Many of us know David Wells as our favorite United Parcel Service delivery man — he has one of the friendliest smiles and demeanors in Truckee while delivering approximately 118 packages a day for the past 17 years. But what many people may not know is that Wells has a gift: He is an extremely talented vocalist — something he didn’t recognize until age 30.
Raised by a black father and white mother, Wells has always dealt with the internal question of, are you white or are you black? Growing up, he would sit smack-dab in the middle of his family’s home in Oakland doing his homework. In one ear he would hear the sounds of classical music and Frank Sinatra played by his mom on one side of the house. In the other ear, he would be listening to his dad’s jazz and blues records. As if Wells needed any more music influence in his life, it was the 1970s — a pivotal time for the Oakland hip hop scene. He spent many an afternoon freestyling, breakdancing, and listening to rap music.
But, in 1980, it all changed. Wells’ father was transferred to Sparks for work, into an entirely different subculture than what the family knew in Oakland. It was this blend of contrary influences — the predominantly black Oakland and the predominantly white Sparks — that shaped Wells’ musical style, whether he was aware of it or not.
It wasn’t until well into his adult life that Wells became aware of his gift. He was at a birthday party with his then-wife, Leslie. A party guest was bragging about an album he had just recorded. A proud wife, Leslie blurted out that her husband was also a talented singer. Wells sang a song by The Temptations on the spot and gained the attention of the guests. “I didn’t even realize I had a talent,” Wells said.
Juxtaposition of Cultures and Music
Wells spent the first few years of his life in Sparks traveling back to Oakland, claiming he was addicted to trouble. “I wanted to be a bad boy, but never could,” Wells said. In Oakland he “wasn’t black enough,” but in Sparks he was beaten up for calling himself white.
Nonetheless, wherever he went, trouble followed. “Terror is something I have experienced,” Wells said.
It doesn’t feel right to call it a rap sheet, but Wells had a number of close encounters that caused him to change his act. These included being robbed at knifepoint at age 11, a fight involving a box cutter at age 13, being on a bus when a Vietnam veteran opened fire killing nine and injuring 13, and nearly being arrested during a robbery where only a wrong turn in an apartment building hallway saved him. It was this robbery, where many of his cousins were arrested, that Wells looks at as his reality check.
Around the age of 20 Wells met Kirk Harris who offered him a full-time job with UPS and introduced him to his church, where be began singing in the choir.
Today, Wells is part of many different musical collaborations and because of his falsetto — a method of voice production used by male singers, especially tenors, to sing notes higher than their normal range — he can sing practically any genre. But soul is still his favorite.
He explained that music lessons were too expensive but he “learned more singing in the choir than any lesson could have taught [him].” Wells credits the church as his version of professional musical training.
Power of Love is Wells’ Christian hip hop group that grew out of Holy Hip-Hop — an evening of Christian rap at the Warehouse Christian Ministry in Sparks. The evening hosted a different musician each week, but when the organizers realized the amount of money they were spending on the event, they handed it over to Wells and his friend Michael Williams. Together Wells and Williams formed Power of Love and began performing their music free of charge. Their most recent performance was for this past Martin Luther King Jr. day.
Renegade is Wells’ collaboration with Tahoe resident Michael Griffin. These guys play anything from Johnny Cash to Marvin Gaye to Michael Jackson. This duo is particularly unique because they blend Wells’ R&B Soul sounds with Griffin’s country, campfire vibes. The two are playing at Cottonwood Restaurant & Bar on Feb. 18.
Truly humble, Wells doesn’t believe in professionally recording his music. In fact, his music library is primarily concentrated on his phone’s voice memos. It’s not unusual for him to pull over on his daily commute to Truckee from Reno to record a voice memo of a verse, “It’s just come that easy,” he said as he opened his phone catalog of recorded verses — an inside look into his private music library.