Smokestack Lightnin' Home Page -- The Blues Profile Page

Walter Davis (March 1, 1912 October 22, 1963) was an African American blues singer and pianist.

Davis was born on a farm in Grenada, Mississippi, and ran away from home at about 13 years of age, landing in St. Louis, Missouri. During the period from the late 1920s through the early 1950s he played club dates in the South and the lower Midwest, often with guitarist Henry Townsend and fellow pianist Peetie Wheatstraw, and recorded prolifically. Roosevelt Sykes accompanied him on his first records (193033); thereafter he had the ability or confidence to play for himself.

He was among the most productive and popular recording artists in blues, cutting about 180 sides between 1930 and 1952, several of which ("M&O Blues", "Angel Child" and "Come Back Baby") have been taken up by other singers.

Davis appears to have stopped performing professionally around 1953. Suffering from health problems, primarily a stroke, he settled in St. Louis, supporting himself as a night clerk at a hotel and as a preacher. The exact place of his death is uncertain, although it is thought to be St. Louis.

The musical style that Walter Davis developed shows some influence of Leroy Carr, although it would be difficult to mistake the two. On recordings Davis' somberly expressive vocals were at first accompanied by other pianists, including Roosevelt Sykes, perhaps because his own playing was thought too limited. He was allowed to play his own piano on his later recordings, and these are generally regarded as his best. His left hand is not skillful, as he obsessively repeats a one-finger chordal pattern, but against this bleak background his right hand plays complex, unpredictable phrases punctuated by soaring percussive figures.

Davis also had a rich singing voice that was as expressive as the best of the Delta blues vocalists. His best-known recording, a version of the train blues standard "Sunnyland Blues", which he released in 1931, is more notable for the warmth and poignancy of his singing than for his piano playing.

He was also billed as "Hooker Joe".

He was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2005.

Davis is no relation to the jazz pianist, Walter Davis, Jr.