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The Billy Jam for Memphis: Let’s Get Billy to the International Blues Challenge!
January 7, 2018
Sunday, January 7 / 1pm to 1am
$5 minimum donation
An all day jam session to help defray the expenses in getting the legendary Billy Davis and Wayne Craycraft, aka The Billy Davis Duo, to the International Blues Challenge competition in Memphis.
Billy Davis is an inductee of: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame , Doo Wop Hall of Fame , R&B Hall of Fame
25 Years with Hank Ballard
Inspiration and Tutor to Jimi Hendrix
Jackie Wilson‘s Original Lead Guitarist
‘It’s Your Thing’ Guitarist for The Isley Brothers
Billy Davis is a trailblazing guitarist who grew up in Detroit, Michigan, a Southern transplant from Memphis, Tennessee. He has been a professional musician from the age of eighteen. Raised in the 1950’s Black Bottom neighborhood of Detroit with strong musical influences, he started his first band at the age of 17, as the headliner for Billy Davis & the Upsetters, which became Berry Gordy’s first in-house live band, pre-Motown, long before the ‘Funk Brothers’. Davis was so ahead of the times that a song title with “funk” had to be changed to “spunk” to receive airplay. His early use of the wah-wah pedal was outright rejected by his producers and band mates, then in later years became the signature for many other musicians.
Davis was a student of music from his earliest memories at age four years old; and at age eighteen, when an opportunity came about to audition for HANK BALLARD AND THE MIDNIGHTERS, he aced it. Joining this national act, he made it to the top right out of the gate. He toured with the Midnighters from 1959 through 1965 and acted as a right-hand-man to Hank Ballard.
Davis met the teenaged Jimi Hendrix in 1959, in Seattle while on tour with The Midnighters, becoming mentor to the future legend, teaching him what he knew about guitar. Also in 1959, Davis met B.B. King, one of his own personal heroes, and they became friends for life. Davis was to meet and become friends with many music legends.
In 1962 Davis was drafted to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for basic training before heading to South Korea for 13 months. He arranged for Jimi Hendrix to audition with The Midnighters and Hendrix did join them for a short time. He himself rejoined Hank Ballard’s group upon his return from service, and continued until the group disbanded.
After The Midnighters, Davis made his way to New York and became a sought-after studio musician. He played with Jackie Wilson, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, among others, on stage and in studio. He played lead guitar on Jackie Wilson’s recording of ‘Higher and Higher’.
Billy Davis has an avant-garde guitar style that is difficult to categorize and package; he is skilled in many different genres. Back then, in spite of two record company contracts he failed to find his following. Making his way back to Detroit, Davis moved away from professional music for a time, married and had two children. He never lost his guitar skills or abilities, or his innate talent for music, nor his interest in being a musician. He kept in touch with his musical friendships. Recently he was invited to present an award to Sam Cooke’s daughter, Carla.
In the mid-1980’s the group SAM AND DAVE called and asked Davis to back them on a gig where James Brown was headlining. Brown, an old friend for over twenty years, gave Davis Hank Ballard’s phone number and suggested he call to reunite the band. Due to a call from Billy Davis, the Midnighters were on tour again, steadily throughout the 1980’s. The Legendary Hank Ballard was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, and Davis, his main collaborator, has a statue of his own. In 2001, most of the Midnighters along with Hank Ballard and of course Billy Davis, were among the first to be inducted into the Doo-Wop Hall of Fame, out of Boston.
Over the last decade, Davis has steadily performed in the Detroit area and back at his old Black Bottom neighborhood, at places such as the Raven Lounge, Detroit’s oldest Blues club; at ‘Sundays in the D’ on Gratiot Avenue; at Nancy Whiskey’s; and even at outdoor jams.
Billy Davis is a hard-working guitarist, associated throughout the years with such well-known musical contemporaries as David Ruffin, Chubby Checker and Berry Gordy; with fans as famous as Bruce Willis, besides B.B. King, Hendrix, and many others. His playing, never rusty, always ahead of the curve, has only gotten better, if that’s possible, and he is poised for a breakthrough with a new solo recording in the blues genre, coming soon from the next generation of record labels, Jarrett Koral’s Jett Plastic Recordings.
[Photo credit: Tim Meeks]