The Mystery of the Northwest’s Lost Songwriter Ron Davies
Ron Davies was a songwriter’s songwriter. The kind of artist who wasn’t as well known to the public as he was to his fellow artists. His songs were covered by others like Nanci Griffith, Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, Maria Muldaur, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and many more. But he’s best known for his song, “It Ain’t Easy”, an edgy blues number that was famously recorded by David Bowie on his Ziggy Stardust album. In fact, “It Ain’t Easy”, was one of the better cuts on this seminal album. I’m not sure if that’s a testament to Davies’ songwriting, or Bowie’s taste, or a bit of both. Soul singer Bettye Lavette also cut a powerful cover of “It Ain’t Easy” on her debut album. In the 1970s, Davies was signed to A&M Records, so his music got pretty broad exposure at the time. In the 1980s, Davies moved to Nashville to work as a songwriter. In 2003, he passed away from a heart attack. It seems that his solo career never reached the same heights that his songs did. And its through the songs that most people remember Davies. That’s nowhere more evident than on the lovely new album, The Mystery of Ron Davies: A Pacific Northwest Tribute.
David Bowie’s original cover of It Ain’t Easy
Though he was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, Davies grew up and worked in the Pacific Northwest before moving to Nashville, so it’s fitting that most of the artists on this tribute album are drawn from the ranks of Northwest songwriters. Compiled by longtime NW veteran Eric Apoe, a wide range of singers and artists is presented, each interpreting a different song from Davies canon. Honestly, I didn’t know Davies music at all before hearing about this tribute album, but the performers were kind enough to sit back and let his songs shine through throughout. So you could say that this tribute album has made a believer out of me!
A few highlights from the album:
-Iconoclastic genius Baby Gramps ROCKS a cover of “It Ain’t Easy”. Definitely the highlight of the album.
Baby Gramps: It Ain’t Easy
-Album compiler Eric Apoe, a personal friend of Ron Davies for many years, contributes a softly-understated, beautiful cover of Davies’ song “Carolyn”. It’s a song that really shows off Davies abilities as a storytelling songwriter, and Apoe does it quiet justice.
Eric Apoe With Saar Liven: Carolyn
-Pike Place busker savant Tommy Dean brings in a cover of the politically tinged “Please Prez”. Dean’s a mad genius of street performing, but doesn’t record much, so this is a real treat. Also, it’s kind of depressing how easily this song, clearly written in the 70s, translates to today’s politics.
Tommy Dean: Please Prez
I recommend this album for anyone interested in the art of songwriting. Hearing these beautiful songs through so many filters actually brings your attention to the songs themselves, and really shows what a great songwriter can do.
Ron Davies’ original version of “It Ain’t Easy”
Ron Davies’ last Seattle performance (trad. song The Blind Fiddler)