The current issue of Rolling Stone features a list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time, and wedged in among the many familiar names is one perhaps a lot of today’s music fans haven’t heard: Jesse Ed Davis. The Oklahoma-born Muscogee Creek/Seminole/Kiowa guitarist makes a list of “Five Fretboard Innovators Who Never Got the Acclaim They Deserve.”
Davis was one of the great guitarists for hire in the late 1960s and early 1970s, playing on records and on stage with true rock royalty. After touring with Conway Twitty and playing on Taj Mahal’s first three albums, he went on to work with George Harrison, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Leonard Cohen, and Keith Moon, among many others. When it came time to record his own albums, the friends who showed up to play along told the story of just how essential Davis had become: Contributors to Jesse Davis (1971) included Eric Clapton, Gram Parsons and Leon Russell.
Here’s his cover of Merle Haggard’s “White Line Fever” from his second album, Ululu (1972):
Davis, who died in 1988, isn’t the only Native to make the issue. The list of 100 greatest guitarists includes Robbie Robertson (Six Nations Mohawk, #59) and Link Wray (Shawnee, #45) and is unsurprisingly topped by Jimi Hendrix, the 1/4-Cherokee innovator who was one of the first two musicians inducted to the NAMA Hall of Fame in 1998. (The other was Buddy Red Bow, Lakota.)
Davis played on Jackson Browne’s 1972 hit “Doctor My Eyes”—that’s his solo coming in at around the 1:47 mark:
And just because it’s fun—here’s Taj Mahal playing “EZ Rider” on the Playboy After Dark television show, from 1968, with Jesse Ed Davis on guitar: