October 03, 2008

Goodbye, George Davis

"Hold On, Help Is On the Way" (Davis/Tyler/Parker)
G. Davis & R. Tyler, Parlo 102, 1966

(Tune in to HOTG Internet Radio)

"Hold On, Help Is On the Way" has long been on my short list of favorite instrumentals from New Orleans - not funk, just a classy, intensely hip mover and groover. I'd even venture to say it's one of the great R&B instrumentals, period. On it, George Davis gets a chance to let his guitar chops run free, at least for a little over two minutes of concentrated bliss. In the 1960s, his signature licks and solos graced a number of New Orleans records - the most well-known of which was Robert Parker's "Barefootin'". But, this virtuoso single is his only known solo outing from the old days. He shied away from being the front man, not even using his full name on the record, and giving his partner and friend, Red Tyler, co-billing on the A-side, though Red only had a supporting role on sax. Still, it was really George's show.

A month or so back, I found this 45 for sale while I was searching for something else online, and ordered it. Though I've had a CD version of the A-side for many years on a UK Northern Soul compilation, I had never run across the vinyl before, and considered it a very lucky find. The record arrived a few weeks ago; and, just after I made a digital transfer of each side for the archives, I got a call from my friend, Bill, who told me that his friend, George Davis, had died. Bill had been working with him over the past few years, preparing George's self-produced recordings for CD release (he had enough material for at least four CDs!). As we discussed the sad, surprising news and I heard more about Davis, I could still see the 45 sitting on top of my turntable cover. Synchronicity like that gets you thinking. I was further knocked back to find out that Davis passed on September 10th. That is virtually a year to the day after his longtime friends and musical collaborators, Wilson 'Willie Tee' Turbinton and jazzman Joe Zawinul, departed within a few hours of each other on different continents. While that record was in transit to me from England, Davis had slipped away to join them at the Jam Everlasting.

Call it psychic convergence or plain coincidence, but, obviously, Parlo 102 came my way at just the right moment. Though I have long been a fan of George Davis, I never met or spoke with him directly and didn't get a chance to tell him how much his music meant to me. I hope that enjoying this tasty top track is a fitting way to celebrate this multi-talented, humble gentleman, who stayed off the public radar as a name, but who made considerable contributions to music and influenced many other musicians, including Deacon John, Leo Nocentelli, George Porter, Jr. and George French, in and beyond his hometown. Read more about him in Jeff Hannusch's obituary at Offbeat and in Davis' Allmusic biography linked above.

As evidenced on this well-structured tune, Davis' guitar style displayed a combination of attacks, the most obvious being his breezy, Wes Montgomery-influenced, melodic octave playing on the main body of the song, plus intricate, stacatto soloing, and other embellishments such as his playful quoting of Steve Cropper's licks from Sam and Dave's hit of the same year, "Hold On I'm Comin'", which, I am sure, is where Davis derived the title for his tune. The other players did great work, as well. Tyler's tenor sax doubles the main melody lines; and one of New Orleans finest drummers, June Gardner is likely laying down the unrelenting, driving beat that takes no prisoners. Since Davis was also an accomplished bassist, he could very well have played on the basic rhythm track, later overdubbing his guitar. Probably the rest of the band was much the same as appeared on Parlo 101, Aaron Neville's massive hit, "Tell It Like It Is": Willie Tee on piano, Deacon John on second guitar, and Emory Thompson on trumpet. The B-side of "Hold On, Help Is On The Way" was another instrumental featuring Davis' extended riffing and sounding a lot like "Tell It Like It Is" in tempo and structure, but with a different melody line and a reconfigured bridge and ending. He called it, "Bet You're Surprised", and took the sole billing as G. Davis. But any commercial interest in this single was quickly overshadowed by the events surrounding Parlo's debut release.

"Tell It Like It Is", which Davis composed based on the title suggested by fellow tunesmith Lee Diamond, became an overwhelming hit for Neville, but ended up bankrupting Parlo Enterprises, the production company started by Davis, Alvin 'Red' Tyler, and Warren Parker, as well as their new label, and Cosimo Matassa , who owned Dover Records, which distributed the single, and the legendary studio operation where most New Orleans records were cut. With over two million copies sold on the hit, plus a quickly assembled album on Neville, and his less successful follow-up singles, the companies had shipped much of their product on credit and were not able to collect the money owned them in time to pay their mounting expenses and taxes. As told before here, the debacle changed the face of the record business in the Crescent City for years to come; and, of course, "Hold On, Help Is On the Way", became just part of the debris of that financial collapse, lending its title a sadly ironic twist.

