Flat-Picking Kansas Whiz Kid Tells The Story Of His Song 'Maybelline'

Feb 26, 2016

Story of a Song is a monthly segment on KCUR's Central Standard, in which local musicians tell the story behind a recent song, and explain how it was constructed musically.

Julian Davis calls himself an "old soul." He's attracted bluegrass and other songs from the 1930s and 40s.

The Musician: Julian Davis

The Song: “Maybelline”

The Album: Who Walks In, When I Walk Out?, Little Class Records

His Background: 16-year-old Julian Davis says he doesn’t come from a musical family. He picked up a guitar that was a prop in his mom's photography shop in Pittsburg, Kansas, and taught himself to play with just a couple of formal lessons and a lot of YouTube. Twice he’s won Kansas’ youth flat-picking competition, and now, adult musicians throughout the region are drawn to his fancy finger-work and a voice beyond his years.

The Story: At 14, Davis thought he’d try his hand at songwriting. For “Maybelline,” the second song he wrote, he was inspired by a 100-year-old May Bell banjo he found in an antique shop near his home. He invented a more intimate story for the instrument and a musical heritage for himself: that the banjo had belonged to his father and grandfather.

Excerpt:

This was my daddy’s banjo
that he used to play for me
back a long time ago
when I was just 14.

It got locked up in an attic
after Daddy passed away,
now it’s in your hands
where it’s gonna stay.

Hey! What would be the odds?
I’d be spinning those ivory knobs.
She was built long ago back in 1913
and her name – oh her name – her name was Maybelline!

The Song:

Sylvia Maria Gross is a reporter and editor at KCUR, and senior producer of the show Central Standard. You can reach her at sylvia@kcur.org and @pubradiosly.