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Entertainment

Mandolinist aims for honest music

The leader of a top bluegrass band performing at the annual festival here plays what he believes in.

By LOGAN NEILL
Published April 22, 2005


SPRING LAKE - Bluegrass music is something of a family heirloom for David Davis.

It is the music handed down to him by his grandfather and father, and a treasured part of his northern Alabama upbringing.

But perhaps most important to the 44-year-old leader of the Warrior River Boys is that bluegrass allows him to express his soul as an artist.

"Bluegrass demands honesty from a musician," Davis said earlier this week from his home in Cullman, Ala.

"The music we play comes from a lot of different directions and influences, but always with the desire to make honest, heartfelt music. We've been fortunate that there seems to be a lot of people out there that like what we do."

No doubt when Davis and the Warrior River Boys take the stage today at the Sertoma Youth Ranch Spring Bluegrass Festival, an event they have performed at for the past 23 years, it will be before a packed house.

"We don't play in Florida that much these days," Davis said. "But it's always good to go back because we get to see people that have been coming out to see us for a long time. It's kind of like a homecoming for us."

The Warrior River Boys have a long and rich history in bluegrass music, dating back to the early 1960s.

Under the leadership of banjo player Garry Thurmond, the group was noted for a robust sound that was steeped in the styling of Bill Monroe.

Davis, who had played mandolin with several northern Alabama bands, was invited to join in 1982. Two years later, Thurmond was forced to retire because of health problems, leaving the reins to the 23-year-old mandolinist.

Davis immediately went to work building the band's visibility, landing dates at prestigious bluegrass festivals such as Bill Monroe's Bean Blossom Festival and the Festival of the Blue Grass in Kentucky, as well as at county and state fairs along the East Coast. In 1987, the band signed with Rounder Records, for which it recorded two well-received LPs.

"I've been lucky in that I've always had musicians in the band who have wanted to work hard and excel," Davis said. "They're always up for a challenge, and in this business you get plenty of them."

Davis also credits noted bluegrass record producer and Washington, D.C., radio host Ray Davis (no relation) with helping to guide him in navigating the business end of the music.

"Some of the best advice I ever got was from Ray, who taught me the importance of playing the kind of music I believe in and to be creative," David Davis said.

Davis' emotive tenor voice has been called one of the most distinctive in bluegrass and is backed by a hard-driving veteran ensemble that includes Jeff Griffy (guitar), Josh Smith (banjo), Owen Sanders (fiddle) and Marty Hays (bass). Together, they carve out a sound that is steeped in the musical tradition of bluegrass founder Monroe.

Interestingly, Davis' uncle, Cleo Davis, was the first guitarist hired by Monroe when he was forming his seminal Blue Grass Boys in the late 1930s. David Davis says he has endeavored to keep that original sound in his own music.

"Monroe's music had a wonderful mix of blues and soul to it that you don't hear that often anymore," Davis said. "To me, bluegrass needs to have that deep, down-to-earth sound in order to give it the emotion it needs. I try to bring that front and center in our shows."

The band's latest album, David Davis and the Warrior River Boys on Rebel Records, earned high praise from critics as well as considerable air play on college radio, leading Davis to believe that the band's best music may still lie ahead.

"It's gelled real well the past year or so, and that's been fun to be part of," Davis said. "We pride ourselves in putting the music first. And I believe that if you do that, you just can't go wrong."

Logan Neill can be reached at 352 848-1435 or lneill@sptimes.com

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Sertoma Youth Ranch Spring Bluegrass Festival. Entertainers include Liberty Bluegrass, Foothill Bluegrass, David Davis and the Warrior River Boys, Larry Gillis, Wildwood Valley Boys, Bull Harman and Bulls Eye, Churchman, Retro Valley Girls, Valerie Smith and Liberty Pike, Aubrey Holt and Carl Bailey & Bits of Bluegrass.

WHEN: Today through Sunday. Music begins at 1:30 p.m. today, at 1 p.m. Saturday and at 10 a.m. Sunday.

WHERE: Sertoma Youth Ranch, southeast Hernando County. From State Road 50 east of Brooksville, take Spring Lake Highway south to Church Road and turn east. Take Church to Myers Road and turn south. The ranch will be on the west side of Myers.

ADMISSION: Daily adult admission is $20 Friday and Saturday and $12 Sunday. For ages 13-18, daily admission is $3 per day. Camping is available.

INFORMATION: For ticket and camping information, call 754-3082 or 813 985-2780, or visit the event Web site: www.sertomayouthranch.com

[Last modified April 22, 2005, 00:44:19]


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