This Week’s Theme: Bassist Richard Davis
One of my favorite themes is a celebration of the often overlooked, highly influential session musicians and other background figures that helped create the music of the 20th century. Stars get all of the recognition, but most of them can not make the music they are known for without the background support of those musicians who arrange, perform, and produce that music. The theme of the very first Faux Show was producer Tony Visconti, other Faux Shows have focused on keyboardist Ralph Schuckett (Faux Show #6) and Muscle Shoals drummer Roger Hawkins (Faux Show #14), and musicians such as bassist/electronic music pioneer Malcolm Cecil, the songwriting team of Leiber & Stoller, and many others have been Themes, Artists of the Week, and/or simply recognized for their work by inclusion in a show.
Richard Davis is one of those musicians, and one of the greatest bassists of the 20th century. He recorded with the best jazz artists of the ’50s and ’60s and was a session musician extraordinaire for many pop/rock artists in the ’70s. His ninety-second birthday is on April 15, so this is a great week to celebrate the work of this great musician.
This week’s show includes a slew of songs featuring Davis on bass along with some birthday wishes. Enjoy!
Welcome to Radio Faux Show Volume 2, Number Fifteen.
First things first – click a link to start listening and then come back to read about this week’s songs.
Jazz in the ’50s and ’60s
Richard Davis began his professional music career in the mid-50s with Don Shirley and by the late ’50s he was the bassist for Sarah Vaughan. In the ’60s he became a regular contributor to recording sessions and live performances by jazz artists such as Roland Kirk, Cal Tjader, Oliver Nelson, Ruth Brown, Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon, and many others. Some of his most important work during the ’60s includes his recordings with Andrew Hill, J.J. Johnson, Elvin Jones, and The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra.
Andrew Hill was one of the most important jazz pianists of the ’60s. His work as a bandleader and sideman is an impressive list, and Hill could easily be a Faux Show theme in the future. Richard Davis recorded nine albums with Hill, along with other sessions for which they provided the piano/bass rhythm section. They were a dynamic duo for the Blue Note label in the ’60s.
J.J. Johnson was the original bebop trombonist. By the ’60s, Johnson had taken on the role of composer and bandleader, and focused much of his music on the Third Stream, a merging of jazz and classical composition. Davis provided bass on several of these early ’60s recordings.
Elvin Jones is on the Mount Rushmore of jazz drumming, along with artists such as Max Roach, Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Roy Haynes, and Art Blakey. In the early ’60s, Jones redefined jazz drumming through his work with John Coltrane. In the late ’60s he formed his own band, and his bassist for many of these sessions was Richard Davis. They worked together for several recordings up through the mid-80s.
The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra was formed in 1965 and still performs under the name The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. It is one of the most successful jazz orchestras in history. Richard Davis was the original bassist for the orchestra and performed and recorded with them for their first five years.
Out To Lunch
The 1964 album Out to Lunch is often cited as one of the most important jazz recordings, featuring Dolphy on bass clarinet, flute, and alto sax, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Bobby Hutcherson on vibes, Tony Williams on drums, and Richard Davis on bass. It is Eric Dolphy’s masterpiece and his only Blue Note release, having died almost immediately after its release. Richard Davis and Dolphy had worked together previously, including some bass/sax duets, and their collaboration technique verged on telepathy. The death of Dolphy is one of the greatest losses to the history of jazz, along with the deaths of others such as Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adderley, and one can only imagine what more could have been accomplished if Dolphy and Davis had been able to work together throughout the decade.
After several tumultuous years as the front man for Irish rock group Them and a solo artist on the Bang Records label (including lawsuits over contract issues), Van Morrison wanted to record an album that he felt represented his new musical vision. The legend goes that in 1968 he went into the recording studio, sat down in a recording booth by himself, played his guitar, sang his songs, got up, walked out, said “that’s the album,” and left. At least that is the myth of the album Astral Weeks. As with most history, the truth is a little less dramatic, but not by much. The true story is that after a lot of contract negotiating, Warner Brothers was able to sign Morrison and set up his initial sessions. The producer for these sessions was Lewis Merenstein, who had a background in jazz and believed that the young songwriter needed some professional help in order to produce a product that could be marketed and sold. Morrison’s sudden evolution from the writer of rock and roll standards “Brown-Eyed Girl” and “Gloria” into a folk-influenced singer/songwriter may have been cathartic for Morrison, but it was not a simple thing to turn that into a marketable product.
