Monday, April 03, 2006

Tyrone Davis - Just My Way Of Loving You (Dakar 623)

Just My Way Of Loving You

Tyrone Fettson was born in Mississippi (sound familiar?), but grew up in Saginaw, Michigan. By the time he turned 20, he was hanging around Chicago's west side Blues scene. Always the sharp dresser, it wasn't long before he landed a job as a valet for Freddy King. He also held down a steady job at National Castings, where he would meet another young aspiring singer named Otis Clay. They worked the blues clubs on nights and weekends, earning a few extra bucks.

They were noticed by pianist Harold Burrage, who was then a producer and A&R man for the One-Der-Ful and Mar-V-Lus labels, working with Alvin Cash. Burrage had made a name for himself with his Cobra records that featured Otis Rush and Willie Dixon, and gone on to have a number of hits for One-Der-Ful's M-Pac! subsidiary himself.

He produced a few sides on Tyrone in 1965, but was unable to place them with his own company, and so farmed them out to the small Four Brothers label instead. They would release three singles by "Tyrone the Wonder Boy" that didn't cause much of a stir.

When Burrage died in late 1966, the wonder boy was once again on his own. Although there would be a couple of other releases (on Sack and ABC) in 1967, he pretty much "kept his day job" at National Castings.

As the story goes, Tyrone was sitting next to the stage during a Bobby Bland gig at a south side club, dressed to the nines as usual, when Bobby asked him if he wanted to sing. After he got up there and belted it out in his usual rough-edged blues shout style, Bland told him, "Be you son, don't be me". Tyrone would say it was the best career advice he ever recieved...

A force in the Chicago record scene since he produced Gene Chandler's Duke Of Earl in 1962, Carl Davis had gone on to help create the Chicago Soul sound at Okeh Records with artists like Major Lance and Billy Butler recording material written for them by Curtis Mayfield. He had continued to produce Chandler's records 'on the DL' for another label (Constellation), and this practice had gotten him fired by Okeh in 1966.

He was snapped up by Nat Tarnopol over at Brunswick Records, who was trying to inject new life into the career of their biggest star, Jackie Wilson. When the Davis produced Whispers (Getting Louder) - a song written by Brunswick secretary Barbara Acklin - landed at #5 on the R&B charts, Tarnopol made him his new A&R chief and 'executive vice president' of the label by the end of the year.

When Vee Jay Records folded in February of 1967, Brunswick bought up most of their equipment and moved into their former headquarters on South Michigan Avenue's "record row". Davis soon packed the place with the best talent Chicago had to offer. When Jackie Wilson took (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher all the way to #1 that summer, it was an affirmation of Davis' vision for the future of the company.

He tapped the music theory classes of James Mack at Crane Junior College for incredible talents like Willie Henderson, Tom Tom Washington and Leo Graham, all of whom (including Mack himself) would wind up working for Davis at one time or another.

This is the door Tyrone found himself knocking on in early 1968. He had been working with New York producer (and former member of Shep and the Limelites) Wally Roker, but wasn't happy with the way things were going. Carl Davis agreed to sign him to his new Dakar subsidiary. When he told him to bill him as "Tyrone the Wonder Boy", Carl said "I ain't putting that crap on the record, what's your real name?". Not too crazy about 'Tyrone Fettson' either, they decided to use Carl's last name instead, and Tyrone Davis was born!

His first release on the label was A Woman Needs To Be Loved, a blues number in the style he had been performing in the clubs for years. It didn't do much. The B side of the record, however, was a song Tyrone had recorded earlier with Wally Roker called Can I Change My Mind. Carl Davis had given it to the young Willie Henderson as his first production assignment. When a DJ down in Houston flipped the record over and started playing it on his station, they just went nuts! It was a million seller within a couple of weeks, going straight to #1 R&B and staying there.

The follow-up record, Is It Something You've Got, would hit #5 and establish Tyrone's sort of 'soap opera' appeal in which each record would tell another part of his lovelorn story. People loved it, sending his next release, Turn Back The Hands Of Time, all the way to #3 on the pop charts in the Spring of 1970.

