Danny Davis (country musician)
Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass in 1970
|Birth name||George Joseph Nowlan|
May 29, 1925|
|Died||June 12, 2008
|Genres||Country, Big Band|
Danny Davis (May 29, 1925 – June 12, 2008) was a country music band leader, trumpet player, vocalist and producer, best known as the founder and leader of the Nashville Brass.
Early life and career
Danny Davis was born as George Nowlan into a large Irish-Catholic family in Dorchester, Massachusetts (one of his brothers became a priest who at one time was assigned to the Vatican). When he became a professional musician, he changed his name to Danny Davis because MGM executive Harry Meseron told him that "he looked like a Danny." He took the last name Davis because it was a common name in the South.
Davis's father died when he was five years old. His mother supported the family by giving music lessons (piano and voice) in the family home.
Davis began playing trumpet at a very early age under the guidance of a man named Joseph Donovan. By age 14 he was trumpet soloist with the Massachusetts All-State Symphony Orchestra and was granted admittance to the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music. He decided to leave the conservatory after only six weeks when he was offered a job as a trumpeter with the band of legendary drummer, Gene Krupa (ca. 1940).
During the remainder of the 1940s and into the 1950s Davis continued working as a trumpeter/vocalist in several big bands including the band's of Bobby Byrne, Sammy Kaye, Art Mooney (he played First Trumpet on Mooney's huge seller "I'm Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover"), Vincent Lopez and Freddy Martin. In Martin's band, in addition to his duties on trumpet, Davis sang as one of the "Martin Men" and roomed on the road with the band's male vocalist, Merv Griffin.
The MGM days
During the early 50's Davis found some moderate success as a vocalist releasing several singles including "Object of My Affection" and "Crazy Heart." The late 1950s was a transitional period in Davis' career. He found himself in New York City working as a producer for the MGM label. He also made an important contact in Nashville with Fred Rose. Davis cut pop demos of country songs for Rose. His demo of "Cold, Cold Heart" led to the pop recording by Tony Bennett.
In the early Sixties, Davis assembled a session group called "Danny Davis & the Titans" around guitarist Billy Mure. In 1961 the group released an instrumental album entitled, Today's Teen Beat (MGM SE 3992). A few months later, the group followed it up with an album designed to capitalize on the "Twist" craze, with another instrumental album entitled, Let's Do the Twist for Adults (MGM SE 3997). Six of the Titan songs on the second album received a great deal of exposure in 1964 when MGM used them to pad-out a collection of nascent Beatles tracks on an album called, The Beatles with Tony Sheridan & Guests (MGM SE 4215).
While at MGM Davis was assigned to produce one of the label's most successful artists, Connie Francis. This collaboration lead to several number 1 hits for Francis. In the early 1960s Davis began taking Francis to Nashville where he recorded pop versions of country songs with her. It was during this time that his idea to record country songs with brass instruments was born. Also during his time at MGM Davis was responsible for bringing Herman's Hermits (featuring Peter Noone) to the label.
During his stint at MGM Davis recorded several albums with an orchestra composed of some of the best studio musicians working in New York at the time. Most notable among these is an album entitled "Brass on the Rebound." This album was recorded in 1963 and featured only one woodwind player in the orchestra. This demonstrates Davis' penchant for working with a brass ensemble several years before he began the Nashville Brass.
In his career as a record producer Davis worked with a wide variety of artists, from Nina Simone to Polka king Frank Yankovic. During his days in New York he was also involved in early testing for broadcasting television programs in color.
The move to RCA
In the mid-sixties Davis moved to the RCA label. While still in New York he pitched his idea of recording country songs with a brass ensemble. To say the least, the idea was not well received. Not long after he joined RCA Davis was approved for transfer to the Nashville office by Chet Atkins.
In Nashville, Davis was assigned to produce sessions on Waylon Jennings. Even though it was a recording produced by Davis that earned Jennings his first Grammy award (MacArthur Park with The Kimberly's), the two men did not have a good working relationship. It is reported that on one occasion Jennings pulled a gun on Davis during a recording session ), but Davis denies the incident ever took place. Davis also worked with other RCA artists including Dottie West, Floyd Cramer and Hank Locklin.
Launching the Nashville Brass
One evening Davis was in the office of his boss, Chet Atkins. He decided to pitch Chet his idea of recording country songs with brass instruments. Davis was surprised when Atkins told him he thought it was a good idea. In fact, Davis told Atkins that the RCA label executives in New York had thought it was a "terrible idea." Atkins told Davis, "young fella, I run Nashville, go do it." The only suggestion Atkins made was instead of calling the group "Country Brass" he thought Davis should call it "Nashville Brass."
Davis immediately went to work on a demo. He chose Nashville arranger and fellow trumpeter, Bill McElhiney, to help create the sound of the Nashville Brass. The basic idea was to replace the vocalist with a brass ensemble (two to three trumpets, two trombones) playing over a standard country rhythm section (guitar, bass, drums, banjo).
