Guest writer Daryl Davis by Monica Yasher

Posted on 1/30/2010 by Monica Yasher

I asked Daryl Davis to be our guest writer this week. As a guest writer, I write the guest some questions and email them. The guest answers them at their convenience and emails them back to me. I think Daryl is a great writer!

I met Daryl at Blues Week at Elkins, WV a few years ago. Daryl and I talked about writing music. Probably the best advice he ever gave me was to not rely on song critiques in my songwriting. He stressed to me the importance of performing the song! Watch the audience and see how they react to what you are singing, he told me.

Why was this such good advice? I had a song that I received a critique on from a Nashville source. I was told pretty much to keep the hook and throw the rest of the song away.

About a month or so later, I had the chance to perform and decided to do the song. The reaction to the song was AMAZING! Needless to say, I kept the song and didn't do a major rewrite on it. Will it be a number one hit? Maybe not. Hopefully so! But, it definitely connected with many that day and for performances after that.
BTW, Daryl, this wasn't the song we discussed! Thank you for your insight and knowledge, Daryl! Let's see what else Daryl has to tell us!

If you weren’t singing the blues what would you be doing?

When I was a child, I was fascinated with James Bond and equally fascinated with computers. At that time, computers took up enough space to cover a large living room in a house. I knew that computers were the future and that they would get smaller, but never dreamed they would become the size of a laptop, let alone a smart phone.

I liked spy movies, all the James Bond movies and James Coburn’s In Like Flint and Our Man Flint, and Dean Martin’s Matt Helm movies. Sean Connery and Roger Moore in my opinion were and always will be the best Bonds. I still have my 007 briefcase that shoots plastic bullets and 007 secret belt buckle decoder. I could probably get a nice sum for them on E-Bay or something, but they are childhood memories that still remain close to my heart and I will not part with them.

So I struggled back and forth with the notion of going into espionage or computers. Back then, they weren’t really related. Today of course they are attached like Siamese twins, with forensics, CODIS data bases and cyber espionage. There’s a good chance, that would have been what I would be doing today had I not made a left turn somewhere and went and got a college degree in music.

What is your strongest point as an artist? What would you like to improve upon?

I think it’s important for an artist to have many strong points of which have equal value. It is important to create one’s own identity or style that can be identified or easily recognized by the public. For example, Chuck Berry, B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, Andrew Wyeth and Norman Rockwell are all artists whose styles are readily recognized by the public at large. An artist should also be ever-evolving, open to new ideas and not be pigeon-holed into any one particular thing as they strive toward mastering their art. Once they have reached master status, they can then settle into whichever medium they feel serves them best. Equally important musically, is the ability to balance what is self-satisfying to the artist with what is satisfying to the audience.

I am still developing as an artist and am a long ways away from mastery. I do well in certain genres and am constantly exploring and learning other styles. One of my strongest points is in my ability to not only play the music, but to also provide the entertainment aspect to my performance, which is what the majority of the audience is there for.

The musicians will appreciate technique and skills that the non-musical audience doesn’t understand. But the audience will appreciate the simplicity of being entertained which many seasoned musicians don’t understand and fail to deliver in certain settings. Thus, they wonder why they don’t receive the recognition they deserve from the public while another musician of a lesser caliber is idolized. The ability to discern my audience and their needs is one of my strongest points.

From all the performers you have played with, which one did you learn the most from? Why?

I have had many influences and have been fortunate enough to work with a number of them. Chuck Berry, Pinetop Perkins, and Johnnie Johnson are 3 of the many performers I admire and with whom I have worked and learned a great deal.

Pinetop and Johnnie each personally taught me their styles of playing piano and how to phrase and enhance what the lead artist is doing by intertwining my own creative playing around their vocals and riffs. Then, how to cut loose when given a solo. This has lead to my being hired to work with countless other artists, including Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley’s Jordanaires, Sam Moore, The Legendary Blues Band, Percy Sledge, Hubert Sumlin, The Drifters, The Platters, The Coasters and many more. Those two piano players essentially gave me the nuts and bolts that have become my bread and butter, so to speak.

