The real Heaven Davis

Singer taps blues, beach, Benatar to reach audiences

Heaven Davis’ most definitive characteristic is that no single characteristic best defines her. She is primarily a blues vocalist, with the work of Koko Taylor and Etta James providing credible reference points to her music. But as her Sept. 29 performance at Darwin’s likely will attest, Davis will sing just about anything, from classic rock to funk to beach to country music. “I’ll break out into some Rolling Stones, old Pat Benatar, Parliament/Funkadelic and some Chaka Khan,” she says. “But then I may just turn around and do me a nice country song, because I love country too. So don’t be surprised to hear a Wynonna Judd song in there.”

In addition to performing (and a day gig at a bank), Davis is involved in the Atlanta Blues Society. Among other things, she has interviewed national (B.B. King, Buddy Guy) and regional (Neal Pattman, Beverly Watkins) blues artists, often for the ABS newsletter. In addition, she’s got her heart set on a television program that would highlight the blues and its performers. Davis’ interests are so diverse that her daughter once wrote an article about her titled, “Will the real Heaven Davis please stand up?”

Ironically, Davis’ passion for blues is an acquired taste that only began to emerge in the early ’90s.

“I started out doing gospel,” Davis says. “I got thrown out of church ‘cause they said my voice was uncontrollable. Then I started doing R&B, fell in love with rock, went from rock to funk, before a friend suggested blues about eight years ago.”

Davis was, in a word, skeptical. “I said, ‘Oh, please.’ I didn’t know anything about blues. I don’t want to sing any sad music.”

Before long, though, she stumbled across Fat Matt’s Rib Shack, had “an awakening,” and soon was performing there Sundays with a band called Blue Heaven.

“The best thing about blues music is that I can always make that contact with the audience,” Davis says. “I don’t remember ever singing a blues song that didn’t touch someone in some kind of way. This blues music is so different from any other type of music.”

Davis has performed at venues all around Atlanta, including the Northside Tavern, Fuzzy’s, Chip’s in Winder and Popper’s in Marietta. She’s also developed a niche on the Carolina beach music circuit. The singer has cuts on two compilation CDs issued by Judy’s House of Oldies ( in North Myrtle Beach, S.C. The first of these, a Ray Charles-styled cover of “You Are My Sunshine” from the All Aboard the Beach and Boogie Train compilation, was a Top 10 hit on regional beach music charts, she says.

Subsequently, Davis recorded a live album last year, Heaven Davis Live at the Coconut Cafe, a selection of cover tunes from shows at a South Carolina beach music club. Gene Kreeft, president of the Atlanta Blues Society, recorded and produced the CD.

Davis is currently working on a new CD, Ain’t That Miss Mattie’s Grandchild?, the title a tribute to her grandmother. Unlike her live recording, this studio effort will feature the work of many local songwriters, including Bill Sheffield, Donnie McCormick, E.G. Kight and others.

As for this weekend’s appearance at Darwin’s, Davis says the crowd can expect an interactive show, in the old-fashioned sense.

“The best thing that happened to me was the wireless mic,” she says. “I can come down off that stage and get a chance to be with people and touch them and sing to them, so they can just expect to have a good time, because that’s what I want them to do.”

Heaven Davis and the Aggravatin’ Papas perform Sat., Sept. 29, at Darwin’s, 1598 Roswell Road, Marietta. Show time is 9:30 p.m. $7. 770-578-6872.

This column is a weekly feature covering music outside the Perimeter. E-mail or mail “outside” music news to Bryan Powell, 830 Josh Lane, Lawrenceville, GA 30045.??