I remember as a teenager, I was riding home in my dad’s blue pickup truck when he told me to pick out a CD from the console for us to listen to. Surprisingly, the CD collection which Dad kept in his truck was quite small. In the console, there was only about seven or eight choices, excluding the unmarked tapes lying at the very bottom. It was late at night, and I wanted to find something to help keep us awake. Glancing through this handful of hodgepodge CD’s including unknown gospel quartets and a few sermons, I saw a name I recognized but had never heard.
“Is Dave Evans any good?” I asked.
“Oh yeah! You mean you’ve never heard him before?” replied Dad.
“I know the name, but no, I haven’t heard him yet.”
“Hand that here! You’ll love him!”
The next thing I knew, I was being blown away by what I was hearing. Held captive by the stereo speakers, I was absolutely in love with this powerful mountain voice coming at me with a vengeance. It was all I could talk about for the rest of that night, and I all wanted to listen to for days.
That was my introduction to Dave Evans.
A few months ago, I witnessed a similar conversion. While frying some fish with my housemate Brandon, I decided to cue up Dave’s Goin’ Round This World album on my turntable. His eyes grew wild with excitement as I witnessed another born again Dave Evans fan.
James King, who calls Dave his “ultimate hero,” remembers when he first heard the music of Dave Evans.
I lived in Maryland from 1980 to 1984. In 1983, a friend of mine named Duke Hall, who played the dobro and was a cab driver from Aberdeen, Maryland, asked me, “You ever heard of Dave Evans?” I hadn’t, so we went to his house and I heard Highway 52 for the first time. It tore me up. I went right out and starting buying Dave Evans records!
To bluegrass fans, Dave Evans is a man larger than life. His legend seems to grow every festival season. The stories are seemingly endless and are shared with a certain mysticism which is part John Henry and part Bonnie & Clyde. Kris Kristofferson’s lyric “He’s a walking contradiction, partly and truth and partly fiction” has never been so aptly applied. This is evident even in the way which Dave sings. His ability to switch between rousing and reflective in the same song is incredible, and you believe every word he says.
“He has more emotion than any of us put together,” says King. “Dave is the traditional singer’s traditional singer. Can’t nobody deliver it like Dave.”
One of my favorite Dave albums is Goin’ Round This World. Released in 1981 for Rebel Records, the album features several of Dave’s most well-known tunes.
The album kicks off with You Won’t Be Satisfied That Way. A foot-stomping number from Governor Jimmie Davis, this is hard-core wide-open bluegrass! Dave shows just how much pure power his voice has. It feels as if he’s about to jump out of the speaker. I guarantee your head will be bobbing and your foot will be tapping while listening to this one.
A Woody Guthrie tune, Dave’s delivery of Pastures of Plenty is the best. Flatt & Scruggs did a great rendition in 1962, and Woody’s original is good as well, but Dave takes the song to another level. The arrangement is simple, with merely Dave’s repetitive banjo as the backdrop. This primitive arrangement pushes Dave’s singing into the spotlight and allows his big voice to be the song’s primary focus. Everything he does vocally is deliberate, and this is one of the best examples. The song drips with emotion. Pastures of Plenty demands your attention, and is among Dave’s best vocal performances.
Dave’s songwriting is some of the most overlooked in bluegrass. Without a doubt, one of the saddest songs in all of bluegrass is Dave’s One Loaf of Bread. Filled with themes of poverty, drunkenness, and injustice, One Loaf of Bread is a wonderfully crafted song. It tells the story of an impoverished child whose alcoholic parents leave their children at home while they squander their money on booze. The lad breaks a store window in order to steal a loaf of bread for he and his siblings to eat, and is put to death. No one ever said Dave Evans was for the faint of heart! “You’re going to cry if you sit and listen to Dave very long,” says James King about One Loaf of Bread. Be near the Kleenex when you get to this one. You’ll need ’em.