Who He Is: I’m deep in “year-end list” mode at this point, but I do pause on that annual endeavor to return to this ongoing series of “Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists,” to celebrate a particular favorite. Jed Davis is a Long Island-bred singer-songwriter-keyboardist with a stunningly deep and broad history as both as a live performer and studio wizard, working since the early 1990s as a solo artist and as the primary creative talent behind a variety of stellar bands, including Skyscape, The Hanslick Rebellion, Jeebus, Sevendys, and others. In both his band and solo endeavors, the list of players who have been excited to work with him is somewhat mind-boggling, with the likes of Chuck Rainey, Reeves Gabrels, Anton Fig, Jerry Marotta, Sheridan Riley, Ralph Carney, John Sebastian, Brian Dewan, Tony Levin and many others appearing on his records, of which there are a lot, over the years. (Long-time collaborators Mike Keaney and Alex Dubovoy may not have the same public cache as those previously-mentioned players, but I’d be remiss to not include and celebrate their contributions to Jed’s catalog over the years). Without a shred of hyperbole, I would easily and readily declare Jed to be one of the greatest American songwriters of the past half-century, and unlike a lot of his music-scribbling peers, he’s also capable of standing on stages and earning equal respect as one of the most talented and bracing live performers of that period as well. Jed lived and worked for quite some time with The Ramones’ behind-the-scenes genius Arturo Vega (RIP, alas), working on their Rise and Shine musical for many years. (I visited Jed at “The Ramones Loft” a few times when he was living there, and Artie and Jed gave me a mini-tour once, e.g.: “Here is where Dee Dee burned a hole in the floor while cooking smack.”) Jed also had the most exquisitely rare experience of knowing what it felt like to front The Ramones, when he had the opportunity to sing his song, “The Bowery Electric,” at CBGB, with most of the then-surviving members of The Ramones and their close production associates behind him, celebrating the life of fallen-to-cancer singer Joey Ramone. (Jed had written the song while walking around the Lower East Side in the rain after missing a train on the day that Joey had died). If his musical accomplishments weren’t enough to commend him, Jed is a stellar visual artist as well, who works in design and lay-out for a major national publication during his day-time hours, while also creating equally amazingly artistic presentations for his own work, in the hours between the hours.
When I First Heard Him: There are “I know” and “I think” aspects to answering this question with regard to Jed’s career and how it entered my consciousness. I know that I saw him deliver one of his epic solo piano performances at Mother Earth Cafe in Albany around 1995, when he was a student at the University of Albany. And I think that I saw his then-band, Skyscape, play an early opening set at Albany’s legendarily grotty live music venue, Bogie’s, around that same time, but as a local college band, they weren’t properly introduced, so I can’t swear that it was them, except that my memory of the sounds and visuals of what they did aligns with what I later learned about Jed’s musical career and history. I know that the first record of his that I enthusiastically reviewed in print was We’re All Going To Jail! (1997). And the first times we actively communicated were when I was booking shows for the Time Warner Cable music television show, Sounding Board, which featured a live Collider performance, and when I was doing a feature piece for Metroland right at the turn of the millennium, and I interviewed Jed for his thoughts on keyboard technology at the time. (That article earned a “Best of My Archives” nod a couple of years ago, here). Jed and I have orbited each other in various capacities in the years since then, and I’ve remained a staunch supporter of his work all along the way; a search for “Jed Davis” on my website reveals just how many times I’ve written about him over the years, and he remains one of my most favorite creative types, doing just absolutely brilliant work, year after year after year. I’ve already featured him twice here over the past twelve months, applauding the series of career-spanning digital EPs he has recently released, and placing the compilation version of those same EPs in the Top Ten of my Best Albums of 2021 report.
Why I Love Him: On a top line basis, this is an easy one to answer: because Jed Davis is an objectively and absolutely genius creator, as a songwriter, as a singer, as a player, and as a visual artist. When you encounter someone with the degrees of talent which Jed possesses, you’d be a fool not to love the resultant work emerging from that talent’s wellsprings, and a knave not to try to share its brilliance with others. When I focus on Jed’s musical efforts (given the point and intent of this series) and think about what moves me most, the things that pop to mind are that he’s got an incredible gift for crafting resonant songs and melodies, that he’s got the technical chops to do justice to his vision with his own playing, and that he understands the value of collaboration deeply enough to surround himself with the absolute best talent available to him to bring his songs to life. As a lyricist, Jed is a keen and astute observer of the world around him and of his own human condition, and he’s also funny as hell when he wants to be. Some of his very best songs find that rare and perfect sweet spot where the bitter and the sweet cross paths, leaving us listeners to make strange faces and feel confusing emotions that may be happy, or may be sad, or may be something inexplicable and special between those points, all of our buttons pushed, just so, by the genius of his songs and story-telling. At bottom line, I love Jed Davis as a writer, as an artist, as a singer, as a player, and as a dear friend. My life is richer for knowing him and his works, and I am thankful and grateful for that, always.
#10. “The Bowery Electric,” from I Am Jed Davis (2009), credited to Jed Davis
#9. “Happy Black Steamroller,” from Song Foundry 3-Pack #004 EP (2021), credited to Jed Davis
#8. “Big Hot Monday,” from The Rebellion Is Here (2007), credited to The Hanslick Rebellion
#7. “Mock Cheer,” from WCYF (2003), credited to Collider
#6. “Yuppie Exodus From Dumbo,” from “Yuppie Exodus From Dumbo” single (2010), credited to Jed Davis
#5. “City Of My Dreams,” from Song Foundry 3-Pack #002 (2021), credited to Jed Davis
#4. “1991,” from WCYF (2003), credited to Collider
#3. “O Death,” from Song Foundry 3-Pack #004 EP (2021), credited to Jed Davis
#2. “Across A Thunderstorm,” from Song Foundry 3-Pack #002 (2021), credited to Jed Davis
#1. “Who’ll Apologize for This Disaster of a Life,” from “Who’ll Apologize for This Disaster of a Life” single (2017), credited to The Hanslick Rebellion