Billy Davis (guitarist)
Billy Davis (aka J.C. "Billy" Davis, born J.C. Davis; April 29, 1938) is an American rock and blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter, and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, who is best known for his work with Hank Ballard & The Midnighters.
|Billy Davis (guitarist)|
Billy Davis performing in 2017
(photo credit: Dori Sumter)
|Birth name||J.C. Davis|
|Born||April 29, 1938|
Bentonia, Mississippi, US
|Labels||Federal, King, People, Jett Plastic|
Davis was born in Bentonia, Mississippi, US, and then as a child moved to Memphis, Tennessee. Davis became inspired to play guitar at the age of 8, when he heard "That's All Right" by Arthur 'Big Boy' Crudup. In 1951, at the age of 13 he moved to Detroit, Michigan where lived in the predominantly black area of the city, referred to as "Black Bottom", and he began taking guitar lessons from Bosie Gatlin, who taught him how to play Muddy Waters' song "Baby, Please Don't Go".
In 1951, Davis met John Lee Hooker through his mother, who was a friend of hers from Mississippi. Hooker introduced Davis to Jackie Wilson, and they both became close friends, and collaborated musically throughout their lives.
In 1955, after graduating from Miller High School in Detroit, he formed Billy Davis & The Upsetters, and they worked for Motown founder Berry Gordy, backing up musicians such as Smokey Robinson and Marv Johnson at live performances.
In 1956, Davis was spotted by Henry Booth, who was a singer for The Midnighters, and he convinced Hank Ballard to hire Davis as the guitarist for the band, as a replacement for Cal Green. Davis played with The Midnighters until the dissolution of the band in 1965, and again during their reunion tours in the 1980s. The Midnighters continued to draw large audiences at a rate of nearly 300 booking dates a year in the early 1960s.
Davis was a flamboyant figure on stage, and he became known for his energetic stage presence, which featured guitar feedback and was accented with spins and twirls, and backflips while he played, and he was also known to play his guitar with his teeth. Davis was considered an actual Midnighter alongside the singers, and not just a member of the backing band, because of his ability to play and sing, and also do the group's dance routines. Ballard would often give Davis 30 minutes to open the shows doing his guitar solos and tricks, before he would take the stage.
In 1959, while playing with The Midnighters in Seattle, Washington, he met Jimi Hendrix, who was just 16 at the time, along with Hendrix' father Al Hendrix. Davis let Jimi play his guitar and gave him some lessons, which was the first time that Hendrix had played an electric guitar. Inspired by Davis' onstage antics and style, Hendrix soon began adopting the stage act that he became known for, including playing his guitar with his teeth, and playing behind his back. Davis remained friends with both Jimi and Al Hendrix throughout their lifetimes.
In 1960, as Billy Davis and The Legends, he recorded a song for Peacock Records called "Funky Onions", which was a modified version of a Midnighters instrumental that they would play live. The song was renamed "Spunky Onions" before it was released, so as not to offend anyone with the use of the word funky.
In the fall of 1960, while in Memphis during a stop on their tour, Elvis Presley dispatched a state trooper to the hotel that Hank Ballard and The Midnighters were staying at, to bring them to his Graceland mansion for a meetup. Ballard was reluctant at first, and only agreed to go when he saw the rest of the band were going to go without him.
In 1962, Davis was drafted in to the United States Army at Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training before heading to South Korea for thirteen months. He entertained at service clubs, playing country music for his Commanding Officers. While in the service, Davis arranged for Hendrix to audition with The Midnighters as his interim replacement and Hendrix joined them for a short time. Davis rejoined The Midnighters upon his return from service and continued until the group disbanded.
After leaving the military, Davis moved to New York and quickly became a sought-after session guitarist, recording with many artists such as Joe Tex, Isley Brothers, The Drifters, Ben E. King and Millie Jackson, recording for numerous labels, such as Atlantic records, Buddah Records, Dial Records and Polydor.
Davis then moved back to New York, where he did more session work, playing on recordings by many acts including Martha Reeves & the Vandellas. In 1967, Davis played lead guitar on his childhood friend Jackie Wilson’s recording "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher", and they also toured together. The song reached No. 1 in the US Billboard R&B chart and, in November, peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 6. The song was ranked No. 246 on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. The track was also sampled by many artists, including The Chemical Brothers.
Davis got married in 1972, and had two children. In 1974 he moved back to Detroit with the plan of getting out of the music business, and became a trained counselor for underprivileged youth. He effectively retired from playing professionally for nearly nine years, except for occasional gigs and appearances.
In 1983, Sam & Dave called on Davis to put together a band to back them at a concert at Pine Knob, where they were opening for James Brown. Brown, who had been a friend of Davis since the 1970s, gave Hank Ballard’s phone number to him, and suggested he call Ballard to reunite The Midnighters. Davis phoned Ballard, which led to The Midnighters reuniting, and they began to tour steadily for the next few years.
He appeared in the 1988 cult movie Tapeheads starring John Cusack and Tim Robbins, as a member of the Swanky Modes Band, featuring Sam Moore (of Sam & Dave) and Junior Walker, along with Hendrix drummer Mitch Mitchell, and Jim Keltner.
In 2012, Davis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as a member of The Midnighters. A special subcommittee, appointed by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, addressed the question of recognizing members of pioneering groups that had not been inducted when their front men were inducted. As a result of this committee's decision, The Midnighters were automatically inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside Hank Ballard, who had been inducted in 1990.
