Nevada City, CA — David “Davi” Simmons vividly remembers hearing the sitar for the first time. It was during a late-night “sesh” back in high school when a friend played him George Harrison’s Within You Without You from The Beatles’ late sixties masterpiece, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
“I was so fucking stoned,” Simmons recalls, “It was like hearing a voice calling out to me from the heavens.” David instantly fell in love with the sound, leading to a lifelong obsession with the instrument.
After dropping out of school in 1994, David began Transcendental Meditation (TM) to help him connect spiritually with the sitar.
“I owe The Maharishi Yogi a spiritual debt I could never repay,” Simmons said, “I thank him every day for this wonderful gift.”
Simmons arrived in San Francisco in 1995 in search of his first sitar. Six months and several odd jobs later, he made a down payment on a used, beaten-up model from Stan’s Music. “It was a real piece of shit,” he said, “but it got the job done.”
On weekends he took to Golden Gate Park to jam with other lost souls. He soaked up as much as he could from local musicians, even taking lessons from a man he remembers only as “Batty.” “Batty showed me how to become one with the sitar spiritually,” he said, “to turn off your mind and go where the waves take you.”
One of those lost souls was Ricky Mullens, a park drum circle regular. “Oh yeah, I remember him,” Mullens recalls, “Fuck, he was terrible, and he stunk. Not just at sitar, I mean he physically reeked.”
David devoured recordings from sitar legend Ravi Shanker, even legally changing his name to “Davi” in 2001.
His Return Home
Davi returned home to Grass Valley, a changed man after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “He was still the same guy,” says high school friend Kyle Williams, “the only difference was that sitar was attached to his hip at all times. He couldn’t play the thing worth a damn, but that never deterred him.”
After trying unsuccessfully to start a band in his hometown, Davi left for Portland, OR, in 2005. “I needed to go somewhere a sitar was appreciated,” Davi said, “and Portland seemed like the ideal place.”
For the next decade, Davi would wander Portland’s streets and back alleys, playing any gig he could. “It was rough at times, but I wouldn’t change a thing,” he says, “I would do it all again in a heartbeat.”
Davi moved back home for good in early 2016.
“You would think after all that time and energy he would at least be somewhat competent on the sitar,” says Davi’s mother, Mary. “Oh well, at least he enjoyed himself.” On the other hand, Davi’s father, Daniel, isn’t holding his breath that his son will give up the instrument and join him in the family’s roofing business. “I gave up all hope years ago,” he said.
Davi and his sitar can be heard on open mic nights on Commercial Street.