Born: April 29, 1925 | Died: June 12, 2008 Primary Instrument: Flugelhorn
Danny Davis was a band leader, vocalist and producer and founder/leader of the Nashville Brass. Born into a large Irish-Catholic family. His father died when Davis 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 1940's and into the 1950's Davis continued working as a trumpeter/vocalist in several big bands including the band's of Bobby Byrne, Sammy Kaye, Art Mooney (he played 1st 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.
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 1950's 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 lead to the pop recording by Tony Bennett.
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 1960's 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.
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. 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.
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 of 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.
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 1980's 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 1990's. 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 untimely death in a motorcycle accident; Larry Morton (guitar); Chuck Sanders (bass); Terry Waddell (drums); Curtis McPeake (banjo).
Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass made their last public performance on July 23, 2005. Davis was eighty years old at the time. The group performed two shows and received standing ovations for each.