CeDell Davis was born in Helena, Arkansas, in 1929 and began to play music at an early age. But he contracted polio when he was nine years old and had to relearn the guitar: strumming with his left hand and clutching the knife he now used as a makeshift slide in his gnarled right. Davis’s new style was dissonant but produced some interesting harmonies, and his tone could take on unexpected delicacy. He later moved to Saint Louis, where in 1957 his legs were broken in an odd incident at a bar–patrons believed the police were raiding the place and Davis was trampled in the ensuing panic. He’s been confined to a wheelchair ever since. He returned to Arkansas, and his reputation barely extended past a core group of aficionados until 1994, when the Fat Possum release Feel Like Doin’ Something Wrong introduced him to a wider audience of primal blues fans and indie rockers. Lightning Struck the Pines (Fast Horse) features a thunderous blues-rock ensemble that includes Peter Buck and ex-Brave Combo drummer Joe Cripps, and the overamplification adds to the hallucinatory intensity of his slide patterns. On standards like “Woke Up This Morning” he seems to be thinking in two or three keys simultaneously, fusing them into an entirely new conception of tonality that suggests Ornette Coleman (who counts himself among Davis’s admirers). On “Cold Chills” he sounds a little like a deeper-voiced Jimmy Reed and a little like he’s possessed by a demon, while the hectic sixteenth notes, braying saxophone, and fretboard cacophony of “Love Me a Little While” suggest Howlin’ Wolf. He’s backed here by Cripps and former Squirrel Nut Zippers Jimbo Mathus and Stu Cole on guitar and bass. Saturday, November 16, 10 PM, Reservation Blues, 1566 N. Milwaukee; 773-645-5200.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Fraher.