Chuck Berry has taught me how to read an audience. How to pace the material, be spontaneous and how to play Rock’n’Roll. After all, he invented it!!! His songwriting and insight has been a great inspiration to me. Chuck has also taught me how to conduct business in the music world. He is very savvy and his practices are the handbook for how a musician should conduct business without getting ripped off. He has readily given me advice when I ask him on a gig or I call him on the phone with a question.

Do you have a memorable moment to share with us?

I have many memorable moments and am very fortunate to have been able to meet and work with many of my musical idols. So many of us have musical heroes who we only came to know through their recordings and they have passed on before we were born or old enough to go see them in person. Others have idols who are still living but who they are not likely to ever meet because of the walls that are in place around celebrities. I’ve met just about everyone I’ve wanted to and worked with most of the ones with whom I’ve wanted to work.

My favorite song of all time is Johnny B. Goode. Playing it on stage with Chuck Berry who wrote it is one of my favorite moments each time I do it. I am as excited doing it now as I was the first time and I’ve been doing it on and off for 29 years.

You are a gifted songwriter/composer. How do you go about getting inspired to write music?

Just take a step back and look around you. What do you see? What are people doing that is fun? What political situations are ever present that demand a voice? Love is always a constant topic. How do two people express their love for each other? Who’s cheating on who? What humorous things do you see or can you make up to which every listener can relate and laugh?

These are all various components of stories that are told in song. The key is to select a topic to which the masses can relate or a specific topic targeted at a specific audience. Take The Beach Boys for example. Many of their songs are about fun. Grab your surfboard, get in your Woodie and drive to beach where you can chase those California girls. Well, that works for people living in LA or Daytona. They can relate and they buy those records. The beach scene may not work so well for people living in the Harlem or Montana. But people in those regions can relate to love, cars and other common situations. These are all things that inspire me to write the songs I’ve written. Chuck Berry said he would write about cars, chasing women, and falling in love because everyone could relate to those things. Works for me!!!

Do you find it challenging or does it come fairly easy to you?

Actually, it does come fairly easy to me. Of course there are times when you have other things on your mind and blocks are thrown up in the path of your creativity. But once I clear my mind and decide to write, it tends to flow with ease. Sometimes the melody or music comes first and other times, it’s the lyrics that come first. The real work comes in putting them together in a manner that doesn’t sound like someone else’s song or the same old progression as thousands of other songs. You want to have something that gives it a uniqueness but isn’t so foreign that people are reluctant to listen to it all the way through.

Were you self taught on the keyboards?

I was both self-taught and formally trained. I was fortunate enough to learn to play Blues and Boogie Woogie piano with hands-on training from the legendary masters Pinetop Perkins and Johnnie Johnson. I also went to Howard University in Washington, DC where I studied Jazz and graduated with my degree in music.

What do you think sets a great keyboardist apart from a good one?

Well the terms “good” and “great,” are subjective. A great keyboardist could be one who has a mastery of the instrument in many different genres as opposed to just being able to play one style. Then again, a keyboardist could be a great keyboardist in a particular genre which he has mastered. For example: Ray Charles was indeed a genius.

Ray could play any style on the keyboard, Jazz, Country, Rock’n’Roll, Blues, Pop, R&B with the ability of a master in each genre. He has the hits to prove it. It could therefore be said that he was a great keyboardist. On the other hand, Jerry Lee Lewis excels at playing Rock’n’Roll piano and anyone would be hard pressed to top him. Even though he can’t play Classical music as well as say Liberace, Jerry Lee is without a doubt a great keyboardist in his element.

A good pianist is a category unto itself in which I would say describes someone who is a utility player. He/she would be able to play sufficiently within the idiom or idioms but without exceptional proficiency.

Do you still work at this everyday?

Absolutely! I am always learning new things and honing what I already know.

Elton John studied piano for most of his life. However, he has stated he can not play the piano like he used to since he only plays chords to accompany his singing. Do you think this is a rut that players can fall into easily? And if so, any suggestions on how to avoid it or it just doesn’t matter?

Elton John is a fine pianist. He is known primarily for his songs. He’s a singer who happens to play piano and play it rather well. He does not strive to set the world on fire with his piano playing, nor does he need to. He has great solists in his band and can hire other great ones for his recordings. You don’t hear of Elton John licks on the piano like you hear of Jerry Lee Lewis, Pinetop Perkins, Johnnie Johnson licks. In fact, I’ve heard Elton John play some of their licks as he was indeed influenced by them and Little Richard.

