at all at age 90; how he grew up on the E.M. Hood Plantation; or how he swiped a butter knife from his mother's silverware drawer back in Helena so that he could continue to play guitar despite the onset of polio; or how he'd later get his legs broken so badly during a police raid at a St. Louis Tavern that he'd sing and play the rest of his years from a wheelchair.
Even sans guitar, taking cues and reminders from longtime bandmate Greg Binns, he still sounded that day like he was from another planet, relaying the Delta blues to a sea of umbrella sun pods. Like Sister Rosetta Tharpe before him or Joni Mitchell after, he developed his own logic when it came to tuning, a style that Robert Palmer wrote, "resulted in a welter of metal-stress harmonic transients and a singular tonal plasticity."
We note his passing this week. Here's Davis in 1984 giving a short tutorial on the difference between rock and roll and boogie woogie, gearing up for a slow burn on a cigarette.