Daryl Davis: The Man Behind “Roots of Rock”

Post by guest author Rebecca Agiewich.

Pianist Daryl Davis, organizer of the Roots of Rock workshop, has spent most of his life steeped in rock and roll. Though he started playing music at the relatively late age of 17, he made up for lost time by majoring in music at Howard University and then meeting his musical idols one by one and learning directly from them.

He loved the music of rock pioneers like Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Jerry Lee Lewis and dug deep into the music of his idols. “When I got into somebody – I wanted to know — Where do they come from? Where did they get their ideas? Then I found out who THEY listened to. And whenever I could, I met those people and became friends with them.”

Great musicians like Pinetop Perkins (Muddy Waters’ piano player) and Johnnie Johnson (Chuck Berry’s piano player) would come over to Davis’s house when they came through town and show him things on the piano. 

“I got hands-on training from that generation of musicians – that’s part of what I bring to the table,” says Davis. “Those were my mentors.”  His training paid off — now the Grammy-winning Davis himself plays often with Chuck Berry. (Check out the videos of Davis playing with Berry on Davis’ Web site.)

Davis also has a deep understanding of the racial and cultural issues that surrounded the birth of rock and roll, and he’ll be talking about those at the Roots of Rock workshop, as well as teaching students to how to play boogie-woogie and rockabilly beats on the piano.

“In the 50s, rock music did something that no other form of music had done before – it caused white kids and black kids to jump out of their seats when they heard that new beat, knock down the ropes that were supposed to keep them segregated, and dance in the aisles together.”

Davis, who also wrote about race relations in his book Klan-Destine Relationships, is full of fascinating knowledge about the birth of rock and roll and how it helped to bridge the racial divide. Participants who are here with Davis—besides learning how to ROCK– are sure to come away with a much deeper historical understanding and appreciation of the music they play.

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