Billy Davis Oct 16, 2007 21:01:27 GMT -5
Post by Emerald City on Oct 16, 2007 21:01:27 GMT -5
Billy Davis was a singer, a songwriter, and a producer. For the first three years of their existence, he was the sort-of-fifth member of the Four Aims, later the Four Tops. (Top Lawrence Payton was his cousin.) Their demo, filled with Davis originals, got them signed to Chess Records in Chicago; they had no hits during their tenure with Chess, but Davis' songs were passed on to Chess acts like the Flamingos and the Moonglows.
It was about at this point that Davis started dating Gwen Gordy, and met Gwen's brother Berry; they began writing songs together, credited to Gordy and "Tyran Carlo," and one of them, "Reet Petite," became a small but indelible hit for Jackie Wilson in 1957. They continued to write for Jackie, and in 1958, with Gwen also credited, came up with Jackie's biggest hit up to that point: "Lonely Teardrops," which made it into the Top Ten in early 1959.
A falling out with Nat Tarnopol of Brunswick led Davis and the Gordys to set up shop on their own: Gwen, sister Anna, and Davis set up Anna Records in Detroit, which got its first hit in 1960 with "Money," a Barrett Strong single written by Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford. (Strong would later wind up as Norman Whitfield's writing partner in the late Sixties, while Whitfield was producing massive hits for the Temptations.) Harvey Fuqua of the Moonglows came on board while Berry Gordy was starting up his Motown and Tamla labels; Fuqua also came on to Gwen Gordy, and eventually Davis found himself squeezed out.
Back in Chicago, Billy Davis took over A&R at Chess, where he pushed the legendary blues label into contemporary soul; he updated Etta James, brought back the Dells, and introduced new acts like Fontella Bass, whose enormous hit "Rescue Me" in 1965 got the attention of the ad agency McCann-Erickson, who after three years finally persuaded Davis to join them as their director of music.