I met up with Snake after
his gig at the
Skegness Rock & Blues Festival,
What were your first musical memories growing up in South Wales?
Snake: My first strong musical memories are how much I loved to sing,
not how good I was or how much I earned two and six from a church choir
wedding, but just how much I enjoyed it and how music gave me that
special feeling that nothing else did.
Alan: Did you always want to become a musician?
Snake: No. Up to my late teens it was a hobby. I loved it, I played
with a guitar and I sang, played a bit of piano, learnt James Taylor and
Joni Mitchell songs, played in folk clubs and then went off to
university to do an arts degree. I didnít discover the saxophone until
I was 19 but then within 3 months of having the golden beastie my life
changed and I knew that was what I wanted to do. It was a
life-changing, career-changing moment.
Alan: What kind of material were you playing in the early days?
Snake: I went to university in Liverpool in the punk era. I was in a
punk band playing down at Erics, the Old Cavern, supporting bands like
Deaf School and I had a band with Ian Broudie who is now in the
Lightening Seeds, called the Old Boogie Brothers. Then the sax came and
it came fast and I joined a funk and soul band called Frontline; so I
was in Liverpool doing clubs, pubs, the punk band, then the funk band.
I grew up dancing to Tamla Motown, Stax and Atlantic so it was soul and
then I discovered Junior Walker Band and King Curtis and the rest is
Alan: How do you view the blues as a music genre?
Snake: Just about everybody who plays an instrument seriously of our
generation grew up playing the blues. I started the flute before the
sax and there was only one blues flute player, Herbie Mann, so I used to
listen to him playing Memphis Underground. A 12 bar blues is the first
thing you learn on a guitar too, listening to Sonny Terry and Brownie
McGhee. Itís a universal language in a way Ė Iíve just been on tour in
Japan and I didnít share the language but I still sat down and played a
blues with them. It transcends and informs and is lurking behind
everything you play. Even if you play the Irish Whistle, itís still
Alan: Who has influenced you the most in your music?
Snake: Probably King Curtis. He was a great Texan tenor player and
Aretha Franklinís musical director. I had so many great albums of his,
Alan: What is your favourite saxophone?
Snake: Itís still the tenor, but only just. When I started, it was
definitely the tenor because that was the sound Ė Junior Walker,
King Curtis, Tom Scott, but as Iíve matured over the decades Iíve added
the other saxes and grown to love them as well. Iíve also added the tin
whistle, the Irish whistle and the
a Japanese bamboo flute which I play a lot. But itís still the tenor
and if I had to keep just one, itíd be the tenor sax because thatís the
soul blues horn.
about this Japanese flute Ė itís so unusual.
Yes, it is
unusual. Itís as old as the hills and is just a stick of bamboo with 5
holes in. At first it was a meditation tool rather than a musical
instrument. The Zen monks played the Shakuhachi in their search for
enlightenment and then it crossed over into Japanese folk and classical
music and Iíve brought it in and used it in a sort of ambient, floaty
way with the Japanese influence and some Snakey soul influence. Thatís
my greatest challenge over the last 10 years.
Are there particular songs that have special meaning to you?
Snake: Yes, there are many but the one that sticks out at the moment is
because the CD that Iím going to give you ĎSnake Davis Band Ė Liveí
was recorded on the day my father died, about a year ago. He died that
morning and we had a sold-out show that evening that we were going to
record and the show went on. It was about the time we were about to
start playing Lennonís Imagine and I always remember playing it
that day. We played it at the sound check so it was the first thing I
played after my dad died and that will always bring back that memory for
Alan: I know youíve been asked lots of times but for the record,
how did you come to have the name Snake?
Snake: I went to Leeds College of Music after Liverpool University and
I was out doing a show one night in one of the bars and the girl who was
with my best mate (who still plays bass with me) said, ďYou know, you
look just like a snake. The way you sort of weave, the way your body
moves, and they way you slither around a melody and never play it
straight but always in a bendy fashion. Itíd be a great stage name.Ē
And I thought about it and decided, ďYeah, Iíll have itĒ.