What he does on the piano is enough to sell his records and give him a certified place in the world of music. He doesn’t need to edify his playing anymore at this point in terms of his musical marketability. Certainly for his own edification and enjoyment he may wish to stretch out more in with his pianistic skills. He played Blues when he first got into commercial music and he still has that knowledge. His chops may be a little rusty from having been dormant for so long, but I believe with a little woodshedding, if he wanted to, he could unearth them from the depths of his soul.

You didn’t mention him, but Billy Joel is another one whose piano abilities are underrated. I had the pleasure of being at a performance with my friend Jerry Lee Lewis who was performing along with many other great pianists, including Billy Joel. Backstage, I stood next to Billy as he played a piano that was sitting in the hallway. He played things that he never plays in public or on his recordings and therefore is probably never heard outside of his privacy. He truly is quite a remarkable pianist and I was highly impressed. He plays these things for his own gratification but doesn’t have to do as much to sell himself to his fans. I think many of his fans would appreciate his hidden abilities, but that’s me the musician talking because I can see the value and complexities of what he was doing whereby his non-musical fans may not appreciate those things.

Did you find it painful or liberating to write your book?

KLAN-DESTINE RELATIONSHIPS is a nonfiction book I wrote about my encounters as a Black man with members of the Ku Klux Klan. I found it at different times to be painful, liberating, exciting, educational, and funny.

What did you hope to accomplish by writing the book, if anything?

I wanted to explore the topic of racism by sitting down with KKK from all over the country and getting them to tell me first-hand how they could hate me without ever knowing me. It was quite an experience. There were a lot of negative things, but there were many positive things as well with quite a few surprises in my book. My initial intent of writing the book was to provide information on why the Klan feels the way it does as told to a Black author. Most books written on the Klan are by White authors. There have been two books written by Black authors who detailed how each author escaped a lynching; one in the 1930s and the other in the 1940s. My book was the first book written on the KKK by a Black author who sat down and talked with his would be lynchers. As it turned out, the book became more than just something to provide opinions. It offers hope and insight to solutions to curbing and ending racism and explores a great deal of unchartered territory.

Would you like to share an except from your book?

One of the many incidents that played a role in my meeting members of the Ku Klux Klan and eventually writing my book was this one.

In 1983, I was the only Black playing in a Country band of which I was the Black member and usually, the only Black guy in whichever venue we were performing.  One night we were playing at an all White truck stop lounge in Frederick, MD.  By all White, I don’t mean Blacks couldn’t come in there, I mean they didn’t come in there by their own choice.  It was usually a good choice on their part, as they were not welcome.   Well, here I was, the only Black in the joint.  After the end of the first set, the band took a break and I headed to a table to join my bandmates when a White guy walked across the dance floor and put his arm around my shoulders. 

He said he really enjoyed our music and that he had seen the band before but had never seen me and asked where I had come from.  I explained that I had recently joined the band.  We shook hands and introduced ourselves and he remarked, “I’ve heard a lot of piana players but this is the first time I ever heard a Black man play piana like Jerry Lee Lewis.”  I was taken aback with no idea as to why he would find that so unusual and asked him, Where do you think Jerry Lee learned how to play?”

He informed me that Jerry Lee had invented that style of playing.  While I acknowledged that Jerry Lee certainly had an identifiable style, I assured this fellow that Jerry Lee certainly did not invent it.

I explained that he had learned much of it from Black Blues and Boogie Woogie pianists.  He refused to believe this even after I told him that Jerry Lee Lewis was a personal friend of mine who even told me himself where he had learned to play.  He laughed and I could tell that he didn’t even believe I personally knew Jerry Lee.

He invited me back to his table to have a drink.  I don’t drink but agreed to have a soft drink with him.  He had a buddy sitting at the table.  We shook hands and I sat down across from both of them.  When the waitress brought my drink, he cheered my glass by clinking it with his and announced, “This is the first time I ever sat down and had a drink with a Black man.”  The first thing I thought was, “This guy is having a night of firsts.”

