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Best of the CRANDIC Spotlight: Iowa City guitarist Randall Davis is a musician’s musician


Iowa City guitarist Randall Davis, November 2021. — Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

Best of the CRANDIC 2021 winner:
Best Overall Musician

So you like to enjoy a night out of live music in the CRANDIC, but you’ve never seen Best Overall Musician Randall Davis perform? Hmmm. I call bullshit. Davis is a fixture, a necessary component of how the musical ecosystem in this region thrives. When I asked for a rundown of bands he’d performed with, past and present, he listed nearly 30, with a humble apology to those he might have missed (see below). We’re talking everyone from Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear to Best Local Band (and opener at the Best Concert of 2021) David Zollo & the Body Electric. Davis is a musician’s musician, exactly who you’d expect to earn this honor after almost two years of not being able to see live music on the regular.

How long have you been playing? When did you know that you needed to make a life out this?

I started playing saxophone in fifth grade. My band teacher Gary Jones wouldn’t teach me guitar, instead showing me the bass guitar, telling me I’d eventually get more gigs as a bass player. I picked up what I could and translated as much as possible to guitar.

Watching TV as a kid and seeing Roy Clark on Hee Haw, being completely mesmerized by the guitar sound; listening to Mom and Dad’s, sister and brother’s records: Big Bopper, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, the Everly Bros., the Statler Bros., Buck Owens, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Tom Petty, AC/DC — just the tip of the iceberg really. That’s when I realized what I wanted and needed to do to be happy.

Can you give me a rundown of a good chunk of the bands you’ve performed with, past and present?

Somewhat chronologically:

Nepenthe
Shame Train
Red Laveau
David & the Randy’s
Becca Sutlive and the Attachments
Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear
Deathships
Jay Bennett
Alexis Stevens
David Zollo & the Body Electric
Brother Trucker
Ed Gray & Co.
Thankful Dirt
Patrick Brickel
Ben Eaton
Grand Tetons
Brian Johannesen
Bone Zone
Jordan Sellergren
Bernemann Brothers Band
Crystal City
Ben Schmidt
the Poor, Poor Rich
Slim Chance & the Can’t Hardly Playboys
Dave Moore
Pinicon Drift
Frankie Zoloft & the Electrolytes
Bo Ramsey
Otros Outros

I’m sure I’ve missed a couple groups.
Apologies to them.

How many guitars do you own? Which one has the best stories to tell? What other instruments do you play?

I own several guitars, basses and lap steels, a dobro, a mandolin, a S10 pedal steel and a ukulele. … I play them all, some better than others. I am especially loving learning to play pedal steel.

My ’81 G&L ASAT has seen a lot in her time with me, and she holds her cards pretty close to the vest. She’s retired now. My Frankentele Deluxe took over in ’09/’10. My two favorites, although I have a ’80 Greco SV-600 that is quickly becoming a favorite.

What’s the central joy for you in making music: the physical act of playing? The intricacies of collaboration? The thrill of creation? The exhilaration of performing? Something else entirely?

I have always loved the connection that music brings to the world, whether it be between bandmates or any audience. You can see that at any show you go to, so I hope you go to shows. It has the possibility to encapsulate any range of emotion and allows for a healthy outlet of those. I feel hard pressed to name something else in this world that does that. Live in the pocket, die in the pocket.

Do you have a favorite onstage moment — something ridiculous or transcendent or horrifying (yet hilarious in retrospect)?

My favorite moments on stage are when everybody finds the pocket and can live there as long as possible. That to me is transcendent.

What’s exciting you right now about the future?

The future’s so bright, we outta wear shades. Watching my son grow, watching him whack at the strings on a guitar and the joy it brings him makes me hopeful. My fiancé, Emily, and I are getting married in June, and we are hoping that the world can come to its senses and get this pandemic under control so we can get on with our lives, before it all de-evolves into a more dystopian hellscape (ooops). Several groups I’m in are preparing to write and record new music, and I feel very lucky to have all those irons in the fire.

Working at the Musician’s Pro Shop; teaching guitar and helping people find their voices in music.

I feel very honored for having been selected in the Best of the CRANDIC. Thank you to everyone who voted, and especially thank you to everyone I’ve had the pleasure and honor of playing with. It means the world to me.

Little Village Best of the CRANDIC is presented by City of Iowa City.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 301.


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