At 62, blues musician Guy Davis is coming off the busiest year of his life. Some might be surprised by the constantly touring pace Davis keeps, but the Bronx, N.Y., resident is not. If you ask him, it is merely a prediction coming to fruition.
"A seer told me years ago that the longer I lived, the older I got, the more I'd be working," Davis said on the phone from his home last week. "She was right."
Davis spent months straight on the road last year, with only a few days at home in between, he said. (The grind continues Friday when he headlines Creative Alliance.)
His dedication to touring is an extension of Davis' loyalty to the blues. The self-taught musician has released and performed it for decades (most notable was his '90s multi-album run that started with "Stomp Down River" and the 2012 release of his one-man show, "The Adventures of Fishy Waters: In Bed With the Blues") but Davis still ardently searches for new truths buried within the notes.
"I look back and see myself as a part of a historical continuum," he said of his relationship with the genre. "The blues — the longer it's been a part of my life, the deeper I get into it. There seems to be no end to the depths that you can find."
Davis first encountered the blues as an impressionable youth and "thought it was invented by white college boys, because that's who I saw playing it." Research revealed a radically different history of chain gangs and black communities using the call-and-response ballads and melodies as sources of catharsis and joy. Years later, the blues' influential and complicated relationship with America continues to reveal itself in new ways to Davis.
"When I'm listening to the blues, I'm trying to listen beyond just what's there, and hear the connection to the work songs and things like that that go way back," Davis said. "You might hear B.B. King playing some blues and somewhere, there's a root in that thing that maybe men were singing on the work gang."
Davis — who has performed the blues on guitar and banjo in Australia, Indonesia and Russia, to name a few tour stops — called the genre an "endangered species." He wonders if the Internet's one-click-away accessibility to the blues has stunted its growth. Davis hopes that is not the case, because he believes the blues must be heard and witnessed in person to experience the full effect.
"There is something in the live presentation of the blues, in my estimation, that doesn't simply translate to the screen," he said. "I can take this music and give it the best interpretation that I'm able in front of people. Some of that interpretation is musical, some of it is conscious, some of it subconscious and some of it is historic."
Davis is never short of inspiration, he said, because he writes about "what affects our human condition." That can come from personal loss (his mother, actress Ruby Dee, died in June. His father, actor Ossie Davis, died in 2005) or from national headlines (young black men "on the violent end of police behavior" remains a significant topic for him). Ultimately, though, Davis said he gravitates to the subjects that naturally evoke a reaction.
"It's sort of like breathing," he said. "Whatever is happening in the world, I try to go with it ... what is strange, what is odd, what is sometimes brutal, what is sometimes racist, what is sometimes sexist. I respond artistically to things how I see them."
Davis plans to take these feelings into the studio sometime this year to record a follow-up to 2013's "Juba Dance," a collaborative record with harmonica player Fabrizio Poggi. He also plans to teach music to children at camps across the country, including a stop at Westminster's Common Ground on the Hill in July.
Before then, though, come solo dates. Shows like Friday's event at Creative Alliance are particularly rewarding to Davis because the intimate setting is conducive to the hard-to-describe magic only live blues can create.
"As much as I love getting in huge auditoriums or outdoor festivals, I've got songs and material that work so nicely in just a small coffeehouse," David said. "People can actually see your eyes and your face."
His itinerary for 2015 is already booked through October. Davis said he, like his folk heroes before him, doesn't think about stopping.
"I have not been thinking about retirement," he said. "I want to go at this thing like Pete Seeger. That man played banjo until he was unable to hold it."