John Davidson Soon to Serenade Memphis
Since the mid 1960's, John Davidson has been beamed into our living rooms countless times. His multiple talents and broad mainstream appeal have made him sort of the Swiss Army knife of entertainment. He's an actor, singer, recording artist, game show host, talk show host, and emcee. He has also appeared in a multitude of films, and the scope of his stage career stretches from Broadway to Branson, to major Vegas venues, and beyond. Thanks to his acclaimed work in touring shows, he has a star on the Memphis Orpheum walk of fame. In addition to performing, he has written songs, co-written a play, and collaborated in the development of a board game. Ten years ago, he decided to take on a new challenge, and became a successful touring troubadour.
John Davidson's body of work confirms that he's talented. A conversation with him confirms that he's also candid, kind, and wicked smart. . .
. . . I phone the New Hampshire home he shares with Rhonda, his wife of 35 years. He answers in that unmistakable, resonant voice. Our connection is poor, and he explains that he's in the rehearsal studio in his basement. "Hang on," he says in an easygoing tone. "Just a minute." I hear him clomping up the stairs. His casual warmth makes me feel as if I'm chatting with an old friend.
I ask what my call interrupted, and though Davidson has been entertaining for decades, and will turn 77 next month, he responds with boyish enthusiasm. "My studio is set up to practice my touring act," he says. "That includes my 12-string, my 6-string, my banjo and then I play a kick drum with my right foot, and I play a tambourine with my left foot . . . and then there's the harmonizer!"
As he goes on to explain how and why he became a one-man band, his dazzling, larger-than-life smile seems to radiate through phone. "I just . . . found a way," he says. "At this point in my career, I only want to perform. When I work alone, I feel free to interpret a song, tell a story, revisit material, interpret new songs, change keys, or add bars. I have a headset mic that is remote, so I can be all over the stage and all over audience. I can play small venues of 350-400 people, and I like the intimacy. I love to move people to laughter, tears of inspiration. I love performing more than ever. That's the thrill for me!"
No need to ask why this man who could have retired years ago chooses to continue to work.
After a moment's reflection, he adds, "it's been an adjustment ever since I went off of television and became less visible. I had to figure out who am I, and how I would I live my life. But being famous was just a little blip. I never felt that I was in mainstream - that I was really big. I never won an Oscar or a Tony or an Emmy or a Grammy. I don't have a signature song. I'm a journeyman entertainer. I can do drama, I can do musicals, but I've never been 'Hot,' I've just been 'Warm.' Now I'm doing what I love, which is storytelling."
In addition to the music, Davidson uses this one-man show as an opportunity to explore common bonds with his audience. "My audience is mature," he says. "I talk about issues older people are facing,-- for instance, how to keep the romance going in a 35-year marriage."
Introspection comes as naturally to Davidson as music. Raised by Baptist Minister parents, and enrolling in college to study Philosophy, he has always been an avid reader and contemplative thinker. "I've wrestled with religion since college," he says. "I like having drawn a line in the sand and saying, 'Okay, I'm secular.' Making that statement openly helps me keep me head on straight."
"I'm very much a progressive," he adds. "I never was the conservative as people saw me as. Life is a journey and a quest of self-discovery. A lot of the more I know, the less I know, for sure. My journey has led to my questioning everything."
As part of his journey, Davidson wrote and performed in a play, "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost," that was inspired by his relationship with his father.
He admits that in the early days, his conservative upbringing and clean-cut, all-American good looks helped galvanize his career. "I was aware of that perception of me," he says. "I took advantage of it used it. But at the same time, I have always been trying to grow."
As the father or three adult children, now 49, 46, and 32, Davidson amiably points out that learning and growing has had its challenges. "I have one Christian fundamentalist Trump Supporter daughter living in Florida," he says. "My other daughter is a liberal progressive."
One of the stories he loves to tell is his recollection of the Thanksgiving family get-together after Trump was elected. "My show deals with a lot of issues that we're facing."
In addition to his children, Davidson has six grandchildren. "I try to be a good grandpa," he says. "But I'm not around to go fishing with the grand kids because I'm doing shows, traveling, and working."
As we conclude our conversation, he remarks, "These are the Golden Years. The home stretch. I see the finish line. I've chosen to wear out as opposed to rust out. At Theodore Roosevelt once said, 'Life is a gallop!"
When asked about his favorite role, he answers without hesitation. "I haven't done my best show yet. My favorite thing is that I can play the role of John Davidson . . . whatever that is!"
There's a lesson in that for all of us . . .
John Davidson will play at:
The Bartlett Performing Arts and Conference Center
3663 Appling Rd, Memphis, TN 38133
November 30, 2018 | Friday | 7:30 PM
All Tickets are $40.00
3663 Appling Rd, Memphis, TN 38133