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July 2007

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Larry Davis
Sooner Or Later
Bullseye Blues

Larry Davis

A lot of modern blues fans may associate the song “Texas Flood” with Stevie Ray Vaughan’s version, but anyone who’s heard the original, composed and performed by Larry Davis (with lead guitar by Fenton Robinson) will recognize his rendition as the definitive one. Recorded in 1958 for Duke Records, “Texas Flood” was one of only three single Davis released for Duke (following a recommendation by Duke mainstay Bobby Bland) before being dropped by the label.

Though subsequent recording opportunities were scarce, Davis forged on, moving to St. Louis and eventually picking up guitar while playing bass in Albert King’s band. He cut a late ’60s session for Virgo featuring Davis’ interpretation of several B. B. King songs, but any momentum gathered was cut short due to a serious motorcycle accident and later a stroke that sidelined Davis for a while in the ’70s. In the early ’80s, he teamed with St. Louis producer Oliver Sain and recorded a fine set for Rooster Blues (Funny Stuff) that dominated the 1982 Handy Awards, and in the mid-’80s, I Ain’t Beggin’ Nobody, an excellent, but hard to find set on the Pulsar label (later released to wider distribution on Evidence).

In 1992, Davis signed with Ron Levy’s Bullseye Blues label and recorded what is regarded by many as his finest album, Sooner or Later. On this release, Davis produced a wonderful selection of classic tunes, including Little Milton Campbell’s “How Could You Leave Me,” David Dee’s “I’m Workin’ On It,” Johnson & Mosley’s “Penitentiary Blues,” and Charlie Singleton’s “Help The Poor.” Other standouts on the cover tunes are the remake of the Stax classic, “Little Bluebird,” and a sensitive reading of “Letter From My Darling.”

Davis’ smooth, passionate tenor and his choice of material show the influence of B. B. King and Campbell, and his stinging leads are reminiscent of his mentor, Albert King. Davis’ own compositions consist of two choice instrumentals, “Little Rock,” and “102nd Street Blues,” and the extremely soulful “Way Out West (Parts 1 & 2).”

Lending Davis a hand on Sooner or Later is a stellar cast of Memphis area musicians, including rhythm guitarist Thomas Bingham and the Memphis Horns. Levy plays organ and also produced the disc, one of his best efforts.

Larry Davis’ greatest release was also his final one. He was dead from cancer just two years after the release of Sooner or Later, but it did garner him some much-deserved attention and recognition. Sooner or Later ranks as one of the best blues albums of the 1990s.

--- Graham Clarke


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