David Davis & the Warrior River Boys journeyed from Alabama to the snowy northeast November 26 and 27 for concerts in Bainbridge and Porter Corners, NY, for the Jericho Arts Council and Adirondack Bluegrass League. They drew solid crowds of traditional bluegrass fans. And they SATISFIED. I attended the show at the old-time Bainbridge Town Hall Theater – “home of bluegrass in the Southern Tier.”
It’s reassuring that live traditional bluegrass, with the classic five pieces and “manly” vocals, is in good hands — alive and KICKING. David Davis & the Warrior River Boys take you back to the well. But they don’t limit themselves to covers of classics. They’ve developed a repertoire of their own, with the old look and sound.
David wears the Stetson and does the emceeing, playing his old mandolin and POURING himself bodily into his performance. He “grooves” to the music, and he’s got all the “soul” of any top bluegrass lead singer. His picking is very Monroe-influenced. He gets an ancient tone that can be blocky, gravelly, granite-like or flinty – and what a rhythm chop. It’s not surprising he admires the Father of Bluegrass. David’s uncle Cleo Davis was Bill Monroe’s first Blue Grass Boy guitar man in 1938-39.
Phillip James has recently returned to the Warrior River Boys on fiddle, and he’s a dandy. I label him a “strong-arm” fiddler like Paul Warren or Eddie Stubbs. This in no way implies lack of finesse. He’s an Oklahoma state champion and can do all that’s required from breakdowns to blues to back-up. But he excels at “power” and drive. His bow hair must not last too long.
Stan Wilemon has also returned to the band, now on guitar instead of bass fiddle. He leads most of the trios and quartets. Stan’s stage demeanor is the most sober or stolid of all the fellers — the most Blue Grass Boy-like. He also played a good bass solo opening the second set.
Marty Hays has been beside David for over 20 years playing bass fiddle and matching voices. His singing is smooth and exactly on pitch, a great foil for David’s bluesy tenor. Marty also added some subtle clowning to the show that everyone enjoyed. Plus he did a very entertaining salute to his “namesake” Marty Robbins.
The banjo man is all-around entertainer and national old time banjo champ Robert Montgomery. Robert plays a blisteringly swift mix of traditional banjo styles including Scruggs and Reno, and for those few who recognize it, Rudy Lyle too. His back-up on I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome was a salute to Lyle’s nearly forgotten original licks. Robert also did a turn of Uncle Dave Macon banjo twirling (asking the audience “please don’t tell Leroy Troy”), and played some excellent finger-style guitar reminiscent of Sam McGee and Merle Travis. He and Stan also told the best new bluegrass joke I’ve heard in years.
David and the Warrior River Boys are fun to watch, as they weave around one vocal mic placed between just two instrument mics. Phillip James tended to stay in the back, but his back-up was easy to hear. And when he stepped to the mike for a break, he came STRONG – his bow flashin’ and rosin a’ flyin’. There was dancing too…some good, some bad. These guys are no stiffs! Terrific to see bluegrass performed this old school way.
The material ranged from fierce renditions of fiddle and banjo tunes, through plenty of classic Gospel, to some of their newer material like Today’s The Day I Get My Gold Watch and Chain, the intense duet Leaving Tennessee, and the spine chilling trio harmony of their perennial favorite The Lonesome Cry of the Whippoorwill.
As emcee, David is so polite and sincere that he seems courtly. Mandolinist Mike Compton says, David is “a true southern gentleman.” During the intermission, David mingled with the crowd, renewing acquaintances and making new friends. He just about had to be dragged back on stage. The band played nearly three hours and seemed like they could have kept it up all night.
They have a new CD nearly completed, expected out in 2017 – all Charlie Poole songs. They closed the show with Poole’s Milwaukee Blues which was just plain rollicking.
David also shared the happy news that he is re-establishing contact with northeastern promoters, and the band will appear at the Jenny Brook Festival in Tunbridge, VT in June, and at other Yankee venues. There are plenty of traditional bluegrass fans up here who will welcome them back.
Overall the Warrior River Boys show has such drive, soul, and power that I almost wanted to describe their music as “old hairy-legged bluegrass,” but that wouldn’t be fair. There’s not a drop of crudeness in their music. They can drive it HARD, but with restraint and skill, too. This is not “rough and ready” traditional bluegrass. These pros are top drawer and polished.
We older fans really need to drag our young picker friends out to see the Warrior River Boys, and show them how it used to be done (and still is done).
David and the boys did another great show for the ABL on Sunday the 27th. See video on the Facebook page of Deanna Sayre McLellan (linked with her permission) for a sample.
It’s wonderful to find David and the boys back on more northerly roads: Lucketts VA, Pennyroyal Opera House in Ohio, and twice here in New York in November. They’re rolling in a huge new white Ford van too. Watch for them near you, and get out and see how the best in traditional bluegrass continues to excite folks. And take those young fans along.
Best wishes for big success and radio play with their Charlie Poole CD in 2017. You know folks, all it takes is a phone message to Sirius/XM Bluegrass Junction to request their music!