Of course, you don't have to know any of that to enjoy this well-written and impeccably played tune. But I think it only enriches the music to know some of the back story of the people who made it. I'd like to think that Davis' compositional skills and playing technique on this rare gem speak volumes about his soaring spirit, positive energy, musical sophistication, and sense of humor. Considering how talented he was, it is shocking that he did not do more as solo artist until very late in life. But, it seems he was quite satisfied to contribute as a sideman and stay out of the spotlight. Sure, the music business taught some hard lessons; but he came out of it to create a good life for himself and his family and continued making music until his dying day, What more can you ask?

Here's what my friend, Bill Roberts, sent me about George for this piece:
I had the great fortune of working directly with George for the last several years, as we were working on a 60 song, 4 CD compilation. It will be finished in due time. George was one of those guys where, if you met him, you did not just get a glimpse into his life, you got the 'whole George'. All the man wanted to do in life was help others. He did not seek the front line stage. Always a sideman, he made a great fortune with this both spiritually and professionally. . . He meant a great deal to me and to many, many others. His music talent was just one aspect of the man. His generosity, caring nature, and wholesomeness were in my opinion, without equal.

You can hear two of the Willie Tee singles that George contributed to on YouTube.
They are also in rotation on HOTG Radio.

Goodbye, George. Wish I had known you better.

Photo by Bill Roberts

Life is too short to have sorrow.
You may be here today and gone tomorrow.
You might as well get what you want.
So go on and live, baby, go on and live.

- George Davis, "Tell It Like It Is"


Blogger Red Kelly said...

Wow, Dan... very sorry to hear that. George was such a big part of New Orleans music - a true unsung hero.

I just recently found out that he wrote the incredible Wake Up for Alvin Robinson, among so many other contributions... also, you soul detectives may be interested in hearing, that there is some new evidence to suggest that that is indeed George playing on Joe Haywood's (Play Me) A Cornbread Song, just as you suspected, Dan.

May he rest in peace.

12:33 PM, October 07, 2008  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Thanks for the reminder about "Wake Up", Red. Listening to that again, you really get more of a sense of George's philosophical side - his lyrics there are deep - at least for a pop song.

I though that might be him playing on that Joe Haywood track. George had distinctive chops. One of a kind. Hope we can uncover a few more forgotten gems he had a hand in.

Keep up the fine work over at the B Side (and A Side) and Soul Detective.

11:09 PM, October 07, 2008  
Blogger Nevilletracks Blog said...

Thanks for yet another interesting and informative article, Dan. I'm sure you are aware that both of these instrumentals were included on Aaron Neville's "Tell It Like It Is" (Parlo1) LP (despite Aaron's not having been involved with either track.) I'll have to give them a listen again, but (if my memory serves me correctly) one of these two songs served a dual purpose. It was included in its instrumental form and was used as the backing track for one of the vocal numbers on that LP.

10:35 AM, October 08, 2008  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Jon, thanks for refreshing my memory - which needs frequent rebooting these days. Actually, I first became aware of "Hold On, "Help Is On The Way" via Aaron's LP. I do not own it (just so everyone, including my wife, knows that I don't own everything!), but I had a CD burn of it at one point that has disappeared. Frankly, at the time, I ignored "Bet You're Surprised", as I played mostly upbeat stuff on my radio show. The recent purchase of this single re-introduced it to me. Anyway, I am glad you brought this all back to mind. Aaron's Parlo LP was hastily assembled, as the flood gates of demand opened for "Tell It Like It Is", and the instrumentals were just filler - high quality filler, even so - added , making virtually all of Parlo's output somewhat Aaron -related (except for one last one on an artist unknown to me). Since "Hold On" had it's own release, I suppose it was already recorded and used just because it was available. I have no idea when the sessions were done.

As you have confirmed now, in a separate email, "Bet You're Surprised", was in fact the backing track for another vocal ballad (with a different name) on the LP. I'll have to listen and report back. Readers can find a wealth of such information on the Family Neville at Jon's fine site, nevilletracks.com

12:16 PM, October 08, 2008  
Blogger Keeping Soul Alive said...

Hi Dan

Sad news!

I've put a link into my feature on George for your excellent tribute:


Take care


3:10 PM, October 09, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sorry i do have a google ID, i just can never remember what it is.....

i love the blog..its one of my top ten faves...

i absolutely do not mean to detract from Davis' death...but i am scratching my head at no mention of Earl Palmer's death a few weeks ago????..

Did i miss something?...


5:35 PM, October 11, 2008  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

ana, no google ID necessary to get a response. Glad you dig da blog. I am going scrape by on a technicality here and point out that I did at least mention the passing of Earl Palmer at the end of my "Q-Funk" post from Sept 25. You must have blinked.

Seriously, I wish this blog could be an up to the minute info-fest on the comings and goings of all our New Orleans musical obsessions - but I am just not able to do that, without, you know, quitting my day job (a good idea in every respect except the financial), forsaking my family, and not doing the all musical hunting and gathering research that feeds the whole mess. Besides, I'm a slow worker - and, if you think I digress in print, that's just the tip o' the berg, I'm tellin' ya.