For his recordings, Davis assembled a rhythm section of Nashville's "A" list musicians: Grady Martin (guitar), Floyd Cramer (piano), Bob Moore (bass), Buddy Harmon (drums), Bobby Thompson (banjo), John Hartford (banjo). When completed, Atkins hand carried the demo (Hank Williams' "I Saw The Light") to a meeting of RCA executives in California. In October 1968 the first album "The Nashville Brass Play The Nashville Sound" was released. The first album was followed by "The Nashville Brass featuring Danny Davis Play More Nashville Sounds" in 1969.
Acceptance and success
With the release of the first two albums, the group quickly found an audience with music fans. Most important was the acceptance of the Country Music fans whom Davis had been told, "don't like horns." In 1970 the second album received the Grammy for Best Country Instrumental Performance. Beginning in 1969 and continuing for the next five years Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass dominated the Country Music Association Awards Best Instrumental Group category. Over the years The group garnered eleven more Grammy nominations and received many other awards from recording industry publications and associations.
Also in 1970 Davis changed his relationship with RCA in that he ceased to produce other artists so he could concentrate all his energies on the Nashville Brass.
Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass literally took Country Music around the world, being one of the first acts in the genre to have their own airplane (originally a DC-3 later a Martin 404, named "Lady Barbara" for Davis' wife). They were also one of the first Country acts to take the music to the Vegas strip working first as an opening act for Connie Francis and later Kay Starr, they soon returned to headline. The group also guest starred on many of the biggest television shows of the day including Red Skelton, Ed Sullivan and the show of his old friend, Merv Griffin.
In the 1980s Davis joined the cast of Hee Haw as a member of the "Million Dollar Band" with fellow instrumentalists Floyd Cramer, Chet Atkins, Boots Randolph, Roy Clark (guitar), Charlie McCoy (harmonica), Johnny Gimble (fiddle) and Kenneth C. "Jethro" Burns (mandolin).
Davis and his group maintained a heavy touring schedule well into the 1990s. In the mid-90's Davis partnered with his old friend, Boots Randolph, opening the Stardust Theater in Nashville (near the Opryland Hotel). The two performed shows nightly for a couple of years.
For the majority of his touring years, Davis retained on salary a fairly consistent personnel line-up. Among those musicians were: Bill Pippin (trumpet/flugelhorn/flute); Ray Carroll (trumpet/flugelhorn); Rex Peer (trombone); Phil Jones (bass trombone—Jones replaced the band's original bass trombonist, Frank Smith, after Smith's death in a car accident); Larry Morton (guitar); Chuck Sanders (bass); Terry Waddell (drums); Curtis McPeake (banjo).
Featured prominently on the 1971 album Somethin' Else was an electric sitar, played by an unidentified individual. This was a first for the Nashville scene.
Davis and his group performed the theme song for the animated series Speed Racer.
Farewell to public performing
Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass gave their final public performance on July 23, 2005 at the Colonnade in Ringgold, Georgia. Davis was eighty years old at the time. The group performed two shows and received standing ovations for each.
After Davis retired from performing, he and his wife of fifty-seven years, Barbara continued to make Nashville their home. The couple has four children: Kerry, Kim, Gavin and Tara. Danny and former Nashville Brass trumpeter, Ray Carroll, began a mail-order business selling Nashville Brass recordings on the internet. Carroll continues to operate this enterprise. Also, at the time of his death Davis and writer Thom King had nearly completed an autobiography tentatively titled "Guess Who I Met Today."
Davis died on Thursday, June 12, 2008 at the age of 83 after suffering a heart attack at his home in Nashville, Tennessee on June 7, 2008.
|1968||The Nashville Brass Play The Nashville Sound||33||78||RCA|
|1969||The Nashville Brass featuring Danny Davis Play More Nashville Sounds||6||143|
|1970||You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet||9||102|
|Christmas with Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass||11|
|Hank Locklin & Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass|
|1972||Nashville Brass Turns to Gold||25||202|
|Live in Person||35|
|Turn on Some Happy||34||193|
|1974||The Best of Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass||22|
|Danny Davis' Nashville Brass Bluegrass Country||23|
|Latest and Greatest||34|
|America 200 Years Young|
|1977||Chet Floyd & Danny||46|
|Live! In Vegas|
|1978||How I Love Them Ol' Songs|
|1979||Great Songs of the Big Band Era|
|1980||Danny Davis & Willie Nelson with the Nashville Brass||14||150|
|1981||Cotton Eyed Joe|
|1969||"I Saw the Light"||129||The Nashville Brass Play the Nashville Sound|
|1970||"Please Help Me, I'm Falling" (with Hank Locklin)||68||Hank Locklin & Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass|
|"Wabash Cannon Ball"||63||131||3||Movin' On|
|"Flying South" (with Hank Locklin)||56||Hank Locklin & Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass|
|"Columbus Stockade Blues"||70||You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet|
|1977||"How I Love Them Old Songs"||91||How I Love Them Old Songs|
|1980||"Night Life" (with Willie Nelson)||20||9||Danny Davis & Willie Nelson with the Nashville Brass|
|"Funny How Time Slips Away" (with Willie Nelson)||41|
|1981||"Colinda"||59||Cotton Eyed Joe|
|1985||"I Dropped Your Name"||82||singles only|
|1987||"Green Eyes (Cryin' Those Blue Tears)" (with Dona Mason)||62|