Wild Bill Davis | Bio
Compiled by T.C. Pfeiler | www.tcpfeiler.com
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Davis pioneered the Hammond Organ in the late 1940s and early 1950s. His
always famous driving and swinging trio concept with organ, guitar and
drums has served as inspiration for all important jazz organists
including Jimmy Smith.
This site should help to make his name better known to contemporary jazz fans, because he played a main role in the emergence of the Hammond Organ as a true solo Jazz-instrument. As an sensitive and creative arranger, Wild Bill Davis proved his deep musical understanding.
The master of heavy block-chords said: "I play more bigband than organ".
Wild Bill Davis was born William Strethen-Davis on November 24th, 1918 in Glasgow, Missouri. The family moved to Parsons, Kansas when Bill was a youngster.
Davis got his first music lessons from his father, a singer who also collaborated with Buck Clayton beside his main job as a breakman for a railroad company.
After studies at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and at Wiley College in Texas he moved to Chicago in 1939, where he worked as an arranger and guitarist for Milt Larkin. Davis stayed with Larkin through 1942. No recordings from this era are known.
In 1943 he arranged for pianist Earl "Fatha" Hines.
Bill Davis did his first piano recordings probably with singer & alto saxophonist Buster Bennett for Columbia in 1945.
Later in 1945, Davis joined vocalist/saxophonist Louis Jordan´s Tympany Five. He was the main arranger & pianist for Jordan, who was one of the most successful jukebox performers of the late 1940s. With "Choo Choo Boogie" the group had a number seven hit in the U.S. singles chart. The Davis arrangement over Jordan´s version of "Saturday Night Fish Fry" was one of the first Rock´n Roll songs in history.
In 1947 he recorded with Tiny Bradshaw for Savoy Records.
Late in 1948 he worked as pianist with saxophonist Claude McLin and Ed McLin on trumpet. Sometimes the group backed Billie Holiday at the Pershing Ballroom in Chicago.
In 1949, Davis began recording on the Hammond Organ as a single (Mercury 8136) and with Louis Jordan in 1950 (Tamburitza Boogie).
His new trio conception with organ, guitar and drums was a very powerful and phenomenal swinging vehicle and most today´s Jazz organists still use this concept.
Davis´s first album with his organ trio was released in 1950: "Bill Davis And His Real Gone Organ" on Mercer Ellington´s Label Mercer Records, featuring Duke Ellington on piano for the song "Things Ain't What They Used To Be."
In 1951 Davis recorded the album "Live At Birdland" with guitarist Floyd Smith and drummer Christopher Columbus. Floyd Smith replaced Bill Jennings who was a genial guitarist but unfortunately a drug addict. Smith later produced and married disco sound queen Loleatta Holloway.
After two final albums with Jordan in 1951 he signed with Okeh / Epic Records and recorded a number of great 78-rpm records and 10´ & 12´ LP´s.
It was the beginning of the "organ boom" in the USA.
Davis was called the "daddy" of all Jazz-organists soon.
In 1952, he recorded with Hot Lips Page for King Records and in 1955 with Frank Morgan.
From now on he was called "Wild" Bill Davis. His nickname was created by Leonard Feather.
In 1955, Wild Bill Davis arranged Vernon Duke´s all time standard "April In Paris" for Count Basie´s Bigband. Although Davis was unable to make it to the recording session because his organ transporter, a van broke down on the way to the studio. The song was a big hit for Basie and Davis used the final chorus later as intermission riff with his own groups.
Davis signed with Imperial in 1956, recorded with Ivory Joe Hunter in 1957 for Atlantic and with Illinois Jacquet for Verve Records in 1958.
In 1959, Wild Bill Davis switched to Everest. He recorded a number of commercial successful albums under his name and with singer Gloria Lynne. Another album in colloboration with trumpet player Charlie Shavers, called "Hit Songs From Milk And Honey" was also very successful.
While under contract with Everest, he recorded under the pseudonym "Strethen Davis" with Arnett Cobb in 1959 for Prestige Records.
