ABOUT 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 as a Southern transplant from Memphis, Tennessee. He has been a professional musician from the age of eighteen. Raised in the 1950s Black Bottom neighborhood of Detroit with strong musical influences, he started his first band at the age of 17 as the frontman for Billy Davis & the Upsetters who soon became Berry Gordy's first pre-Motown in-house live band, long before the 'Funk Brothers'. Davis was so ahead of his time that a song title with "funk" in its name 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, later becoming the signature sound for many other musicians.
Davis was a student of music from his earliest memories at 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 the right-hand-man to Hank Ballard.
Davis met then teenage Jimi Hendrix in 1959 in Seattle while on tour with The Midnighters, soon becoming mentor to the future legend and 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 more music legends, including Elvis Presley.
In 1962 Davis was drafted to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, for basic training before heading to South Korea for thirteen months. He arranged for Jimi Hendrix to audition with The Midnighters as his interim replacement and Hendrix joined 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 and 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. In the 60's and 70's, 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, his innate talent for music, nor his interest in being a musician. He kept in touch with his musical friendships. He was recently 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, a 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 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, now 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.
'Billy Davis' LP (JPR-017)