Today's B side, the flip of 1971 top ten hit Could I Forget You (the sixth episode of the story on Dakar), is like a who's who of Windy City soul. Composed by the crack songwriting team of Jack Daniels and Johnny Moore, produced by Willie Henderson, with arrangements provided by Tom Tom Washington, it just cranks! Like it says on the label, Dakar by this time truly was "The Sound of Chicago", and Tyrone was its shining light.

Davis continued to chart regularly for the label with his tales of blue collar romance, and was a phenomenal success. By 1975, with number one smash Turning Point riding high in the charts, they were calling him "Mr. Chicago".

Brunswick, meanwhile, had nearly bankrupted itself successfully fighting 'payola' lawsuits in court, and had closed its doors by early 1976. Tyrone didn't miss a beat, taking Leo Graham with him and signing with Columbia Records. His first release with them, Give It Up (Turn It Loose), would become one of his biggest hits, spending 16 weeks on the R&B charts, peaking at #2.

Davis, like so many other performers of his day, toured constantly, packing 'chittlin' circuit' clubs wherever he went. In his excellent book Chicago Soul, Robert Pruter called Tyrone's mid-70s touring band "magnificent" and likened them to the mighty JBs in "overall flash and tightness of sound".

He recorded prolifically for Columbia over the next few years, cracking the R&B top forty on a regular basis, and would continue to do so for a variety of labels after he left them in 1981 (most notably with #3 smash Are You Serious on the Highrise label the following year).

Tyrone was one of those incredible forces in the R&B world (like fellow "Four Pack" members Johnny Taylor, Little Milton and Bobby Bland) who stayed immensely popular with black audiences, while remaining almost completely unknown to white ones (in this country, anyway...). I saw him at the Apollo Theater in NYC in like 1988 or something and it brought home to me what a big star he really was. The audience just ate him up! His high energy performance backed by what could only be described as an orchestra was just incredibly powerful stuff. The ladies were weak in the knees... hell, I was too, man! I'll never forget it.

Davis signed with good ol' Malaco Records in 1996, joining Little Milton and Bobby Bland in continuing to produce quality records for the label. He received a Rhythm & Blues Foundation Pioneer Award in 1998, the same year he would beat prostate cancer, and appear at a "roast" attended by over 1000 people in his adopted hometown of Chicago. He kept right on performing.

On September 7th, 2004, Tyrone Davis suffered a severe stroke that landed him in a long-term health care facility. Old friend Otis Clay organized a benefit for him in Chicago that November which featured Gene Chandler, Jerry Butler, Willie Clayton, Buddy Guy, and Koko Taylor.

Otis, who considered "TD" to be his brother, would visit him a few times a week and sing him the old songs.

He was 66 when he died in February, 2005.

I can't believe he's been gone over a year, already...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man, that is a great song. Sweet production. I know his hits, but this makes me want to hear more of his stuff. Great voice. Lets hear the A side.

9:22 PM  
Blogger The Stepfather of Soul said...

Great post and telling of the Tyrone Davis story. I have always felt it was absolutely criminal how Tyrone Davis and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Johnnie Taylor and Bobby Bland have always been the great black secret, basically being a blip in the mainstream radar although they were/are phenomenal talents.

10:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a wonderful write-up! I had been thinking someone needed to do this, and there you are. TD was underappreciated - more people should be listening to him. Just listen to "A Woman Needs To Be Loved" -- he alternates each phrase, first fiery then tender, an uncanny blend of rough and smooth. What a talent.

2:04 AM  
Blogger Rob said...

I just picked up his '82 self-titled lp from a dollat bin - plenty of cheese factor (like just about any post '75 soul record)but still some solid stuff here and there.

6:07 PM  
Blogger The Alex chronicles said...

Oh no! I never knew this. I loved this man's music- his last big hit, "Kiss You Where I Miss You"- was so hot.

His music just had that beat you could dance to. Such a wonderful man.

I'll sorely miss him.

3:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grew up in Chicago in the '70's and even as a kid I knew Dakar records and Tyrone Davis WERE "The Sound Of Chicago" as my mom and dad would play this side of the 45 more than the hit flip-side and it quickly became one of my favorite records of all time. Being recorded the same year as my birth "Just My Way Of Loving You" has the "Sound Of Chicago" will always bring back warm memories of when my parents and Tyrone davis were alive and in pure form,I will miss them all,RIP

7:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home