By Davis Coen
After photographing numerous well-known musicians, local Oxford photographer Tom Davis’ memorabilia collection has grown over the years with photographs and guitars signed by musicians like B.B. King, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and The Allman Brothers Band.
Born in 1954, Davis grew up in Oxford where his love of photography and music began after he and a friend created a dark room in a small utility closet in his home. Davis began experimenting with the darkroom equipment and taking photos of high school events.
After graduating high school early, Davis attended Ole Miss where he volunteered for the Daily Mississippian and went on to become the chief photographer in 1975. With a passion for music, Davis loved attending concerts and photographing musicians from the audience. “I would take my camera and experiment with concert work,” Davis said. “Just a fan in the crowd stuff.” At this time, colored film was not as advanced as far as the film being exposed to lower lighting conditions like in a concert venue or theater.
Davis began creating what he called “underexposed and overdeveloped images” which helped create his rare colored photographs. “If you look at really early live music shots at this time, they are primarily black and white,” said Davis, “but I have Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Alice Cooper all in color.”
Davis began reaching out to the musicians that he photographed to get the photos signed. To Davis’ surprise, the musicians would say “These are great. Do you want to shoot some more shows for us?”.
Over the years, Davis was frequently told that he could make a lot of money with the photographs that he was taking, but money is not what interested him. “I would say ‘well, I was paid but I didn’t make any money. Do you want $100 just to shoot the first three songs,”said Davis, “’or do you want all-access credentials, have dinner with the band, tell stories, hang out, and not be paid? Let me think on that a minute,’” Davis said laughing.
Throughout the years, Davis developed a very close friendship with B.B. King and he now owns one of his guitars signed by King himself.
“It was great to sit with B.B. and him tell stories of the old days and talk to him,” Davis said. “The way these folks tell stories, whether it be David Crosby, Graham Nash or Stephen Stills, a lot of the history of rock & roll is there.”
After B.B. King passed away, Davis was on the board of the Blues Foundation in Memphis for several years and his passion for music and photography continues to grow. “I don’t hunt, I don’t fish, I don’t play golf,” said Davis. “I grab my camera and go somewhere.”