The same year, Davis played organ on the Capitol album "Jackie Gleason Presents Aphrodisia", still a Jackie Gleason all time bestseller.
In 1960, Wild Bill Davis was included in Raymond Scott´s unusual production "Lute Song, Raymond Scott Plus The Secret Seven", released on Top Rank Records while both worked for Everest. The music was re-issued on CD as "The Unexpected" a couple of years ago. The identity of the musicians was "top secret" for a long time, but Jazz listeners should recognize the identity of most of the performers.
In 1961 the first album in collaboration with Duke Ellington´s altosax star Johnny Hodges was released on Verve Records: "Blue Hodge". A number of remarkable albums should follow until Wild Bill Davis joined the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1969, one year after Billy Strayhorn passed away.
The album "Little Jimmy Scott Acc By The Marty Paich / Gerald Wilson Orchestra" from 1962 was overdubbed with Wild Bill´s organ lines some years later while Scott´s voice was deleted. From now on this album was sold as "Wild Bill Davis - Wonderful World Of Love".
Davis signed with Coral Records the same year.
He was the organist on Ella Fitzgerald´s very successful Verve album "These Are The Blues" in 1963 and on Milt Jackson / Ray Brown "Much In Common" in 1964.
From 1964 to 1969, Wild Bill Davis was under contract with RCA Victor and recorded a number of remarkeable albums. He collaborated with Sonny Stitt on two productions for Roulette Records.
For more than 25 years, Davis performed in Atlantic / NJ. Two of his RCA albums are live-recordings from the Club Grace´s Little Belmont: "In Atlantic City" and "Midnight To Dawn" (Wild Bill´s personal favorite album), recorded on August 10th & 11th, 1966 with members of the Duke Ellington Orchestra and James "Dickie" Thompson on guitar. Thompson composed the flip side of Bill Haley´s Rock´n Roll world hit single "Rock Around The Clock", entiteled "Ten Woman (And One Man)".
From 1969 to 1971, Davis worked as arranger and organist and second pianist for the Duke Ellington Orchestra. A lot of recorded material from this period ist still unissued. With Ellington he came to Europe for the first but not for the last time.
In 1970 he recorded with Paul Gonsalves in Paris the album "Paul Gonsalves In Paris" for the French label Blue Star Records under his other pseudo "Prince Woodyard".
In the 1970s, Wild Bill Davis started a second career in Europe. He performed on important European Jazz Festivals, recorded many albums for the French label Black & Blue and and for Doris & Joerg Koran´s Swiss label "Jazz Connaisseur" (1986-1990) with sidemen from his beginnings and / or with prominent French musicians like tenor saxophonist Guy Lafitte and vibraphonist Dany Doriz.
In 1976, Milt Larkin´s reunion album was recorded in New York with Wild Bill Davis on organ.
From 1978 to 1981/82 Davis toured Europe with vibraphonist Lionel Hampton as a member of his Giants of Jazz.
In 1978, Davis recorded with Blues Pianist Memphis Slim in Paris / France the album "Blues And Woman".
In 1987, Wild Bill Davis recorded his only album with a second Jazz-organist, called "Wild Bill Davis / T.C. Pfeiler, 70th / 30th Anniversary Live Concert" in Salzburg / Austria. T.C. Pfeiler, today known as Austria´s first international Jazz-organist was Bill´s only private student. Pfeiler met Davis for the first time on April 18th, 1978 at Internationale Jazzwoche Burghausen in Bavaria, Germany. Wild Bill Davis used T.C. Pfeiler´s Hammond C3 organ for his performance with Lionel Hampton´s Giants Of Jazz.
Davis became Pfeiler´s most important mentor and teacher at the beginning of his career.
In 1992, Davis recorded his last CD in Paris, called "Paris-Barcelona Connection" for Black & Blue Records.
Wild Bill Davis home was in St. Albans, NY, but he passed away from a heart attack on August 17th, 1995 in Moorestown, New Jersey during convalescence following a road accident in 1994.
He is still with us ev´ry day!
We´ll never forget you Bill!
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