A Band to Book
Story Adam Minichino | Photographs Jamie Davis & Soul Gravy
Jamie Davis and Soul Gravy call their sound “funktry,” a smooth-tasting fusion of country, rock ‘n’ roll, soul, blues, funk, and rhythm and blues.
That easy sound, and upbeat live shows, have made the group a fixture on the local club scene.
“This has always been so much fun to me I never thought of it as a job until I started making a living at it,” Davis said.
“Once I started playing the guitar and writing, I didn’t think about much else. I thought about women and my guitar and playing.”
That focus comes alive in the music of Soul Gravy, a five-man band with ties to the Golden Triangle, Tupelo, and Nashville, Tenn. The lineup is led by Davis, 27, a singer/songwriter/guitarist, and features guitarists Dan Isbell and Jerry Carnathan, bassist Lee Graham, and drummer John Staggers.
The band has released two albums, “Mississippi Moonshine” and “The Blue Album,” which came out in 2010. Davis hopes to release the band’s third album this year. His goal is to continue to earn a living playing and writing music and, in the process, be the gravy that touches peoples’ hearts and makes them smile and groove.
“I have surrounded myself with a bunch of guys that are the way I want to sound when we are playing live, and it is gravy for my soul,” Davis said. “The music we play and what I do is what tickles me. You take that and pour it all over me in a room somewhere and I come alive. It fills me up.”
If one song best captures Jamie Davis and Soul Gravy it might be “Mississippi Moonshine.” Isbell wanted to write a song with moonshine in the title, but he didn’t want it to be about alcohol. The idea ruminated in Davis’ head for a week before he rolled over in bed one morning and wrote the chorus: “Mississippi Moonshine down on me / Light the way to love so my heart can see / Let the night burn slow / Take your time now / Now I don’t care just Mississippi Moonshine.”
“We sat back, had a beer and I was like, ‘I think we just wrote our first hit,’ or what we thought was our first hit,” Davis said.
It took three or four months before Davis and Isbell finished the song, but the smooth sound and the story it tells are elements that can be found in many of the band’s tunes.
Isbell said the appeal of the song is based on its simplicity, which epitomizes the men in the band.
“We are simple men,” Isbell said. “It also has a sense of smoothness, not in a sleazy way, but in a rhythmic way, or a flow to life. I think that song exudes that well just as the rest of our music. It doesn’t overcomplicate what love is.
“That’s what Mississippi is — a slow, steady beat with strong lyrics. Hopefully, that’s who we are as people.”
The ability of Davis and Isbell to turn a phrase that the band can make sound equal parts funky or country, depending on the groove, is part of Soul Gravy’s strength.
“The first album was more of a mid-tempo thing,” Davis said. “It is kind of a laid-back groove and just a college rock thing. It is real eclectic. There is an R&B song, a funk rock song, a country song, a pop song. It is everywhere.
“I knew it was OK and I enjoyed it and I liked it, and people liked it. But in my head I wasn’t satisfied with it. I am really proud of the second one. I think my writing, Dan’s writing, and Jerry’s writing is growing. I think our lyrics are a lot stronger. I think my musical knowledge has progressed. I think the structure of the songs are stronger. It is just a big, rockin’ record compared to the other one.”
Davis and Isbell have every reason to believe their friendship will remain strong, a bond that has made their music even funkier.
They hope it also will give them a chance to take their Soul Gravy to a national audience. “I have been thinking it is going to pop for me since I wrote my first song,” Davis said.