Delta blues man CeDell Davis, along with some Seattle rock royalty, left no doubt at the Crocodile Café Sunday that the blues is alive and well.
On Sunday night (June 14) the Crocodile Café turned into a juke joint, as 89-year-old CeDell Davis brought the Mississippi Delta to the Northwest. It was sweltering inside the club, but the sold-out crowd endured the heat to witness something rarely seen in any Seattle rock club — a genuine blues legend.
In a wheelchair for decades, Davis performs with a microphone positioned in front of him. His singing was inspired, though, and inspiring. Mining a rich catalog of his own songs, plus standards like “Kansas City,” he showed why his voice is often called one of the most authentic in blues.
Davis was backed by a band of some of the biggest names in Seattle music. At one point there were 10 musicians on the small stage, including Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready, Screaming Trees’ Van Conner, R.E.M.’s Scott McCaughey and several others. It was a blues guitar assault.
The show began with Barrett Martin of the Screaming Trees making a case for the linkage between working class Seattle rock musicians and blues players.
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Martin, who organized the show — and did an admirable job on drums, too — said he wanted this event to happen at “Ground Zero for Northwest Rock,” a club that had hosted Nirvana and others.
And though the Northwest musicians more than held their own — particularly when McCready and Ayron Jones faced off in a hot guitar duel on “Catfish” — there was nothing grunge about the music. The first set, which featured bassist Evan Flory-Barnes, was even acoustic, exactly how the blues began.
Davis was in his zone all night, impervious to the musicians who surrounded him, or a camera crew filming a documentary. He’s been singing these songs for seven decades, but there’s a youthful brightness to his take on tunes like “Bright Lights, Big City,” even as his physical presence is humbled.
The show also proved that the blues is a living tradition. Guitarist Zakk Binns, only 25, is part of Davis’ touring band, and as he threw off hot runs, using Pete Townshend-like moves, Davis sat in his chair and smiled.
Davis must have been thinking that his genre, which is as ancient as American music itself, is alive and well.