Fred Davis has a new record out.
It’s also his first record. And his last record. And his only record. And a record just now released 53 years after being unprofessionally taped, DIY-style, in someone’s living room in Ohio. And it’s also one and the same record now released close to 35 years after Fred’s murder.
And Cleveland Blues is a real good record, too.
The great could-have-been’s backstory flashes from running a band in Kansas City to prison time at Leavenworth to namelessly gigging around Cleveland to the mugger’s gunshot that took his life, at age 49, in a liquor-store parking lot. Somewhere in there is also the part about that living room, a quarter-inch reel-to-reel recorder, a band, and Davis hustling away.
Credit some of that hustle to his electric guitar, which speaks with fluid, T-Bonesque articulation. Pinpoint notes spring off, one after the other, in a steady line, stitching their way around a portfolio of originals, such as the slow blues “Midnight Is Falling.” There, his voice has the clarity and height of J.B. Lenoir. Yet hand him Charles Brown’s “Drifting Blues,” and any hint of
falsetto plummets back down to earth to meet the dire situation at hand. “Tell Me Pretty Baby” jettisons the band, unplugs, and goes back up again in those soulfully high registers. Then, back down again to sub out guitar altogether for an upright piano to bang out “Five Long Years” all by his somber lonesome. Davis hustles.
These unpolished recordings barely reach 30 minutes long. And that’s counting three apparent run-through versions of songs on acoustic guitar with nothing, or no one, else. Yet in the 11 performances, Davis packed all his desperate hopes and dreams. Like a magic key that might open doors to a career. A ticket out. The tape served as his ferric calling card, which some did shop around a little on his behalf. Maybe, just maybe, the hard gallop of “Time When You Say You Love Me” or the punchy, danceable rush of “Euclid Avenue” could snag the ear of a promoter or an A&R man, who’d offer a lifeline up and out of the hole he seemed to find himself. Up and out and onto a bigger, limelit platform than those dinky bandstands tucked into the corner of Tack’s Lounge or Fat Fish Blues or any of those other dime-a-dozen Cleveland joints.
No such luck. Fate cruelly required that “Wine Hop” and the rest needed to instead “age” on a shelf in an attic for a couple of decades before busting out of their plain, white, dusty cardboard box.
Now is the time.
Cleveland Blues gives legs to Fred’s raw and real music and, in turn, to his dreams. In a way—an exquisitely belated way—he finally made it. Because we are talking about and listening to him sweat his butt off. So, in keeping with the man’s wishful goals and in the spirit of first introductions, here is something he must have long waited for but heard only in his head a
thousand times: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Fred Davis onto the big stage.
Label: Reminded Records (Colemine Records)
Release Date: 4/22/2023
Reviewed by Dennis Rozanski