Robin Davis doesn’t listen to a lot of bluegrass.
Despite the fact that he currently plays guitar in old-time outfit Six Dollar String Band, was a member of local bluegrass bands Waiting on Trial and the award-winning Broke Mountain Bluegrass Band, it’s a genre he doesn’t regularly dig into as a listener. On paper he’s considered a bluegrass musician, a ripper of a guitar player influenced by Clarence White and Tony Rice; his solo and duo work is more aggressive than what the modern bluegrass machine cranks out, while his pleasure-listening leans toward sounds that are plugged in and aggressive.
The Robin Davis duo, which features Davis on guitar and wife Jimi Giles on bass, will perform Wednesday in the Rochester Hotels Secret Garden as part of the Community Foundation for Southwest Colorado’s summer concert series, which benefits local nonprofits.
“I’m just a guitar player,” Davis said. “I don’t listen to bluegrass at all; I still like it, I still appreciate it, but I don’t ever listen to it. I don’t know, I play the best sounding stuff I can on acoustic guitar.”
The guy could play guitar in anybody’s band. Or mandolin. Or fiddle. He’s one of these musicians who can figure out how to play something with strings, a self-taught musician who grew up watching his dad play in bands around Pagosa Springs. The older Davis didn’t necessarily push Robin into the world of music, but Davis recalls that him becoming a musician was bound to happen.
“It probably would have happened anyway because I love guitars,” Davis said. “I love looking at them, I love playing them, I just love them. I tried lessons like once or twice and realized this doesn’t really work for me. I have to kind of figure it out myself; it’s easier for me that way.”
Davis is an inventive player who currently may have more in common with prog-fusion-metal guitar player Buckethead than anyone in the acoustic music world. Buckethead is an enigma in the music world, a masked guitar player whose ambiguous stage presence lacks audience interaction yet is loaded with technical proficiency. Davis was on tour with his former band The Wayword Sons and was taken to see Buckethead in Aspen, perhaps a pivotal moment in Davis’ guitar-playing career.
“I was floating on a cloud for like two days after that show; I had never seen anybody play like that,” Davis said. “His whole act, he never says a word, you don’t even know what he looks like under the mask and you don’t need to, it’s all part of the show you get sucked into.”
Davis’ playing is void of fluff; every note is unique and played with a sense of urgency. His music with his duo bucks the conventions of your typical folk duet, as all the songs pack a dark vocal and instrumental punch.
“I tune my guitar different than most people so I can leave drone notes playing and it helps me fill up space,” Davis said. “Being that I play solo and duo a lot, I need to fill up space so I have a lot of those notes ringing. It’s not something a bluegrass player would usually do.”
The duo is set to get back into the studio to record the followup to their 2015 self-titled release, a necessary and traditional aspect within Davis’ not-so-traditional approach to music. It’s something he sees as necessary to let people know he’s still “alive and kicking.”
“It’s cool to be a part of a record because that’s going to stand up over time better than some live recording on somebody’s cellphone,” he said. “I think it’s a neat process.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.