Cedell Davis is most notable for his distinctive style of guitar playing. Davis plays guitar using a table knife in his fretting hand in a manner similar to slide guitar, resulting in a welter of metal-stress harmonic transients and a singular tonal plasticity. He uses this style out of necessity. When he was 10, he suffered from severe polio which left him little control over his left hand and restricted use of his right. He had been playing guitar prior to his polio and decided to continue in spite of his handicap, and developed his knife method as the only way he could come up with of still playing guitar.
How We Helped:
Cedell’s family at the Music Maker Relief Foundation has granted him with a guitar and amplifier.
Davis was born in Helena, Arkansas, where his family worked on a local plantation. He enjoyed music from a young age, playing harmonica and guitar with his childhood friends.
Once he sufficiently mastered his variation on slide guitar playing, Davis began playing in various nightclubs across the Mississippi Delta area. He played with Robert Nighthawk for a ten year period from 1953 to 1963. While playing in a club in 1957, a police raid caused the crowd to stampede over Davis. Both of his legs were broken in this incident and he was forced to use a wheelchair since that time. The hardships resulting from his physical handicaps were a major influence in his lyrics and style of blues playing.
Davis moved to Pine Bluff, Arkansas in the early sixties and continued his artistic work. In recent times, Davis’ music has been released by the Fat Possum Records label to much critical acclaim. His 1994 album, produced by Robert Palmer, Feel Like Doin’ Something Wrong, received a 9.0 from Pitchfork Media who called it “timeless.”
The “Best Of CeDell Davis” (1995) was also released, with help from Col. Bruce Hampton and The Aquarium Rescue Unit. The Horror of It All followed in 1998. Davis took time away from recording after these releases, and spent the next four years writing and performing. When he returned to the recording studio, he drafted musicians like R.E.M.‘s Peter Buck, R.E.M. sideman Scott McCaughey, The Screaming Trees’ Barrett Martin, and soul keyboardist Alex Veley. The final results, “When Lightnin’ Struck the Pine,” was released in 2002