The first thing that Merenstein did was hire Richard Davis to work as bassist and session leader. Davis subsequently brought in jazz veterans Jay Berliner (guitar – Charles Mingus Quintet), Warren Smith, Jr. (percussion – Max Roach), and Connie Kay (drums – Modern Jazz Quartet). This was a group that any of the top jazz artists of the day would have been overjoyed to work with, much less a young songwriter who knew very little about jazz at that point in his career. The recordings were completed over three sessions following a basic format. Morrison recorded guitar and vocals in one studio while the rest of the musicians recorded along with him in a separate studio. The fact that Morrison did not interact with the rest of the musicians, not even to introduce himself, there was no pre-session prep, no lead sheets, and many of the songs were cut in one take only exemplifies the incredible talents of Davis. He was able to lead everyone along to Morrison’s vocals and the feel of the songs, using only his bass lines as a guide and allowing the other musicians to apply their amazing talent how they saw fit. The end result is now one of the most critically acclaimed albums ever recorded.
After proving himself to be one of the best bassists in jazz (he was named Best Bassist in the Downbeat International Critics’ Poll from 1967–74) and proving himself capable of playing more than just jazz with his Astral Weeks work, Davis spent much of the ‘70s working with pop artists such as Bonnie Raitt, Carly Simon, Laura Nyro, and Phoebe Snow. Although he was not as prolific in this field as he was in jazz, some of his credits are highlights of the decade.
Paul Simon brought in a wide variety of session musicians for his third album, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, and the end result is a classic album of the decade. It is commonly accepted that the highlights of the album are “Kodachrome” and “Loves Me Like A Rock,” but many Simon fans would argue that possibly the best song he ever wrote is “Something So Right.” The bassist on this track, obviously, was Richard Davis. Although the bass on this song doesn’t demand your attention as much as some of the songs on Astral Weeks, Davis’ driving bottom line adds a strength to the music of this beautiful love song that lifts it up from a standard pop ballad into a classic of the genre.
Janis Ian was already a young has-been and one-hit wonder (for her influential 1967 single “Society’s Child”) by the time she went into the studio to record her 1975 album Between The Lines. As her seventh album, no one assumed it would be anything more than another album in her long line of moderately successful recordings. Instead, it produced the single “At Seventeen” which went on to win the Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and is now one of the most beloved songs of the ‘70s. The song is a beautiful ballad and its strength is obviously in its lyrics and vocal performance, but like many great songs by great songwriters it takes musicians to turn a song into a classic. Among the many solid performances by the musicians brought in for the session, the bass of Richard Davis holds it all together. Davis was added to the recording team by producer Brooks Arthur, who also worked on Astral Weeks – another example of the respect Davis received from his fellow musicians.
Bruce Springsteen had a bassist named Garry Tallent for almost every song he recorded with the E Street Band. Garry Tallent is an iconic rock bassist and The Boss certainly never needed to worry that his rhythm section wasn’t going to hold his songs together. However, sometimes an artist needs to widen the range of his sound, so when Springsteen wanted to add a song to the Born To Run album that was unlike any other song he had ever recorded he turned to Richard Davis for some support. Davis had already appeared on Springsteen’s first album (on the song “The Angel”) so Springsteen was certainly familiar with Davis’ talent and range. The song “Meeting Across The River” stands as the moment that foreshadows Springsteen’s future as more than a straight-ahead rocker. The teenage DJ Faux did not appreciate this track, but I now find it to be a highlight of the album. It is the perfect link to the album’s conclusion, “Jungleland,” and the tone set by the musicians who recorded it is perfect as the lead-in to the concluding masterpiece.
In the middle of his hundreds of session dates, Davis was a bandleader from 1967 to 2008 and released over twenty-five albums under his own name. Although none of these are classics of the genre, they represent arguably the most important aspect of Davis – his leadership.
