The first time Steve Davison heard Thom Ward play guitar affected the rest of his life.
“I had never seen anybody do what he was doing on solo acoustic guitar,” Davison recalls. “He was phenomenal.”
In a small coffee shop in Denton, Texas in the early ’70s, without any amplification or accompaniment, Ward was able to create the sound of a band with just his instrument. He somehow took classic folk-era tunes and included bass and percussion parts with chord changes and a melody on top of it.
At 18 years old, Davison, an Arkansas native who had played drums his entire life, decided he was going to be a guitarist. He learned alternate fingerpicking and picked up tips from Ward whenever he could, but after a year, the mysterious virtuoso disappeared and hasn’t been seen or heard from since, despite several attempts to locate him over the decades.
“When I say Thom disappeared, I mean he literally disappeared,” Davison says.
Davison bounced around, playing guitar in several bands before returning to the solo acoustic fingerstyle.
“That’s where my heart was,” he says.
Davison’s sophomore record, White River Suite, connects on a local level with “Santa Cruz,” a tranquil soundscape inspired by the city where his daughter lives. On Wednesday, Davison will be joined by fellow master guitarists Larry Pattis and Peter Janson at the Haute Enchilada Social Club in Moss Landing for their American Guitar Masters Tour
The three guitarists each have very distinctive playing styles: While Davison favors the fan-fret 12-string and experiments with alternate tunings and tonality, Pattis’ extensive catalog of originals are melody-driven and heavy on harmonics and spit-fire arpeggios. Janson, meanwhile, is a technical savant known for contemporary arrangements of traditional compositions from all over the world.
The various guitar styles will be showcased through a few duets, but mostly solo performances will carry the show, in something Davison refers to as “playing in the round.” The trio sits “elbow to elbow,” going around the circle, moving from performer to performer. “It keeps the program really varied,” Davison says.
Stories about song origin and song meaning pop up throughout the performance. They avoide a set schedule, which makes each night a surprise.
“Part of the beauty of a live show is that each evening is a unique experience,” Pattis says. For this show, it’ll be unique times three.
AMERICAN GUITAR MASTER SERIES 7:30pm Wednesday, Jan. 14. The Haute Enchilada Social Club, 7902 Moss Landing Road, Moss Landing. $15. 633-5843.