Vanessa Davis turns 60 with a celebratory gig at FitzGerald’s
By SELENA FRAGASSI For Sun-Times Media May 22, 2014 5:46PM
The Vanessa Davis Band | SUPPLIED PHOTO
When: 9 p.m., Saturday
Where: FitzGerald’s, 6615
Roosevelt Rd., Berwyn
Info: (708) 788-2118;
Updated: June 24, 2014 6:14AM
At 60, there are few things Vanessa Davis hasn’t checked off her bucket list. The veteran blues singer played the first ChicagoFest in 1978 and, after becoming a staple in the local club scene, founded her own annual VanessaFest a few years later. She’s sung the National Anthem for major sporting events and scored her own victories with accolades from the likes of Billboard Magazine, Illinois Entertainer and the Prairie Sun Music Awards. She once even played for Bill Cosby at the behest of his producers.
So it goes without saying that there is much to celebrate at Davis’ 60th birthday performance this week at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn, her home away from home. It’s the marquee spot where the six-piece Vanessa Davis Band (also featuring guitarist Dick Vonachen, keyboardist Scott Grube, saxophonist Doug Cannon, drummer Mark Duran and bassist Russell Reifstek) has cultivated a devout following for their jump blues, rock-fused R&B and soulful jazz style of originals and obscure covers since the Fitzgerald family first opened the doors to the revamped concert venue in the 1980s.
“I’m a little older now so I can’t jump on the bar and give away the beer,” Davis says, laughing. Although, playing at the venue still keeps her on her toes. “It’s the one place where I always see people I never thought I’d see at our shows,” she concedes, whether that’s blues legend Buddy Guy or classmates and teachers from her college days.
Columbia College in fact is where the story of her foundation in blues begins. As an aspiring musical theater major in the 1970s, Davis made a number of connections through the program, one of which was blues pianist Erwin Helfer who put in a good word about her to local group The Blues Twisters. “They taught me more about blues than I had ever been introduced to,” says the singer, a native Chicagoan who grew up on soul and Motown and the rock music that kids listened to at her all-white high school.
Eventually, through a series of lineup shifts, the band morphed into the eponymous act it is today, going strong after 37 years, even though being an independent, DIY machine has struggled to find them greater exposure.
“We’re not worried about being famous anymore,” Davis says, laughing it off.
While there is a devout, word-of-mouth following in Chicago, being in the home of the blues has also, at times, had them lost in the crowd. It’s something that Davis discovered after being invited to play in Amsterdam several years ago. At the time, The Vanessa Davis Band was on hiatus while the frontwoman was recovering from a long illness, and the opportunity gave her a chance to slowly get back into the groove. The band eventually joined her for the overseas gigs and they became so popular that the Dutch city has now become a regular tour stop.
The renewed interest within the international fan base is one of the reasons Davis is aiming to link up with Gigity TV to live stream her birthday bash, which will also be recorded for a first-ever live album to be released this year, one of only a handful of albums the group has released in nearly four decades.
“We do the whole recording process ourselves, so we take our time,” she admits.
Besides, they’ve been busy taking the stage, which is exactly where the powerhouse Davis belongs on her birthday and every day.