Mississippi Folklife announces the new Fall 2021 Issue: Performances and the Pandemic.

Garry Burnside + Beverly Davis

Garry Burnside + Beverly Davis

Garry Burnside and Beverly Davis participated in the Mississippi Arts Commission’s 2020-2021 Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program. This grants program supports the survival and continued evolution of community-based traditional art forms. During the apprenticeship, the master artist teaches specific skills, techniques and cultural knowledge to the apprentice, who is an emerging artist of the same tradition. Participants are awarded $2,000 to assist with the teaching fees for the master artist and other expenses such as travel costs and supplies. To learn more about the program, click here.

Introduction 

Performing in both a contemporary style and that of his father’s generation of Hill Country blues, Garry Burnside brings audiences of all ages together with his apprentice Beverly Davis. Beverly has worked with Garry as a vocalist in their band for over a decade. During their apprenticeship, Garry taught Beverly the skills she needed on the guitar to enhance her own creative song writing and instrumental accompaniment abilities. Raised in the music of his father, RL Burnside, Garry values performing and passing on his knowledge of traditional Hill Country blues, as well as adapting his style and song repertoire to keep his audiences interested.

Master Artist: Garry Burnside 

Garry and Beverly in front of the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. 

Photo courtesy of Beverly Davis.

When Garry performs, he turns his audiences on to both the traditional Hill Country blues and his own take on the music.

The legacy of celebrated Hill Country blues musicians, RL Burnside and Junior Kimbrough, are carried on by their families through music. Garry grew up watching his father and Junior perform at festivals, parties, picnics, and juke joints. For over thirty-two years, Garry has traveled, recorded, and performed with blues musicians, including the North Mississippi Allstars. He released his most recent project, “Hill Country Magic” with Mike King in April 2021, and they recorded the album at Sun Bear Studio in Ripley. Capturing the feel of a blues jam, the project features several songs his father used to play.

While Garry’s father’s generation listened to Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Robert Johnson for inspiration, Garry and Beverly draw on rock and R&B influences to entertain both the “college crowd” and the fans of RL Burnside.

“You can do the same songs, but you got to soup it up. You got to put it in terms that they’ll understand,” Garry explains. “I learned that feeling from my dad and that style, but I had to grow with my generation too, you know what I’m saying?... I had to keep the feel, but I had to change the arrangements.”

When Garry performs, he turns his audiences on to both the traditional Hill Country blues and his own take on the music. He has now even moved into designing guitars with STOUT Guitars by Garry Burnside.

Apprentice: Beverly Davis 

Beverly Davis,  Photo courtesy of the artist.

Beverly Davis is a professional vocalist, recording artist, and tax accountant based in Olive Branch. She was born in Memphis and has been living in Mississippi for eight years. She has since recorded her own solo album, “It’s Me” released in 2017, and she recorded lead vocals for the song “Testifying” on Garry Burnside’s album “The Promise,” a project written in honor of RL Burnside. When she was a child, Beverly’s mother taught her to sing in church and in gospel quartets.

“I picked up singing from my mother till she got to a point where she would invite me to go with her and then she would trick me,” Beverly remembers. “If they would call my mom to come up to sing, she would say – oh no, I brought my daughter, she’s going to sing.”

Because of her mother’s encouragement to sing, Beverly understands why Garry plays his guitar as part of his family’s legacy.

In 2008, Beverly heard Hill Country blues music for the first time when she watched the Burnside family perform at the annual North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic. She has since performed with Garry at this same event. She describes the sound of this music as a “deep blues” that people enjoy, and her vocals add to the style by giving it more of an emotional connection for the audience. “It will reach you, what I feel I know will reach you.” Beverly’s vocal talents allow for her and Garry to play songs performed by powerful vocalists like Tina Turner, Gladys Knight, and Susan Tedeschi, thereby furthering their audience reach.

In an interview with Jennie Williams, Garry and Beverly discuss their efforts to create new interest in Hill Country Blues for younger audiences.

Apprenticeship Experience 

Following this apprenticeship, Garry and Beverly expect to adapt and grow with how the pandemic will have changed the music industry and how people experience music. 

Beverly now plays electric guitar and has been working on learning how to play chords and identify musical keys in order to better immerse herself in Hill Country blues and blues composition. During a typical session together, Garry and Beverly would pick out which song they wanted to work on, and then they would run through the components of the song so she could understand how the song is played. Because of the pandemic, they had limited time in-person together. “I would practice on it because I have the desire to learn, and when I put my mind on something, it’s on there,” Beverly says, “It’s like that old phrase they say, it’s ‘like a dog on a bone.’ I want to know it so I stay on it until I can get it figured out.” Garry would give Beverly a “homework assignment” so she could practice at home. 

For Garry, participating in the apprenticeship program was a means to pass on his family tradition:

“Most of what I got out of this, is about keeping the blues going, keeping this type of music going by passing it down. I don’t mind teaching nobody if they want to learn... If I can teach them in a way that it’s keeping it going, keeping it popping, keeping what my dad has started and what Robert Johnson started, what Mr. W.C. Handy started. It’s keeping it going and passing it down.” 

As venues cancelled concerts and tours in 2020, their busy schedules slowed down and they found they had more time to devote to their apprenticeship and recording. Beverly can play a few tunes now and feels comfortable with Garry playing along with her. Beverly would like to use the skills she learned to play guitar for her next recorded single she will release this year.

Conclusion

Beverly and Garry have continued to perform together after their apprenticeship. This photo was taken during one of their June 2021 shows in New Albany, MS. 
Photo courtesy of Beverly Davis.

Garry and Beverly have enjoyed the time they shared during their apprenticeship learning guitar techniques to keep the tradition of Hill Country blues music in their community. With social media and developing technology, Garry believes it is easy now for the younger generation to put out music and ideas. He sees a lot of kids who want to learn guitar, but need a little guidance. “If they want to learn it, I want to teach it,” says Garry. Following this apprenticeship, Garry and Beverly expect to adapt and grow with how the pandemic will have changed the music industry and how people experience music. Nevertheless, they will be rehearsed and ready to perform for their audiences again.

This video documents Beverly and Garry playing a song together during one of their apprenticeship sessions. Video by Beverly Davis.

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Jennie Williams

Jennie Williams

Jennie Williams is a doctoral candidate in ethnomusicology at Indiana University in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology. She has served on panels for the folk arts programs at Mississippi and Michigan, and has volunteered or worked professionally for public folklore organizations that include Maryland Traditions, Traditional Arts Indiana, the NEA, and Smithsonian Folkways.