Better, stronger, faster

Local musician turns tragedy into a life devoted to music

Ryan Davidson, the bionic musicologist.

Ryan Davidson, the bionic musicologist.

PHOTO by ren nickson

CD-release party for Ryan Davidson, Tuesday, April 14, 9 p.m., at Duffy’s Tavern. Darius Koski and Rev. Shelby Cobra open.
Cover: $5
Duffy’s Tavern
337 Main St.

If there’s a unit by which Ryan Davidson’s dedication to music can be measured, it’s miles. The 34-year-old Chico singer-songwriter said he’s averaged about 30,000 miles annually for the last several years, usually alone in his pickup truck, accompanied only by his guitar and a harmonica. When he’s not traveling solo to play his own songs, he often tours supporting other players, and his musical adventures also have included extended stays in Southern California and across the Atlantic. In short, he’s awfully well-heeled, especially for a guy who almost lost a leg.

“My right leg is mostly artificial at this point,” Davidson said during a recent interview. “The joints and stuff are all metal—cobalt chromium and high-density polymer Kevlar, cadaver ligaments and shit like that. I’m a walking medical experiment at this point. There’s so much stuff they’re just like, ‘Well, we don’t really know what to do with you, so we just have this suitcase full of parts and we’re gonna put them in and Frankenstein you and just see what happens.’”

When he was 13 years old, Davidson was riding his bike in the orchards west of Chico when he was hit by a semi truck outside of a nut processing plant.

“He didn’t look in his mirror or signal, and he turned and cut me off,” Davidson recalled. “I went underneath him and he ran me over twice, and then caught my knees and dragged me for about 25 feet and stopped on top of me. I was conscious through the whole thing and he got out and looked under the truck. I was pinned under the truck yelling at him. He backed up and I kind of rolled over and looked at my legs and they were just filleted … I got to see all my bones and muscles and stuff that day.”

Davidson had four surgeries that first week “to clean stuff and to fix stuff,” and in the ensuing two decades has had a total of 15 surgeries, the last of which was four years ago. He’s had to relearn how to walk on several occasions, endured years of pain and hardship resulting from his accident, and may still lose a leg someday, but none of it has affected his affable nature. As he puts it, “The accident gave me music, so I can’t complain.”

In need of a new way to focus his hyperactive adolescent energy while bed-ridden and recovering, Davidson told his mom he wanted to learn to play guitar. As his health improved, his friend suggested he get a bass so they could start a band. Formed in 1998, the group was originally called Bean Fight, then Hit By a Semi, and in 2002 the punkabilly crew moved to Southern California. Davidson attended Long Beach State, earning a degree in anthropology with a minor in music. When the band eventually ended (“careers and kids, y’know?”), he decided to combine the two disciplines, and headed to Ireland and the University of Limerick to get a master’s degree in musicology. He returned to Chico in 2011 and started focusing on his solo work, and this week released his first solo album, A Wick Burning High.

Davidson’s style incorporates equal parts of his many musical loves, most notably punk, country and Irish music. Longtime friend Darius Koski, of Swingin’ Utters fame, also embraces similar styles, and the two decided to work on their solo albums together. They converged, along with some backing musicians and a full mobile recording studio, in a 150-year-old house on an 1,100-acre ranch bordering the Mendocino National Forest to record their respective albums over several days.

“We’d get up, go hiking, meet up for a big family breakfast, then get to work by noon and do 12- to 14-hour days,” he said. “Everyone agreed it was the best recording experience ever, that it felt like a working vacation.”

Davidson and Koski are currently on a West Coast tour supporting their dual releases, and both of them will be playing a CD-release party at Duffy’s Tavern on Tuesday, April 14.