On top of all of his incredibly prolific and influential recordings, Davis moved to Madison, WI in 1977 and joined the University of Wisconsin’s faculty. He remained in this position for thirty-nine years, retiring in 2015 at the age of eighty-five. He not only taught hundreds of students, including free jazz double bass master William Parker and avant-garde musician Karl E. H. Seigfried, but also worked tirelessly in advancing education on the impact of racism. He founded the Madison Wisconsin Institute for Healing Racism for which he won the Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award in 2003. Even after an amazing lifetime of recording, I am certain that his work as an educator of both music and race are his proudest achievements.
The work is never done. You can’t die until you’ve made your contribution to hopefully change attitudes of bigotry – Richard Davis
He is about to turn ninety-two, so he isn’t dead yet, but Richard Davis has spent a lifetime making his contribution to better the world. Thank you, sir.
Songs selected for this week’s theme
A Tribe Called Quest “Scenario” (sampled bass line)
George Benson “Footin’ It”
Ruth Brown “He’s A Real Gone Guy”
Bo Diddley “Look At Grandma”
Eric Dolphy “Something Sweet, Something Tender”
Stan Getz “Once Upon a Time”
Eddie Harris “I’m Gonna Leave You By Yourself”
Johnny Hartman “The More I See You”
Andrew Hill “Pumpkin”
Janis Ian “At Seventeen”
Elvin Jones “M.E.”
Eric Kloss “Gentle One”
Van Morrison “Astral Weeks”
Laura Nyro “And When I Die (Live)”
Bonnie Raitt “Got You On My Mind”
Carly Simon “Mind On My Man”
Paul Simon “Something So Right”
Phoebe Snow “Isn’t It A Shame”
Bruce Springsteen “The Angel” and “Meeting Across The River”
Sarah Vaughan “All Of Me”
Joe Zawinul “Lord, Lord, Lord”
Artist of the Week: Rosco Gordon
Rosco Gordon is a true unsung hero of rock and roll. He was discovered by Rufus Thomas (of Rufus & Chaka Khan) in 1950 and then recorded some early singles for Sam Phillips. He recorded a string of hits for various labels between 1951 and 1960, got paid shit money, earned no royalties, and was left with nothing. This is the unfortunate story of many early rock and roll originators. His final hit, “Just A Little Bit,” was a #2 R&B hit, was covered by The Beatles, Etta James, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Butler, and sold millions of cover version copies. He was paid 250 dollars for the recording and never given any royalties. In the late ’50s, he toured the Caribbean where his off-beat rhythmic technique was copied by local artists who heard him, thus influencing the development of ska and reggae. He retired from music in 1962, owned a laundry business for twenty years, and then recorded a few albums between 1983 and 2004. May the spirit of Rosco Gordon haunt every asshole producer and record label executive still out there ripping off young artists before they know what hit them.
Unsung Heroes of Rock and Roll
There are two rock and roll originators on this week’s show, but the songs are from after their pioneer period. Ruth Brown and Bo Diddley are about as important as rock and roll heroes get.
Ruth Brown “He’s A Real Gone Guy” and Bo Diddley “Look At Grandma”:
The Flamingos “I Only Have Eyes For You”: This 1959 hit is about as good as doo-wop gets. I have loved this song since before I knew what music was. Doo bop sha bop.
Rosco Gordon “No More Doggin'”: Rosco Gordon is the Artist of the Week.
Happy Birthday (April 10)
Richard Davis was actually born on April 15, but he is the theme, so “Happy Birthday, Richard.”
Claude Bolling was a jazz/classical composer and pianist.
Warren DeMartini was the lead guitarist for Ratt during their heyday in the ’80s.
Rosco Gordon was an early R&B artist who influenced both rock and roll and ska/reggae. See Artist of the Week.
Eddie Hazel was the lead guitarist on all of the Funkadelic records that matter. He also sang lead vocals on a few songs, including “Super Stupid” from the landmark Maggot Brain album. Check out “Maggot Brain” and “Wars of Armegeddon” from that album to hear the electric guitar mastery of Hazel in his prime.
