David Davis & The Warrior River Boys
David Davis, the esteemed mandolin player and singer who is steeped in the older traditions of bluegrass, has been fronting the Alabama-based Warrior River Boys since 1984. His love for traditional bluegrass no doubt started with his family; his father and grandfather were both musicians and his uncle, Cleo Davis, was an original member of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys in 1939. From 2004 until 2009, David and the band released three CDs for the Rebel, all of which were sterling examples of how newly recorded bluegrass can work within the traditional strictures of the music, and still sound great. For his continued efforts over the years, David was a 2010 inductee to the Alabama Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.
The make-up of the band that came to Rebel consisted of Josh Smith, Jeff Griffy, Owen Saunders, and Marty Hays. Smith is a driving banjo player from Kentucky who came to the Warrior River Boys in 1999; he stayed in the group for six years. Griffey hailed from Illinois and started playing guitar at age 11. By age 15, he was performing in local bands. He joined Davis in 2001 and logged four years of service with the group. Fiddle player Owen Saunders enjoyed working with some of the top names in bluegrass – the Gillis Brothers, Doyle Lawson, and James King – before becoming a Warrior River Boy. Rounding out the group was Marty Hays, a bass player and vocalist who joined the group in 1995; he shared some of the lead singing duties with David.
The group’s first release on Rebel was the self-titled David Davis and the Warrior River Boys (Reb-1807). Released in 2004, the disc was praised for its “strictly traditional sound,” “hard-charging energy,” and the group as “top interpreters of Monroe style bluegrass.” The real treat of this disc was the new material. Band originals included “Lonesome Cry of the Whippoorwill” and “It’s Just an Old Body” and songwriters Bill Grant, Tommy Freeman, and Bill Castle filled out the remainder of the disc with tracks like “Today’s the Day I Get My Gold Watch and Chain” and “In the Shade of the Big Buffalo.”
David’s follow-up CD came in 2006 with Troubled Times (Reb-1817). The disc ushered in two new members of the band, guitarist Adam Duke and banjo player Daniel Grindstaff. As before, David earned high marks for his adherence to the old sounds, especially with his Monroe-esque rendition of “Evening Prayer Blues.” The group had fun with several uptempo numbers that included Merle Travis’ “John Henry, Jr.” and Charlie Poole’s “Milwaukee Blues.” It seemed fitting that David should cover two songs done earlier by Alabama native Hank Williams: “A House of Gold” and “I Heard That Lonesome Whistle.”
The final Rebel recording for David Davis and the Warrior River Boys was Two Dimes and a Nickel (Reb-1827). Released in 2009, it was touted as “one of the best recordings of this year.” New to the group was banjo player Robert Montgomery who replaced Daniel Grindstaff. Only a few of the tunes came from older sources; the majority of the new material originated with songwriters Tommy Freeman and Alan Johnston. This, as well as the previous Warrior River Boys CDs, exemplify David Davis’ mission to be at the forefront of defining traditional music to today’s audiences.