Celebrate the History: A Musical Experience with Melvin Davis, Billy Davis, and Keith Smith
Fri, Sep 22, 2017 @ 8:00 pm to 2:00am
Melvin Davis: The Detroit Soul Ambassador, Melvin Davis, has made his mark in the world of classic soul, Motown, rhythm & blues, and funk as a singer, songwriter, drummer, pianist, producer, and record label owner over the course of a fifty-plus year long career in the music business. His solo singles with labels including Fortune, Groovesville, Jack Pot, and Holland–Dozier–Holland’s Invictus Records have become priceless icons within the Northern Soul movement in England. His drumming has been heard on record in Smokey Robinson & The Miracle’s classic “Tears Of A Clown” and groundbreaking Motown guitar slinger Dennis Coffey’s debut single “It’s Your Thing,” and on stage with artists including The Temptations, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, Chuck Berry, and Smokey Robinson. His original songs have been recorded by artists including Johnnie Taylor, J.J. Barnes, Darrell Banks, Mavis Staples, The Dirtbombs, Edward Hamilton & The Arabians, Steve Mancha, and many more. As the lead singer of the Holland/Dozier/Holland supergroup The 8th Day, Melvin scored a top-10 hit with “You’ve Got To Crawl (Before You Walk).” With his own Rock Mill label, he released multiple solo albums, plus singles with Liz Taylor, Charisma, and Wayne Kramer of the legendary rock band MC5. His newest album, “Double Or Nothing,” is a culmination of a lifetime of Soul, Rock & Roll, and Rhythm & Blues, and a sign of things yet to come from the Detroit Soul Ambassador.
Billy Davis: 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.