David Bryant Keeps Up a Family Tradition in the History of Black Music
By Tim Duffy
Of course, all of us at Music Maker wish our partner artist David Bryant a happy 62nd birthday today.
But mostly, we want to tell you why David is an important figure in the history of Black music — and he continues to be an important figure in Black culture today.
David’s roots in the blues run deep. His grandfather, Curley Weaver, was a great Piedmont-style blues guitarist who did his first recordings for Columbia Records almost a century ago, in 1928. His mother, Cora Mae Bryant, was a longtime partner artist with Music Maker. She had learned how to play the blues at the feet of her father and with legendary bluesmen like Blind Willie McTell and Buddy Moss, who lived nearby her home in Oxford, Georgia.
David lived with and cared for his mother until her death in 2008, when he was 49.
I often think of David as a Buddha-like figure. Every morning, he sweeps his dirt yard with a straw broom, creating elaborate patterns that look as if they came from a Japanese Zen garden. He has decorated the inside of his home like a museum. It’s so pretty.
As an artist, he creates intricate and beautiful collages of beads and buttons, and he doesn’t use just any old trinket he finds. His materials come from people he knew, who have passed away, and his work helps to keep their spirits alive.
As a musician, David has an intricate system of turning different guitars into different open tunings. Watching him play, his fingering might look simple, but to duplicate his sound would be almost impossible for other players. He plays some of the most pure and heartfelt blues I’ve ever heard. His genius lies in the way he propels a song forward. You look at many of the most revered guitar players and you see them play complicated licks. It’s as if their playing style says, “Look at me. I’m the greatest.”
But you look at David Bryant, and he’s just thumping on his guitar, relying on his tunings to create distinct sounds. He plays to propel the message of a song, to create joy in the room. Some of the greatest fun I’ve had in my life came in the nights I’ve sat in David’s living room, just playing music with him. I’ll always believe he’s one of the best.
Happy birthday, my friend.