Most people would never connect the unassuming, humble, often humorous guy who brings his wears to the auction at the foot of the mountain at Wren with the nationally known, award-winning Bluegrass Hall of Fame legend. People who attend the auction just know him as David, the nice guy who sells on the first Monday night of each month.
Those who recognize him, however, know him to be one of the top bluegrass mandolin players in the business. He and his band, The Warrior River Boys have played to enthusiastic fans all over the United States and, according to his banjo player, Robert Montgomery, every province east of Saskatchewan, Canada.
Montgomery, of Moulton, and a bluegrass star in his own right, hooked up with Davis in 2008. “He’s a very humble guy, and as fine a man as I know of in this world,” observed Montgomery, who has learned a lot from Davis as they’ve traveled from one venue to another. “He really knows a lot about antiques, too,” said Montgomery.
According to Montgomery, the band’s bass player lives in southern Illinois and has been with Davis for 25 years. “If you know anything about the music business you know that bands usually don’t stay together that long. Honestly, I can’t think of any other group staying together this long,” said Montgomery. “That is because David is such a good, honest man to work for, and if people stick with him for decades like that, he must be treating them right.”
Davis was inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 2010. In 2014, he was inducted into America’s Old-Time Country Music Hall Of Fame. This year he has been nominated as mandolin player of the year, quite an accolade for any musician.
Not only has the group traveled all over South, according to Montgomery, they have built up quite a following in the northern states. “You’d be surprised,” he laughed, “They know the music, and they like hearing it from real Southerners.”
They travel to New York in March, and then on to Ohio, and into Virginia and beyond. But when he’s home, in Cullman, Davis frequently heads to Lawrence County on Monday nights to sell truckloads of this and that, things he’s accumulated from helping people downsize, from estate sales all over the country, and from his own personal penchant for collecting antiques and memorabilia on his travels. He’ll have some of everything, totes full of fine china and crystal stemware, handmade quilts, collectables and antiques, framed pictures, vintage dolls, furniture of all kinds, and oddities that no one can figure out.
Martha Jackson, who runs the auction in the old Wren Grocery Building, has known Davis for over 20 years. “David really enjoys buying items to bring to my Wren Auction, while on his travels with the band, the Warrior River Boys,” said Jackson. “David is the lead singer and plays the mandolin and is absolutely fantastic!”
Jackson went on to include David’s wife, Cindy, who helps on the floor with the auction items. “They are both wonderful people and I’m proud to call them my friends,” she said.
David and Cindy, married 31 years and counting, complement each other well. She loves antiques and he is a history buff. He loves entertaining and informing the crowd about the uses and history of his most recent finds as he moves around the floor, much the same way he entertains on stage.
David has been playing the mandolin most of his life. He is recognized as one of the foremost practitioners of the Monroe mandolin technique and has appeared on many classic bluegrass recordings. His sound is definitely old-school and if you love bluegrass music, you will appreciate the love and respect that Davis and the band put into each song.
In 2018, David Davis & The Warrior River Boys produced a masterfully exciting collection of songs originally recorded in the 1920’s by the legendary Charlie Poole and his North Carolina Ramblers, a generation before Bill Monroe is credited with founding bluegrass music. “Our intention was to evolve the songs, yet leave the strength and essence of the original feel as our foundation and build on that,” explained Davis.
The collection they recorded, “Didn’t He Ramble” was eagerly anticipated in bluegrass circles, and folk DJ’s all over the country embraced David Davis and The Warrior River Boys’ lively and refreshing interpretations and renditions of Southern Bluegrass classics like ‘I Saw The Light”.
Davis, who co-produced the album, is a veteran picker who has appeared on numerous classic bluegrass recordings, and a recipient of countless awards in bluegrass and country music. In recent years Davis has been quietly challenging the notion that to be faithful to traditional, bluegrass should hold exclusively to Monroe-or other first-generation bluegrass legends, such as Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs. With the release of Didn’t He Ramble, Davis’ intention is to create interest in the origins of bluegrass by taking it back a generation and to a much wider and diverse audience.
“I’m a musician and that’s my first love, my first priority,” he says candidly. “But auctioning offers me a chance to have fun while utilizing my free time during the week. I really enjoy meeting people and its rewarding when I hear them say that they have been looking for that book or their grandmother had a lamp just like the one they bought from us, or that an old dipper brought back childhood memories. Those are the things that make my hobby even more important because it allows people to have a little piece of their childhood back. It could be something as expensive as a piece of heirloom jewelry or as trivial as a copper pot, but to them it’s a treasure.”
His passion for historic items is a way to bring happiness to others, just like his music. “The roots of bluegrass are in the South, but it’s appreciated from coast to coast,” he mused. “People from all walks of life relate to broken hearts, cherished dreams, lonesomeness, death, life and love, they are common to all of us, and bluegrass music celebrates these emotions, making people weep sometimes but more often it gets them tapping their toes and clapping their hands. This music originated from old grandpa’s on front porches who played for their families, and it has spread throughout the country because people relate to it.”
He’s right. Bluegrass might have its origins as far away as Ireland and England, or Scotland, and was brought here by hopeful immigrants who built lives from nothing; working from can til can’t, to make enough to buy a parcel of land to call their own. They worked farms, in coal mines, cut timber and floated barges up and down rivers to create a new land. This music tells their stories.
Davis is a messenger who brings these stories to people who crave a small piece of that time before automation changed things. He delivers their heritage in song, in music so distinct that once you’ve heard it, its melody stays with you forever. He also brings treasures of a more practical nature to his auction followers, something you can hold in your hand, a piece of history or a small part of their childhood that they can sit on a shelf and look at, eat or drink from, or wear on their lapel, a small token that bespeaks continuity and a way of life now all but lost. And it comes full circle; the music brings that way of life back to our hearts in the most lyrical way possible.
David is the only one you’ll find who has a shelf at home filled with awards and recognition for a talent that he knows came from hundreds of people who handed down their love of music to him as a precious gift. Go to https://youtu.be/hsqls5ySZyU to see video.
David Davis and the Warrior River Boys
•1988: “Passin’ Thru” (Rutabaga)
•1990: New Beginnings (Rounder)
•1993: Sounds Like Home (Rounder)
•200?: America’s Music (Wango)
•200?: My Dixie Home (Wango)
•2004: David Davis and the Warrior River Boys (Rebel)
•2006: Troubled Times (Rebel)
•2009: Two Dimes & A Nickel (Rebel)
•2018: Didn’t He Ramble: Songs Of Charlie Poole (Rounder)