Jesse Edwin Davis
Birth nameJesse Edwin Davis III
Born(1944-09-21)21 September 1944
Norman, Oklahoma, United States
Died22 June 1988(1988-06-22) (aged 43)
Venice, Los Angeles, California, United States
GenresRock, Blues
Occupation(s)Session musician, sideman
InstrumentsElectric guitar, acoustic guitar, slide guitar
Years active1950s–1980s
Associated actsTaj Mahal, Gene Clark, John Lennon, Leonard Cohen, George Harrison, Jackson Browne, John Lee Hooker

Jesse Edwin Davis (September 21, 1944 – June 22, 1988) was a Native American guitarist. He was well regarded as a session artist and solo performer, was a member of Taj Mahal's backing band and played with musicians such as Eric Clapton, John Lennon, and George Harrison.[1] In 2018, Davis was posthumously inducted into the Native American Music Hall of Fame[2] at the 18th Annual Native American Music Awards.

Early life and education

Davis was born in Norman, Oklahoma. He was the son of Jesse Edwin (Bus) Davis II, whose ancestry was a blend of Comanche, Seminole, and Muscogee (Creek), and Vivian Mae (Bea) Saunkeah, a Kiowa.[3][4][5][6] His father was an accomplished painter in the Flatstyle Southern Plains painting; his works were exhibited in the state capitol in Oklahoma City.[7][better source needed]

Davis began his musical career in the late 1950s in Oklahoma City and surrounding cities with John Ware (later a drummer for Emmylou Harris, and Michael Nesmith during the First National Band era), John Selk (later a bass player for Donovan), Jerry Fisher (later a vocalist with Blood, Sweat & Tears), Mike Boyle, Chris Frederickson, drummer Bill Maxwell (later with Andrae Crouch and Koinonia) and others.[citation needed]

He graduated from Northeast High School in 1962.[4] Davis graduated with a degree in English literature from the University of Oklahoma; even into his later years, he was remembered to enjoy quoting Socrates and Plato.[8] By the mid-1960s, he had quit school and went touring with Conway Twitty.[9]


Davis eventually moved to California. For eight years, he lived in Marina del Rey with his companion, Patti Daley, and her son, Billy. Through his friendship with Levon Helm, he became friends with Leon Russell, who introduced him to recording session work.[10]

Davis joined Taj Mahal and played guitar and piano on Mahal's first four albums. He played slide, lead and rhythm, country and even jazz during his three-year stint with Mahal. Mahal and his band were invited to England by the Rolling Stones,[11] and they appeared as a musical guest in The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus.[12]

He played in the "electric" disc of Mahal's double album Giant Step/De Ole Folks at Home (1969) and appeared in two songs of his fourth album Happy Just to Be Like I Am (1971).[13]

In 1970, he played on and produced Roger Tillison's only album for Atco Records, a division of Atlantic. Davis and Tillison − both Oklahoman − were joined at the Record Plant by Bobby Bruce (fiddle), Larry Knechtel (organ and harmonica), Stan Szelest (piano); Billy Rich (bass); Jim Keltner (drums) and Sandy Konikoff (percussion); Don Preston and Joey Cooper were vocal accompanists.[14] Roger Tillison's Album was recorded live. It was finally released on CD by Wounded Bird Records in 2008, with Davis playing electric guitar, bottleneck (slide) guitar and banjo.[15] The Woody Guthrie song "Old Cracked Looking Glass" has become a standard for Oklahoma bands.[citation needed]

In 1971, Davis recorded his first solo album after Atco Records signed a contract with him to record two albums with the label. The first was the album ¡Jesse Davis! (1971), which featured backing vocals by Gram Parsons and performances by Leon Russell and Eric Clapton, among others.[16]

Davis was close friends with Gene Clark. In 1971, he played on and produced Clark's second solo album, White Light, and provided lead guitar on Clark's album No Other in 1974. On Jackson Browne's 1972 debut album, Davis played the electric guitar solo on Browne's hit song "Doctor, My Eyes".[13]

After guesting with Russell on Bob Dylan's 1971 single "Watching the River Flow", and collaborating in Albert King’s Lovejoy, Davis went on to work with George Harrison, performing at the ex-Beatle's 1971 Concert for Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden, along with Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, Russell, Keltner, Clapton and others.[17]

Two more solo albums followed: in 1972 Ululu, which included the original release of Harrison's "Sue Me, Sue You Blues",[18][19] and in 1973 Keep Me Comin, occasionally listed as Keep On Coming. Around this time, Davis began playing with John Lennon, for whom he played lead guitar on the albums Walls and Bridges (1974) and Rock 'n' Roll (1975).[9] In addition, Davis was a guest performer on other albums by former Beatles: Harrison's Extra Texture (1975)[20] and Starr's Goodnight Vienna (1974) and Ringo's Rotogravure (1976).[13]

In the late summer and fall of 1975, he performed with the Faces as second guitarist throughout their final US tour. It was on this tour that Davis became addicted to drugs.[11]

After the Faces tour, Davis continued to work as a session player. In addition to the artists listed above, Davis contributed to albums by Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, Keith Moon, Steve Miller, Guthrie Thomas, Harry Nilsson, Ry Cooder, David Cassidy, Willie Nelson, Neil Diamond, Rick Danko, Van Dyke Parks and others. He played on Leonard Cohen's Death of a Ladies' Man (1977), produced by Phil Spector.[13]