Alan: Youíve played with an amazing range of artists and bands.
You must have some fond memories of them Ė are there any youíd like to
Snake: It has been amazing. I re-met somebody today who was on the
Eurythmics tour and that was a big-deal world tour when Dave and Annie
were back together after a 10 year break from each other on their Peace
Tour. My long term relationship with Heather Smalls has been really
special. Lisa Stansfield was the first big artist that I worked with
and we still have a friendship and occasional musical meeting. Those
are the ones who stick out and then there are the ones that you meet and
get to work with for just a day or half a day like James Brown, Paul
McCartney, Smokey Robinson, Ray Charles.
Alan: I know youíve been on TV many times but which did you
Snake: One of the early TV performances was a totally solo rendition of
a bluesy, jazzy number called Willow Weep for Me which was on The
Tube with Jools Holland and Paula Yates. I was wheeled in to celebrate
the anniversary of the saxophone and that was very exciting, and
thrilling and scary. I just stood on an orange box in the middle of a
live audience and played to nationwide TV. But I got spotted on that
and called down to London to do some big sessions, so it was a milestone
What have you been up to lately?
Snake: Right up to Christmas I did a long tour of Japan with an artist
called Ekichi Yazawa and he was the first Japanese guy to put on a pair
of leather trousers and sing rock and roll in Japanese. He was like a
cross between Elvis, the Beatles, Cliff Richard and Mick Jagger Ė
completely bizarre. That was an exciting tour and we were playing
venues like Tokyo Dome which seats 50,000 and finished with five nights
at the famous Budokan where the Beatles played. Iíve got two great
Shakuhachi teachers in Japan so that was great too. More recently Iíve
been out with this band doing 3 or 4 shows every weekend and itís been
absolutely brilliant getting back down to the dirty stuff.
Tell me a
bit more about the band.
had bands. The Snake Davis Band is the one thatís probably got the
longest history and the one I work with the most. Itís a four piece
band - always a Hammond/electric key boards, bass player and drummer and
itís the vehicle I use for playing the majority of the music I write.
We just get out and play as many shows as we can to as many people as we
can and itís always great.
the Suspicions? Do you still play with them?
are an 8 piece northern soul band. Because itís big and weíre all
spread out and some of them have day jobs, we never seek work for that
band but work comes to us and it was really born out of our love of soul
and northern soul. With that band weíve backed countless American
northern soul legends that have come over to the UK like Chuck Jackson,
Eddie Taylor, Barbara Lynn, Popcorn Wylie, Frank Wilson and millions of
others. Itís been going for 20 odd years, we all love it and it just
comes out of hiding every now and again.
Youíre always in great demand with the biggest names in music and yet
you still seem to enjoy touring the club scene?
I do enjoy
it, probably more than anything else. I like playing live better than
anything. The most exciting and meaningful thing I do in my musical
life is to play to audiences. Itís all very well playing Tokyo Dome to
50,000 people doing some Japanese guyís music but Iíd rather be playing
Skegness to 1,000 playing my own music or Durham Town Hall to 200.
on a new album which is going to be smooth and tender and gentle we
think. Weíre two tracks into that so thereís a lot of work coming up
for that CD and we hope to get it out later in 2010. And then, more of
the same with this band and an occasional outing with the Suspicions.
Thereís also a lovely line up we have called The Burden of Paradise with
a singer called Helen Watson, double bass and guitar, no drums. Thatís
a very beautiful line-up and we have work lined up with that.
Have you got
a title for the new album yet?
what was that word you used earlier? Sublime! Perhaps thatís what we
should call it.
performance was indeed sublime. Thank you so much for your time.
Album available from Snake's website:
Check out more photos of Snake at the
Skegness Rock & Blues Festival,
Blues Interviews List
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