If you think Jimi playing behind his head was awesome, you need to know about the man who taught Jimi Hendrix to play the guitar. The name is Billy Davis, one of the few artists to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Doo Wop Hall of Fame, and the National Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame.
In the heart of Detroit’s vibrant Black Bottom Neighborhood, a young Billy Davis grew up surrounded by the rhythms of life and music. He had humble beginnings, picking cotton alongside his parents before destiny led him to a life that would forever shape the rock and blues world.
Billy Davis’s musical journey took an unexpected turn when he crossed paths with iconic figures like John Lee Hooker and Jackie Wilson.
At the tender age of 13, he met a 16-year-old Jackie Wilson, who would become his lifelong collaborator and friend. The roots of Billy’s music passion trace back to a taxi cab ride. One day, he and his mother heard Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right” on the radio. That song’s magnetic pull ignited a spark within him, sparking his desire to master the guitar.
In a heartfelt conversation with Ann Delisi on “Essential Conversations,” Billy Davis shared his memories of Detroit. He spoke of the incredibly talented singers and musicians who graced the street corners of the Motor City. He recounted stories from the bustling music scene, preserving the spirit of those bygone days.
Davis’s journey into the world of music began with his first band, “Billy Davis and The Upsetters,” which eventually became Berry Gordy’s in-house band even before the inception of Motown Records and the iconic Funk Brothers.
His musical prowess also led him to collaborate with the legendary Hank Ballard and The Midnighters, a partnership spanned three decades. Moreover, Davis’s close friendship with the esteemed Sam Cooke added another layer to his musical legacy.
During his time touring with Hank Ballard, a fateful encounter would change the course of music history.
Amid his musical journey in 1959, fate intervened once more when Davis crossed paths with a young and aspiring guitarist named Jimi Hendrix.
The story of their meeting holds a special place in Davis’s heart. The mentorship that blossomed between them was driven by Hendrix’s unyielding determination to perfect his craft. Davis recounted, “When I would show him something, he had to perfect it. He would do the same thing for hours and hours; he wanted to be perfect.”
This dedication led to the iconic styles that later defined Hendrix’s legendary performances. During their time together, Davis imparted his guitar techniques to Hendrix. He passed on his mastery of hits like “The Twist” and “Thrill Up on the Hill.” Furthermore, he introduced Hendrix to the art of playing guitar with his teeth and captivating the audience with flips and jumps on stage.
Amidst his rich anecdotes, Billy Davis painted vivid pictures of his mentors. He shared memories of John Lee Hooker’s influence, recounted his friendship with James Brown, and highlighted the invaluable advice the great B.B. King imparted. These interactions shaped his musical journey, guiding him toward greatness.
Davis’s impact resonates beyond his own accomplishments. The guitar legend Jimi Hendrix who created magic by playing with his teeth and behind his head, drew inspiration from Davis’s signature moves.
As we reflect on the life and legacy of Billy Davis, we see a story of perseverance, mentorship, and an unyielding passion for music. From playing alongside rock and blues icons to becoming a rock legend himself, Davis’s journey is a testament to the transformative power of music and the indelible mark he has left on the world.