In 1977, Davis moved to Hawaii. In 1981, he returned to Los Angeles broke and ravaged by drug and alcohol addiction.[8] In and out of clinics, Davis disappeared from the music industry for a time, spending much of the 1980s dealing with alcohol and drug addiction.[13] In 1985 he formed and played in the Graffiti Band, which coupled his music with the poetry of the Native American activist John Trudell (American Indian Movement). The result of this collaboration was the album, released initially only on cassette, called "AKA Grafitti Man", which Bob Dylan called the best album of the year.[11][21]

In the spring of 1987, the Graffiti Band performed with Taj Mahal at the Palomino Club in North Hollywood, California. At this show, George Harrison, Bob Dylan and John Fogerty got up from the audience to join Davis and Mahal in an unrehearsed set which included Fogerty's "Proud Mary" and Dylan's "Watching the River Flow", as well as classics such as "Blue Suede Shoes", "Peggy Sue", "Honey Don't", "Matchbox" and "Gone, Gone, Gone".[22]

Personal life

Davis had a relationship with Patti Daley for about ten years. Then he married twice, first to Tantalayo Saenz and then Kelly Brady.[4]

In his last years, he served as drug and alcohol counselor at the American Indian Free Clinic in Long Beach.[8]

Davis collapsed in the laundry room of an apartment building and was pronounced dead in Venice, California, on June 22, 1988. Police stated his death appeared to be the result of a drug overdose. Davis had a fresh needle mark on one arm and burned matches and tin foil were scattered on the ground nearby.[23] He was 43 years old.


In 2002, he was posthumously inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame.[24]

In 2018, Jesse Ed Davis was inducted into the Native American Music Hall of Fame at the 18th Annual Native American Music Awards. A performance tribute was held by his former Graffiti band members, Mark Shark and Quiltman.[25] His cousins Richenda Davis Bates and Constance Davis Carter accepted the induction.[26][6]


With Junior Markham & The Tulsa Review

With Taj Mahal

As leader

As sideman


  1. ^ Simmonds, Jeremy. The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars: Heroin, Handguns, and Ham Sandwiches. p. 235.
  2. ^ Native American Music Hall of Fame
  3. ^ "Vivian Mae Saunkeah Davis Obituary". The Oklahoman. 2006-08-25. Retrieved 2020-04-20.
  4. ^ a b c Bates, Richenda. "Davis, Jesse Edwin III | The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture". Retrieved 2020-04-20.
  5. ^ "Oklahoma Music Trail: Jesse Ed Davis". - Oklahoma's Official Travel & Tourism Site. Retrieved 2020-04-20.
  6. ^ a b 18th Annual Native American Music Awards Oct 25, 2019 on YouTube (acceptance speech starts at min 54:00).
  7. ^ Peters, Stephanie (2012). Creating to Compete: Juried Exhibitions of Native American Painting, 1946-1960 (PDF). Thesis (M.A.)--Arizona State University, 2012. pp. 54, 70, 72, 75, 77.
  8. ^ a b c MARK ARAX and PAUL FELDMAN OBITUARIES : Backed Up Major Artists : Jesse Ed Davis, 43; Noted Rock Guitarist, June 24, 1988. Los Angeles Times
  9. ^ a b Kurutz, Steve. "Jesse Ed Davis | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 2020-04-20.
  10. ^ Nash, J. D. "Jesse Ed Davis Inducted into Native American Music Hall of Fame - American Blues Scene". Retrieved 2020-04-26.
  11. ^ a b c Documentary film, Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World, 2017
  12. ^ "Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, The (1995) - Full Credits -". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  13. ^ a b c d e Obrecht, Jas (2010). "Jesse Ed Davis: "I Just Play the Notes That Sound Good"". Jas Obrecht Music Archive. Retrieved 2020-04-24.
  14. ^ Stone Brown, Peter (2013-12-12). "R.I.P. Singer-Songwriter Roger Tillison « American Songwriter". American Songwriter. Retrieved 2020-04-22.
  15. ^ Roger Tillison's Album - Roger Tillison | Credits | AllMusic, retrieved 2020-04-22
  16. ^ "Jesse Ed Davis "Jesse Davis"". Rising Storm. 2012-01-26. Retrieved 2020-04-20.
  17. ^ "The George Harrison Bangla Desh Benefit". Rolling Stone. 2 September 1971. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  18. ^ Ululu - Jesse Ed Davis | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic, retrieved 2020-04-20
  19. ^ Rodriguez, Robert (2010). Fab Four FAQ 2.0: The Beatles' Solo Years, 1970–1980,. Milwaukee, WI: Backbeat Books. p. 82. ISBN 978-1-4165-9093-4.
  20. ^ "Extra Texture". George Harrison (official website). Retrieved 2020-04-22.
  21. ^ John Trudell, John Trudell Archives Re-releases The Critically Acclaimed Aka Grafitti Man, March 21, 2017
  22. ^ May 2018, Damian Fanelli 24. "Watch George Harrison, John Fogerty and Bob Dylan Jam in 1987". Guitar World. Retrieved 2020-04-22.
  23. ^ "Drug Overdose Blamed In Death of Guitarist". The Oklahoman. July 25, 1988. Archived from the original on March 6, 2017. Retrieved March 6, 2017.
  24. ^ "Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame (inductees)". Retrieved 2020-04-23.
  25. ^ "HALL OF FAME". Retrieved 2020-04-23.
  26. ^ Department, World Music Central News. "Winners of the 2018 Native American Music Awards Announced | World Music". Retrieved 2020-04-23.