Willie Davis | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Willie Davis is best known for his work on recent discs by Willie Kent, Bonnie Lee, and Larry Taylor, but he's been playing in Chicago since 1964, when he moved here from his native Mississippi. In the late 60s the guitarist co-led a group called the Soul Blasters, which sometimes backed Byther "Smitty" Smith; in the late 70s he joined Kent's band, the Gents, beginning a relationship that continues to this day. Until a few years ago Davis could also be seen at the Highway 290 Sport & Juice Bar on West Harrison on Sunday nights. (These days--and for this gig--he's billed as coleader with amiable young fretman Brian Lupo.) Davis is an intelligent and restrained player, his precision accentuating his passion rather than constraining it: he builds intensity with muted, middle-register linear patterns, then cuts loose at exactly the right moment, exploding into high-treble fire. On a Chicago standard like Muddy Waters's "Sail On," he refers to the original (as he sings "I hear a lotta buzzin' / Sounds like my little honeybee," his guitar tone mellows from stinging to sweet--a clever nod to the beelike buzz Muddy added to the tune) but also updates the solo with propulsive R & B rhythms and melodic conceits borrowed from B.B. King. When he sings, in a pleading tenor reminiscent of late-40s blues shouter Roy Brown, Davis sounds both vulnerable and consumed with pent-up passion, as though he's about to do something rash--a threat he dispels with his solos, which ascend, like an amen chorus, into ecstasy. $10. Saturday, June 19, 10:30 PM, Rosa's Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage; 773-342-0452.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.

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