Excuses and disclaimers aside, I plan to do a piece on Mr. Palmer, featuring something rarely heard, soon... that's HOTG time, though. I hope my failure to get there more quickly isn't taken as a slight to my utter respect for that icon of New Orleans drumming, and drumming in general. The HOTG post archives are full of references to him - as a search will reveal. He's so much more well-known than many that there is some good information about him already available online, as well.

It is my hope that people who are into New Orleans music enough to read this blog are up on the news and views from many other worthy sources and put up with me for some of the lesser known tidbits, leads, and explorations, that wind up here...eventually.

12:54 AM, October 12, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i do appreciate the reply...thank you...and frankly, i did consider that Palmer might fall out of the range of the obscure...and i do absolutely understand time constraints and such...

but holy cow, if there was ever someone whose importance is undeniable, its him...

you have something rarely heard?...im all ears....

again, thanks for the reply....


7:01 PM, October 12, 2008  
Blogger Funky16Corners said...

Thanks for the info. George Davis is one of those guys I always wondered about (and if it's him on 'Cornbread Song', the dude was a GOD!
It's also cool to see something else on Parlo. All I've ever seen are Aaron Neville 45s.

3:19 PM, October 18, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a copy of Tell it like it is/Why worry, PARLO 101, the strange thing about this pressing is about 3/4 through through the A side it starts to play the B side. When you look at the grooves you can see a small line between. Not sure how this was ever pressed. I've had the record for 15-20 years I wrote to the Grapevine column in Goldmine magazine yeas ago asking if anyone has ever heard of this and no one did. Any ideas on it's value. The record is in VG condition.


5:04 PM, November 08, 2008  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Lee, while record pressing flaws or mistakes are not all that uncommon, your copy of Parlo 101 seems pretty strange. Can't figure out how that could have happened, either. Still, I don't really think it makes the record valuable, since the mistake prevents the A side from playing through. There may be somebody out there who collects such oddities; but, in essence, it is a defective record. If it were an extremely rare 45 to begin with, maybe it would have some value. But there were tons of 101 made and shipped. You might check around on some the record collector websites, listservs and message boards to see what else you can find out, as I am certainly no authority on valuation.

11:20 AM, November 12, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:28 AM, April 14, 2010  
Blogger moonlight2 said...

Hi I am the daughter of George Davis, Jr and everything mentioned about my father is so very true. I shed tears reading all the wonderful things said and I really appreciate you magnifying his wonderful talent. He is really missed. Thanks again.

Nicole Davis-Moon

5:31 PM, January 25, 2013  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Thanks so much for your comment, Ms Nicole. As you can tell, I'm a big fan of your Dad's music and am sorry I never got a chance to meet him or even tell him so. All the best to you and your family.

8:05 PM, January 28, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for posting this about my grandfather I know he would be extremely honored and flashing that beautiful deep dimpled smile of his. This has helped so much in helping my kids,his great grandkids in appreciating his legacy once again thank you.
Marquita Davis

1:55 PM, April 13, 2014  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Once again, I am happy and proud to do my part to keep appreciation of George Davis going. He was a great musician, composer and human being while here; and our loss is the gain of that big band on the other side!

I hope to feature more of his music by and by.

2:16 PM, April 13, 2014  
Blogger Unknown said...

I really like the instrumentals too, but the backstory is another matter. In the Nevilles' memoir (p. 161), Cyril recalled: "[George Davis and I] put together three songs, Aaron sang them all, but when the album came out, they stripped off the vocals and left them as instrumentals. There went my writing credits." "Bet You're Surprised" later showed up as "Those Three Words" with Aaron's vocal replacing the lead guitar. Apparently there were vocal versions of "Hold On" and a third song which are likely lost. Cyril also said there was considerable infighting at Par Lo but none of it involved George Davis. --Mike L.

5:28 PM, January 12, 2016  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Thanks, statman54, for reminding me about Cyril's memories of the Aaron's Parlo sessions. As he states, the was about 17 at that time and hanging with older, more experienced cats. He was an aspiring songwriter and George rightly encouraged that, but business being business, Cyril's lyrics didn't make the cut(s) for whatever reason. It is still remarkable how well "Hold On" holds up as an instrumental in the able hands of Davis, Tyler, and the crew.

As for the infighting at Parlo, the label was a financial debacle due to circumstances I noted in the post and have discussed before. Cosimo's enterprises were beginning to tank financially at the time because he could no longer get more loans from the banks to give him time to collect his accounts. Parlo I have been told had some questionable silent backers who may have absconded with any profits that did come in. Anyway, there was no money for Aaron out of sales of the record and no way for Parlo to properly promote his few follow-ups and the LP. Still amazes me that no major label picked him up at the time......

11:25 AM, February 06, 2016  

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