Brad Davis

By Hamburger, David | Acoustic Guitar, October 2005 | Go to article overview

Brad Davis


Hamburger, David, Acoustic Guitar


The country and bluegrass supersideman explains the unique "double-down-up" style of flatpicking that allows him to play at banjo speed with ease.

Brad Davis began playing bluegrass guitar while growing up in Fort Worth, Texas, surrounded by a banjo-picking brother and a crew of like-minded school buddies who were fired up by the playing of every flatpicker from Lester Flatt to Tony Rice and Pat Flynn. In 1992, he landed a gig as Marry Stuart's lead guitarist, a position he held on and off for more than ten years. Davis currently tours with Sam Bush, Earl Scruggs, and John Jorgenson and in support of his own recent solo CD, This World Ain't No Child (FGM, www.fgmrecords.com), which features a handful of the hottest contemporary acoustic musicians around, including Bush, Béla Fleck, John Cowan, and Rob Ickes.

Davis has become known for a signature technique that he calls "double-downup" picking (two downstrokes followed by an upstroke). Basically the second downstroke is on the next highest string to the one you started on, which is where your pick naturally ends up. You follow that with an upstroke that puts your pick back close to the lower string again. While it's a little tricky to get the hang of at first, once you catch the feel of it, your hand should experience the same sense of cyclical momentum as it would playing a Travis-picking pattern or a lothnote funk scratch rhythm. Combined with Davis' imaginative view of the fretboard, it I makes for some startling sounds knocked out with breathtaking speed, accuracy, and punch.

How did you come up with the double-down-up approach?

DAVIS I was listening to Eddie Van Halen play "Spanish Fly." I hadn't seen the video, I'd just heard the record, so I didn't know about the two-handed tapping. It was "ba-da-da, bada-da, ba-da-da, ba-da-da." I thought he was using a flatpick. That's how I stumbled on it, by accident, using two downstrokes and one up. You can practice just the right hand like this [Example I].

What kinds of licks did you work out at first, once you found the technique?

DAVIS My brother played banjo, really fast, and it used to hack me off that I couldn't keep up with him. Then I found this technique, but I only had one lick. I drove every- . body crazy because I played the same lick over and over and over again. The second downstroke is the emphasized one: "m-BAda, m-BA-da, m-BA" and it syncopates over the measures automatically. You can hear it in that very first lick of mine [Example 2], which I came up with because I really liked James Bond.

Does it work in other keys?

DAVIS I started to branch out when everybody got mad at me for playing that G lick over and over. The same lick works in D, too [Example 3].

The tail end of that lick wasn't strictly down-down-up.

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