Billy Davis started his first band at age seventeen, called it ‘Billy Davis and The Upsetters’, and became Berry Gordy’s in-house live band, pre-Motown, pre-Funk Brothers.
At age eighteen, Billy Davis was discovered by one of the musicians from HANK BALLARD AND THE MIDNIGHTERS. He then toured with Mr. Hank Ballard, as a Midnighters, on guitar, from 1959 through 1965 and acted as right-hand-man to Hank. He took a break for service in the United States Army. For years he toured on the ‘Chitlin’ Circuit’. He spent his free time on tours hanging out with Sam Cooke during the early years, and became very close with Mr. Cooke. Billy Davis would be with Hank Ballard for over 30 years all told.
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 Mr. 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. He is currently working on a project to showcase a vast personal photograph collection, and the many fascinating stories that go with it, about his life and the people he has known.
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 Wilson’s recording of ‘Higher and Higher’, and he and his boyhood friend toured together.
When SAM and DAVE came to Detroit’s ‘Pine Knob’ venue in the mid-1980’s, they called on Davis to gather up a band and back them on a gig where James Brown was headlining. Mr. Brown, an old friend for twenty-plus years, gave Davis Hank Ballard’s phone number and suggested he call Hank 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, since 2012. Recently Davis visited the Rock Hall in Cleveland, as well as the Library and Archives, and enjoyed an Inductee’s welcome from the entire staff. In 2001, most of The Midnighters along with Hank Ballard and Billy Davis, were among the first to be inducted into the Doo-Wop Hall of Fame, out of Boston, through the effort of Mr. Harvey Robbins. Billy Davis is also an Inductee of Detroit’s Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame, since 2015. The Detroit Blues Society awarded Davis a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.
The Billy Davis guitar sound has an avant-guard feel that is difficult to categorize into just one style and package as a single thing; he is skilled in many different genres and styles. He is a solid rhythm player and also a strong lead player. He still writes and performs originals. His current originals band, honed for a decade, is called ‘Billy Davis Rhythm Machine’. He has a diverse and extensive songbook of well-known and loved classics, perfected over many decades. Working with young musicians as a mentor or tutor is a special joy for him. Billy Davis just loves to play, every day.
Davis is a hard-working guitarist, through the years associated with such well-known musical contemporaries as The Drifters, David Ruffin, Joe Tex, Berry Gordy, The Isley Brothers, Ben E. King, and Don Covay; with fans as famous as James Brown, besides Bruce Willis, Dee Clark, Jimi Hendrix, and many others. His playing is never rusty, always ahead of the curve, and has only gotten better, if that’s possible. Davis is poised for another career breakthrough with a new solo recording in the blues genre in 2017. Watch for his ‘Billy Davis featuring Wayne Craycraft’ duo at a performance venue near you.
July 2017, Detroit, Michigan LE Grimshaw