Singer-songwriter Ward Davis, who grew up in the tiny working-class town of Monticello, AR, says he became hooked on music at about 7 after his dad bought a piano.
“I discovered Garth Brooks when I was about 10, and I started playing his songs on piano and started singing and playing county fairs around town,” says Davis via phone from his Nashville home. He performs at 5 and 8 p.m. on Thursday at the Beachland Ballroom
. “The kid in town that played guitar beat me one year at the county fair talent show, so I had to learn to play guitar. It’s always been music for me. It’s just something I’ve always done.”
After going to college where he says he was “just wasting everybody’s time,” Davis "hobbled" up to Nashville to try to make it as a singer-songwriter.
Nashville has its cliques, and Davis, who comes off more as an outlaw, didn't immediately fit in. But he eventually formed the Beagles, a ragtag band that had moderate success, and he began writing songs that would eventually be recorded by the likes of Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and Trace Adkins.
“It was just me and a couple of buddies,” he says of the Beagles. “We’d get together and drink a bunch of beer and smoke a bunch of pot and write a bunch of songs. And then, we’d drink a bunch of beer and smoke a bunch of pot and record them. Then, one of the members got sober, and our producer died, and we kind of stopped doing it. It was fun for a bit.”
Davis then turned his attention to his solo career and recorded his 2015 debut, 15 Years in a 10 Year Town
, on what he describes as “a shoestring budget.”
“I did [15 Years
] with the intention of having something on CD that I could sell when I did these shows,” he says. “I was planning on playing in the back of sports bars for the rest of my life. I never anticipated being a national touring act or putting records out that people would actually hear. I was just a one-man band at the time and did it pretty cheap and gave it my best go for what we had to work with. I don’t really consider it my first album. I wanted to stick my flag in the ground but not in such a way that it looked like that was what I was trying to do.”
After releasing that album, he got an opening spot for up-and-comer Cody Jinks. That led to a friendship; eventually, the two began writing songs together.
“I didn’t know who [Jinks] was at that point,” says Davis. “Once [management] booked the show, I dug into his music and loved it. I went down to Texas, and he was just blowing up. It blew my mind. I started picking his brain, and we became friends. He needed one more song for a record and flew me down to El Paso. We sat down and wrote ‘I’m Not the Devil.’ It was really easy. We still write a lot together, and it’s fun and laid back, and we never have to worry about accomplishing anything.”
A divorce fueled the songs on Davis’s next release, Asunder
“It wasn’t as hard to record as it was to write,” he says. “There’s only three songs on there that I wrote. Divorce is hard. That was just kind of therapeutic. When you go through something like that, you feel like you’re the only one has only done it and who understands. It helped me get it off my chest. You walk around feeling like a fraud when you open yourself up to people but have this one big hole inside yourself that you can’t see. Music to me helps me get it out. Once it came out, people came up to me and said they went through the exactly same thing, and that’s it not something to be ashamed. It’s something I grew from."
Davis recorded only one song for his latest effort, last year’s Black Cats and Crows
, before the pandemic hit and shut everything done. And yet, with the assistance of producer Jim “Moose” Brown, he was able to finish the album by recording remotely. It kicks off with the fierce rocker “Ain’t Gonna Be Today,” a tune Davis wrote years ago.
“It’s about 15 or 16 years old,” he says of the song. “I wrote with a guy named Kendell Marvel. We just got together one day and were writing and that idea fell out when we were going to get a cigarette. I told him, ‘Man, I thought you were going to quit smoking.’ He said, ‘I am, but it ain’t gonna be today.’ We went upstairs and wrote it and went to lunch. I demoed it, and we played around with the idea of putting it out several times over the years but never did. After a while, we went back to record, and I said, ‘I wanna give this one another shot.’ That’s what we came up with.”
Other highlights on the album include the moody Southern rock ballad “Sound of Chains” and the narrative-driven "Papa and Mama." Simply put, the album shows off Davis’s songwriting chops and his ability to channel a range of emotions.
For the upcoming Beachland shows, Davis will play acoustic. He says he's figured out arrangements for all the tracks on Black Cats and Crows
, which he recorded with a full band.
“For these acoustic shows, I don’t show up with a set list," he says. "I just show up and plug in and start playing. A lot of people want to hear different songs from the record, so I need to be ready to play any of them. I throw some covers in too. They’re generally a little obscure. I’ve got a great management team and when everything shut down, they kicked into gear to make sure I didn’t lose everything I worked for and they did it 1000 percent. We’ve been pretty busy, though January and February were pretty slow. It’s seated events and acoustic, and we don’t have a lot of guys traveling with me. It’s not been all that bad. I enjoy doing acoustic shows, which are more personal, and I enjoy them as much as travelling with the band.”
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