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Gary Davis's sphere of influence extended from his contemporaries to popular musicians of the 1960s and 70s. Even before James Baxter Long discovered his talent and brought him to New York, Davis had already met and become a mentor of sorts to Blind Boy Fuller. In fact, during their first recording session at American Record Company in 1935, Davis and Fuller recorded together. Davis's finger-picking style influenced Jerry Garcia and Bob Dylan, while Peter Paul & Mary and the Grateful Dead adopted Davis's bluesy style into some of their music.
Davis became blind when he was three weeks old, from chemicals that had been put in his eyes. At six he began playing a homemade guitar - a pie pan and a stick. He grew up on his grandmother's farm near Greenville, South Carolina and sang at the Center Raven Baptist Church in Gray Court when he was young. After he slipped on the ice and broke his wrist, he played with a crooked wrist that had been set incorrectly.
In 1931 he moved to Durham, North Carolina and began playing on Pettigrew in front of the warehouses. Once people discovered his talent, churches began reserving him for their Wednesday night prayer meetings, and Davis no longer played in the streets. After marrying and later divorcing, he moved to Washington, NC, where in 1933 he became an ordained minister of the Free Baptist Connection Church.
After he traveled to New York with Blind Boy Fuller in 1935, his Piedmont style blues became the mode that would influence musicians such as Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry. His most well-known songs from his first recordings include "I Saw the Light" and "You Got to Go Down.
Davis married again in 1937 and remained in New York for the rest of his life. He and his wife, Anne Wright, moved to Mamaroneck, which was close enough to New York City for Davis to continue his guitar recording. He recorded for producer Moses Asch, Folkways and Prestige. Among his most notable songs are "Samson and Delilah," which was rerecorded by Peter, Paul and Mary in the 1960s, and "Twelve Gates to the City." Davis integrated styles of gospel, marches, ragtime, jazz and minstrel hokum into his own style and was influenced himself by guitarists Willie Walker, Sam Brooks and Baby Brooks.