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Country singer Ward Davis just wants to write ‘great songs,’ doesn’t care about the mainstream

Provided by Ward Davis

Photo credit: Provided by Ward Davis

Provided by Ward Davis
Written by: Communicator StaffMarch 22, 2017

Written by: Zachary D. Elick

Arkansas-born singer/songwriter Ward Davis doesn’t think much of modern mainstream country music.

“Every now and then, when (I’m) hitting seek on (my) radio, it’ll land on a country station,” he said over the phone from his home near Nashville. “And, I can kind of tell that it’s a country station, and I can also tell that I don’t want to hear it anymore — so I change it.”

Davis, who moved to Nashville in 2000 to become a hit songwriter, said he longs for the era of country music he appreciated while growing up. Born in 1979, he used to listen to country music legends such as Don Williams, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard.

“Those guys, even the ones that weren’t great songwriters, they all had the good sense of mind to cut great songs,” he said. “Nashville was this great community of songwriters and that’s what I cut my teeth on. I just wanted to write great songs …  in the tradition of old country songwriting.”

Davis’ songwriting can be heard at 7 p.m. March 24 at the Rusty Spur, 10350 Leo Road, during his opening set for the country band Whitney Morgan and the 78’s.

Based in Flint, Mich., Whitney Morgan and the 78’s have released three studio albums, “Honky Tonks and Cheap Hotels” (2008), “Whitney Morgan and the 78’s” (2010) and “Sonic Ranch” (2015). In 2010, they performed on NPR’s radio program Mountain Stage.

All attendees to the concert must be 21 and over and have a valid ID.

After years writing for artists such as Nelson, Haggard, Trace Adkins and Sammy Kershaw, Davis said he decided a year and a half ago to start recording his own material. Soon after came his independently released debut solo album, “15 Years in a 10 Year Town” (2015).

“I put (my first album) out on my own. …. It was just me,” he said. “So it didn’t get a lot of publicity. It didn’t get a lot of promotion behind it. I just kind of put it out.”

Yet, in the past few months “15 Years” has finally started to gain some momentum. Davis’ social media following has been increasing as well. Davis attributes his recent popularity to him “busting his ass” on tour the past year and to him getting in touch with some “smart, good business-minded people,” he said.

Supported by his backing band, Davis said his set on March 24 will be made up of 70 percent tracks from his debut album and 30 percent newer, unreleased songs.

Davis recorded an as-of-yet untitled EP last November with legendary country music producer Buddy Cannon as a follow-up to “15 Years” But, he said it hasn’t been released yet because he doesn’t want to oversaturate the market.

“I’d kind of hate to shoot this horse for a new one when this one’s still doing the job,” Davis said.

The E.P. Davis recorded with Cannon — who just won his first Grammy in February for an album of George Gershwin covers he made with Nelson — is planned to come out this summer. Yet, Davis said he is considering recording another completely new EP in the meantime and releasing both at the same time.

Defying expectations is important to Davis, he said, especially when it comes to songwriting.

“My thought process is contrary,” he said. “If the sky is grey or the sky is blue, I’m gonna figure out another way to write it. Like, I’m gonna un-blue the sky.”

The fear of doing the unexpected is one of Davis’ least favorite aspects of mainstream country music, which isn’t based in reality. Instead, many acts on the radio want to push an immature fantasy “of what life would be if we could all just relive the glory days over and over … everyday for the rest of our lives,” he said.

Davis brought up a track on his first album, “The Overpass,” about an alcoholic homeless guy who is addicted to pills, as an example of a topic no mainstream country musician would touch. Yet, he said another song he wrote on the album, “Skeptic’s Prayer,” where he appears to question his faith in Jesus Christ, is even more controversial.

“That song scared the shit out of me when I wrote it. And it’s an honest song. It came right out of me, right out of my heart one night,” Davis said. “I grew up in a small town, and I don’t know a lot of people in my town that would even admit to (ever having) had the thought (that) maybe there’s not a God. But, I’m pretty sure everyone has at one point or another.”