Joshua Davis: guitarist, singer, and now teacher

By Ross Boissoneau

Joshua Davis is:

A) A popular singer/sonwriter
B) An instructor at Interlochen Arts Academy
C) A finalist on season 8 of the NBC show The Voice
D) All the above

The answer, of course, is D. Familiar to audiences around the state and the Midwest from both his time fronting the band Steppin’ In It and as a solo act, Davis continues to showcase his rootsy music, blending Americana, blues, rock and more, for audiences across the region, as well as helping encourage the next generation.

Davis grew up as a music fan well before taking up a guitar. “Growing up … my folks took me to music festivals,” he said. That meant taking in blues, rock, bluegrass and other music forms, whether in the Detroit area with his mom (Hart Plaza was a must) or the Hiawatha Music Festival in the Upper Peninsula with his dad.

“That made me want to start playing,” Davis said. “I got a guitar when I was 12 or 13.

Joshua Davis

Joshua Davis

He continued to take in the musical world around him. “In high school I was listening to punk rock and grunge and hip hop like everybody else,” he admitted. While listening to the likes of Black Flag, Nirvana and Fugazi he also was taking in the folk scene. He saw the similarities. “Rock and roll wouldn’t be hre if it weren’t for Woody Guthrie and the blues, like Muddy Waters.”

He saw Joel Mabus at a festival and bought a CD. “I learned all the clawhammer songs,” Davis said. He soon tried his hand at songwriting and began singing as well, which led to stages across the region, first with the Americana/rock band Steppin’ In It, then as a solo artist. “I always had a love of performing,” Davis said.

Two events took place in the last few years that changed the game for him. First was when he was invited to audition for the popular NBC music show The Voice. He eventually did so, even though the approach was not in his wheelhouse. “Looking at music in a competitive way is totally against the way I was raised,” he says in his profile on the GHS website (more on the GHS connection below). “Collaboration is what it’s about. Music brings people together.” Despite disavowing that competitive approach, Davis made it all the way to the finals on season 8 in 2015, eventually coming in third.

The TV exposure on upped the ante, garnering him fans across the country. He said it also made him focus more on his singing, which also influenced his songwriting. He continued to write, record and perform, just with a larger audience than previously. Then came the second event that changed his life (and everyone else’s): the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s when he, like so many others, turned to livestreaming, which he continues today.

But it also garnered him another opportunity which he’s taken full advantage of, teaching songwriting at Interlochen Arts Academy. “I talk to kids about music all day long. It’s ridiculously rewarding,” he said. He said it also helps keep him up-to-date musically.

And yes, he’s still performing, though he’s not doing as much as he did when he was younger. “Now I do three or four a month. They all feel special. It doesn’t feel like work,” Davis said.

It also allows him to spend more time with his family. “Being a touring musician … took a toll. I manage my own business, which is something you should never do,” he said with a laugh. “With four kids it’s important to be close to home. I don‘t have to be on the road so much.”

Davis has a couple guitars he says he really enjoys playing. One is a Gibson ES-125 from the 50s, which he says is his main instrument, especially when he plays solo. He also has a Waterloo acoustic made by Collings Guitars in Austin, and a Mule resophonic guitar made in Saginaw. He favors GHS Nickel Rockers and S325 Phosphor Bronze strings.

Ross Boissoneau

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