Katrina Leskanich was the lead vocalist of Katrina & The Waves.
Nate Nelson sang tenor for legendary doo-wop act The Flamingos. He provided lead vocals on their signature song, “I Only Have Eyes For You.”
Lenny Pickett was a member of Tower of Power during their prime ’70s years, and has been the musical director for SNL since 1985.
Q-Tip is a founding member of rap group A Tribe Called Quest and one of the most iconic old school rappers. Their song “Scenario” uses a sample from the Brother Jack McDuff song “Oblighetto,” originally on the 1970 album Moon Rappin’ (talk about being ahead of your time!) and featuring Richard Davis on bass.
Brian Setzer is the leader of The Stray Cats and The Brian Setzer Orchestra.
Fred Smith was the bassist for New York post-punk band Television. Their album Marquee Moon is a definitive example of the music created by New York bands in the late ’70s and an alt-rock masterpiece.
The Flamingos “I Only Have Eyes For You” (#11 6/8/59)
Janis Ian “At Seventeen” (#3 7/12/75)
Katrina & The Waves “Walking On Sunshine” (#9 4/20/85)
Ratt “Round and Round” (#12 7/14/84)
The Stray Cats “Rock This Town” (#9 10/23/82)
2 for “Two”Day
Bruce Springsteen “The Angel” and “Meeting Across The River”
3 Chunks of Funk
Bo Diddley “Look At Grandma”: The 1972 Bo Diddley album Where It All Began may be the only recordings that could land Bo Diddley in this mini-theme, but it is a nice piece of funky goodness that doesn’t utilize his signature beat for most of the songs.
Funkadelic “Super Stupid”: I admit this isn’t really funk, but it is Funkadelic and it is great.
Tower of Power “What Is Hip?”: The absolute funk mastery of this song makes up for the lack of funk in the Funkadelic track. This is the signature song by this under-appreciated funk act. The performance by David Garabaldi on this track is a masterclass in funk drumming.
I Want My MTV
The golden years of MTV would not have been the same without these three artists.
Katrina & The Waves “Walking On Sunshine”: It is hard to believe that this was not a #1 hit. Everyone knows this song and it still makes you bounce around the house forty years later.
Ratt “Round and Round”: Don’t act like you don’t like it. Give in to the power of Ratt and just accept the fact that they are the greatest hair metal band of the ’80s.
Trivia alert: Milton Berle was the band manager’s uncle and clearly didn’t know what was happening when he was asked to make a music video.
The Stray Cats “Rock This Town”: The song is still so good all these years later, and the video is one of the iconic moments of early MTV.
Thanks for listening (and reading)!
|1||Van Morrison||Astral Weeks|
|2||Paul Simon||Something So Right|
|3||Janis Ian||At Seventeen|
|4||Stan Getz||Once Upon A Time|
|5||Johnny Hartman||The More I See You|
|6||Sarah Vaughan||All Of Me|
|7||Ruth Brown||He’s A Real Gone Guy|
|10||Television||See No Evil|
|11||Ratt||Round and Round|
|12||Katrina & The Waves||Walking On Sunshine|
|13||The Stray Cats||Rock This Town|
|14||Rosco Gordon||No More Doggin’|
|15||The Flamingos||I Only Have Eyes For You|
|16||Bo Diddley||Look At Grandma|
|17||Tower of Power||What Is Hip?|
|19||George Benson||Footin’ It|
|20||A Tribe Called Quest (with Leaders of the New School)||Scenario|
|21||Bruce Springsteen||Meeting Across The River|
|22||Bruce Springsteen||The Angel|
|23||Laura Nyro||And When I Die (Live)|
|24||Phoebe Snow||Isn’t It A Shame|
|25||Carly Simon||Mind On My Man|
|26||Bonnie Raitt||Got You On My Mind|
|27||Claude Bolling, Jeanne-Pierre Rampal||Baroque and Blue, Pt. 1|
|28||Eddie Harris||I’m Gonna Leave You By Yourself|
|29||Joe Zawinul||Lord, Lord, Lord|
|30||Eric Kloss||Gentle One|
|31||Eric Dolphy||Something Sweet, Something Tender|
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