Again, I had no idea what this was all about and I found it extremely odd that given the fact that he was probably in his 40s, that he had never in his life sat down with a Black guy before.  In my 25 years on this Earth at that time, I had sat down with literally thousands of White people and had a beverage, meal, conversation, and any other type of socialization.  I asked him why he had never done this and he didn’t answer me.  His buddy elbowed him in the side and said, “Tell’im, tell’im.”  I said, “Tell me.” 

Just as plain as day, he said, “I’m a member of the Ku Klux Klan.”  Well, I burst out laughing in disbelief.  He went into his wallet and pulled out his Klan card and handed it to me.  It was real.  So I stopped laughing.

He and I over a period of time became friends and some years later I decided to write a book on the Klan and my experiences.  I do not subscribe to, or advocate for, any views of separatism or supremacy, Black or White.  I believe we all are equal human beings.  I later interviewed this Klansman and his Klan leader extensively.   I would set up meetings with KKK members and leaders all over the country without telling them that I am Black.  They all were shocked when they met me.  Many, after getting over the shock would interview with me. Some declined and some tried to physically attack me.  All of these stories along with some surprises are in my book titled, KLAN-DESTINE RELATIONSHIPS. 

What has been your greatest moment?

In addition to meeting and/or working with some of my idols, without a doubt, the moment I realized I could make a living playing music, maintain good credit, pay off my home and not rely on the help of a girlfriend or wife like so many of my musical peers do is indeed, one of my greatest moments of all.

What do you wish to accomplish next?

To keep on learning and improving my music and to do my best to foster promote harmony between the races in our country.

Would you change anything that you have done? Why?

No, not really, but I would have liked to perhaps have started learning music earlier than I did. I didn’t start until I was 17, a junior in high school. There is no substitute for experience. I started out at an older age than most people, so in order to catch to everyone who could already play, I had to learn how to play fast. That’s why I play Boogie Woogie, heh, heh.

What would you like your audience to know about you that hasn’t been said?

Pick up a copy of my book. There’s a lot more information in there that provides insight into who I am. Come out to some of my gigs. I’m very approachable and always enjoy meeting people.

Would you like to write anything additional?

Thank you for taking the time to learn about me by reading this. Please check out my website: and feel free to drop me a line at

If you enjoyed reading this guest artist, you may enjoy reading Interview with Teeny Tucker.

American Blues News Staff

What makes American Blues News unique is our coverage across America. Here is our lineup:

Mon: Memphis Correspondent - Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms
Nighthawk is our resident globetrotter and man behind the scenes, as he tours with the Reba Russell Band.

Tues: New York Correspondent - J. Blake
Blake is the American Blues News review and interview guru. You may catch him out and about in NY playing the blues.

Wed: National Correspondent - Monica Yasher
Monica is our executive director and artist interview specialist. You can catch Monica singing the blues around Pittsburgh or working on some country music songs in Nashville.

Thurs: Washington, DC Correspondent - Virginiabluesman
Geraldo offers inteviews and reviews. You may have seen him at an Ana Popovic concert or conversed with him on her websites, as he offers administrative support with her music.

Fri: Northeast Photographer - Nelson Onofre
Nelson offers a Friday column of blues photography and pictorial support for the interviews covered by the team.

Jim Stick in Colorado
Jim will be focusing on the Blues Festivals in the beautiful state of Colorado, and the artists that live and visit there.

Maureen Elizabeth, our resident art correspondent, will be focusing on blues art as she explores the creation of CD covers, or speaking with artists who also have a love of creating pictorial art in addition to their music! She may also feature some of her good friends in the Pittsburgh area. In her love of art, you may find Maureen's photography accompanying writer's articles on our pages. Maureen is also our marketing director.

Pittsburgh correspondent and photographer, CR Bennett, will share the Pittsburgh scene with all of you. You may also see CR's pictures accompanying other writer's articles.

We head to the big state of Texas! Abby Owen, our Texas correspondent.

Another big area to cover, the West Coast with Casey Reagan, Casey will feature many artists and events on this ocean's shores.

Lastly, we have our roving blues entertainment writer,
Chef Jimi.

And of course, we will surprise you sometimes!

Internet Marketingdata recovery