To celebrate John Lee Hooker's 100th birthday anniversary in 2017, Davis joined drummer Muruga Booker, P-Funk guitarist Tony "Strat" Thomas, bassist John Sauter, and singer Misty Love to form the Booker Blues All-Stars and released a CD called Booker Plays Hooker.
On October 12, 2017, Davis was honored with a "70 over 70" award, for his achievements in advancement of art, at a ceremony that was held at The historic Roostertail restaurant in Detroit, Michigan.
In 2017, Davis along with Wayne Craycraft, won a competition put on by the Detroit Blues Society, to represent them by competing in the duo category at The 33rd International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee, to be held January 16–20, 2018, where they made it to the semi-finals.
Davis currently lives in Southfield, Michigan, and continues to mentor young musicians, and also performs regularly with a few bands, including the Billy Davis Duo, and The Billy Davis Rhythm Machine Band.
- Hank Ballard & The Midnighters albums
- Singin' And Swingin (1959)
- Mr. Rhythm And Blues (1960)
- The One And Only (1960)
- Dance Along (1961)
- Spotlight On Hank Ballard (1961)
- Hank Ballard Sings 24 Great Songs (1961)
- Let's Go Again (1961)
- The Twistin' Fools (1962)
- Jumpin (1962)
- The 1963 Sound Of Hank Ballard And The Midnighters (1963)
- Those Lazy, Lazy Days (1963)
- Volume 2 (1963)
- Live At The Palais (1963)
- 24 Hit Tunes (1963)
- From Love To Tears (1963)
- Hank Ballard & the Midnighters - Nothing But Good (1952-1962) (5-CD box set) (2009)
- Hank Ballard & The Midnighters charted singles
- "Teardrops on Your Letter / The Twist" (1959)
- "Kansas City" (1959)
- "The Coffee Grind" (1960)
- "Finger Poppin' Time" (1960)
- "The Twist" (reissue) (1960)
- "Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go" (1960)
- "The Hoochi Coochi Coo" (1961)
- "Let's Go Again (Where We Went Last Night)" (1961)
- "The Continental Walk" (1961)
- "The Switch-a-Roo" (1961)
- "The Float" (1961)
- "Nothing but Good / Keep On Dancing" (1961)
- "Do You Know How to Twist" (1962)
- Solo recordings
- Spunky Onions / Goodbye Jesse (1960)
- Stanky (Get Funky) / I've Tried (1969)
- You Put Me In A Groove / As I Grow Old" (1969)
- Blue Teardrops (2004)
- Coming for You (2006)
- Merry Christmas To The World (2006)
- It Ain't Easy (2007)
- Mr. Rock N Roll (2009)
- Blackballed (2009)
- I Remember (2016)
- "Billy Davis" (2017)
- Midnight to midnight By Kent Alexander 7/28/2010 Detroit Metro Times
- Billy Davis biography at billydavisdetroit.com
- ABOUT BILLY DAVIS at jettplasticrecords.com
- Billy Davis at musicwikidetroit
- J C Billy Davis at shakedownblues.co.uk
- Hank Ballard & The Midnighters helped to shape rock and roll By Todd R. Baptista August 23, 2011 Hank Ballard & The Midnighters helped to shape rock and roll August 23, 2011 by Goldmine staff at goldminamag.com
- MRRL Hall of Fame - HANK BALLARD & THE MIDNIGHTERS at michiganrockandrolllegends.com
- Roby, Steven; Schreiber, Brad (2010). BECOMING JIMI HENDRIX - From Southern Crossroads to Psychedelic London, the Untold Story of a Musical Genius.
- It’s getting late, but still not midnight for Billy Davis - Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee keeps on creating By Chris Parker at metrotimes.com
- "Spunky Onions" on youtube
- Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942–2004. Record Research. p. 630.
- (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher at whosampled.com
- "You Put Me In A Groove" at Discogs
- "You Put Me In A Groove" on youtube
- Stanky (Get Funky) / I've Tried at Discogs
- JC "Billy" Davis - Art at 70overseventy.com
- Date: 08/13/1983, Venue: Pine Knob Music Theater, Featured Artist(s): James Brown, Bo Diddley, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Sam & Dave at theconcertdatabase
- Billy Davis at internet movie database
- The Swanky Modes - Ordinary Man (Music Video) on youtube
- billyguitardavis on bandcamp
- Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Adds Six Backing Groups to the Class of 2012 - The Comets, the Crickets, the Blue Caps, the Famous Flames, the Miracles and the Midnighters will be inducted at rollingstone.com
- 2015 RHYTHM & BLUES MUSIC HALL OF FAME INDUCTION CEREMONY Rhythm & Blues Music Hall of Fame 2015 Induction Ceremony Was A Big Hit at bluesmagazine.com
- Booker Blues All-Stars - Booker Plays Hooker on Bandcamp
- About the Detroit Blues Challenge at detroitbluessociety.org
- The 33rd International Blues Challenge at blues.org
- IBC 2018 SEMI-FINALIST SCHEDULE - Friday, January, 19 at blues.org
- Billy Davis Rhythm Machine on musicwikidetroit
- Spunky Onions/Goodbye Jesse at 45cat
- Blue Teardrops on Amazon.com
- Coming For You on Amazon.com
- Merry Christmas To The World at CDbaby
- It Ain't Easy on Amazon.com
- Mr. Rock N Roll on Amazon.com
- Billy Davis 2017 self-titled release at Discogs