Jeff Davis passes

Bluegrass has lost another of its fold. Western North Carolina multi-instrumentalist, Jeff Davis, of Marion, passed away suddenly this weekend at 52. His biggest gig was playing mandolin for Charlie Waller in the Country Gentlemen, but Davis grew up performing with many Tarheel-based bands and filled in for several national touring groups.

Jeff was born with bluegrass music in his blood. From a young age, he performed with his father, Peewee Davis, an early prominent bluegrass artist. Jeff learned to play multiple instruments and sing. He went on to collaborate with some of the top names in bluegrass. He has performed at major venues, including Dollywood, and appeared on the Grand Ole Opry numerous times. 

While no cause of death has been given at this time, friends say that Jeff had been experiencing some cardiac difficulties of late.

Chad Day, a fellow North Carolina musician and former band mate shared, “Jeff Davis has been a dear friend to me for over 33 years, and a huge influence on my music career. When I first met Jeff, I remember being amazed at his bluegrass talents, both vocally and instrumentally. He played every instrument on a professional level. A founding member of Ages Past, he played mandolin in its revival, while also providing lead and harmony vocals and contributing to songwriting.”

“Jeff always took the time to help others with their music, whether by sharing a lick on the banjo or helping get the harmonies right. He never took the attitude that he was better than anyone else. When I would get rained out of work, I would often grab a banjo and head to Marion where we would pick all day learning off each other. Well, (it was) mostly me learning from him, but it was all good times. I was fortunate enough to share the stage with Jeff through the years including being a band mate in the last band Jeff was a member of, Ages Past. I know Jeff was a musical friend to so many people and he will never be forgotten. Until me meet again old friend.”

Nick Chandler responded, “I’ve known Jeff since I was 12 years old. We’ve traveled all over the country together playing music. He was an outstanding musician, but more importantly, he was an outstanding person. He always had a kind word and a smile on his face. We’ve spent countless nights playing until the sun came up at The Shindig on the Green in Asheville, NC. I am truly saddened by the news of his passing. He will be greatly missed by so many.”

Authentic Unlimited’s Eli Johnston was also a colleague. “Anyone who ever knew Jeff would immediately become his friend. Jeff was one of the first bluegrass pickers I met when I moved to the Smoky Mountains. I loved to play banjo with his rhythm guitar. He even loaned me one of his Gibson banjos for about five years just so I would have one to play because he knew I loved it so much. I don’t guess I have ever met anyone who loved bluegrass as much as he did. I came close, that’s why we hit it off. He knew all the good stuff and was always the first to teach a young and up and coming picker how to ‘play it right.’ I’ll miss him dearly. One of my oldest music pals gone too soon, but never forgotten.”

Gena Britt, Sister Sadie banjoist and Davis’ longtime friend, reflected on their relationship. “When I met Jeff, we were teenagers. I remember that I was floored at all the instruments that Jeff was proficient on! Pretty much anything with strings, he could play VERY well! After we met, we instantly became picking buddies. If there was a jam session anywhere in North Carolina, Jeff was at it! He was one of the most dedicated musicians that I have ever known. He truly loved bluegrass. He studied it, he lived it, and he cared SO much about his friends that shared his love of music with him. No distance was ever too far for Jeff to travel to pick.”

Professional musician, Ashby Frank, readily agreed. “Jeff never met a stranger and was always so encouraging to me when I was a kid. No one liked to jam more than he did, and he would welcome young pickers into the circle. He was as nice of a guy as you’ll ever meet. He will be greatly missed.”

Britt continued, “In addition to jamming every chance we got, Jeff played in quite a few professional bands. He filled in with Lou Reid & Carolina when I was there, and many other different configurations that we were both a part of through the years. And you never knew what instrument he would be playing.”

Lou Reid said, “I’m very sorry to hear about the passing of Jeff Davis. Jeff helped me out several times with my own band, Carolina, and always did an awesome job. He was a very talented multi-musician/singer and a sweetheart of a guy. He will be missed by all in the bluegrass community.”

And band mate, Lorraine Jordan, recalled, “Jeff filled in on guitar for Carolina Road during a changeover of band members. What a great musician on many instruments! Jeff made North Carolina proud when he went to work for Charlie Waller and the Country Gentlemen. Bluegrass has lost a great friend.”

Britt also shared a touching message from Davis. “Jeff was also one of the most caring friends. He never failed to let me know he was proud of me, and that he loved me. I saw a post recently on his Facebook page that (stressed) we should all show each other love. We should all take his advice. Jeff just wanted to pick and be with his friends. No hidden agenda or need to be popular, just real.”

Aside from playing music, Davis enjoyed fishing and spending time with friends.

Funeral arrangements for Jeff Davis are set for Saturday, January 7. Visitation is from 3:00-4:00 p.m., with the funeral to follow Holcombe Brothers Funeral Home in Burnsville, NC. Friends are invited to share stories, memories, or songs of Jeff during his service.

R.I.P., Jeff Davis.

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About the Author

Sandy Hatley

Sandy Chrisco Hatley is a free lance writer for several NC newspapers and Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. As a teenager, she picked banjo with an all girl band called the Happy Hollow String Band. Today, she plays dobro with her husband's band, the Hatley Family.