Generally Eclectic Review

Reviews of book on music - all sorts. Feel free to share your comments, criticisms, and replies with my readers!

Location: Fredonia, New York, United States

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Monday, September 19, 2011

“The Man Behind The Music: The Legendary Carl Davis” by Carl H. Davis, Sr. (Life To Legacy Books)

I had set this evening aside to review Carl Davis’ autobiography without realizing today (September 19) would appear to be his birthday, judging by the number of Facebook posts of classic recordings the man produced during the 1960’s and ‘70’s. So I consulted Wikipedia to confirm this birth date, only to find that - so far as I can tell - there is no entry for “our” Carl Davis. There’s an entry for Carl Davis, conductor of the London Ph;lharmonic Orchestra, Carl Raymond Davis, World War II British flying ace, and a boxer from Chicago named Carl Davis. At least with that last one, we’re in the right city, Chicago.

The point is, in the grand scheme of things, Carl Davis, record producer, is, in his own behind-the-scenes way,at least as significant a contributor to the mental well-being of the world as any of the other Carl Davises the contributors to the infamous Internet encyclopedia choose to recognize. Goodness knows many other music-industry figures are listed there, including people who didn’t accomplish a tenth of what Carl Davis has or remain active anywhere near as long as he did.

Which is precisely why we need this book. There are hundreds upon hundreds of books on the shelves chronicling the histories of rock, jazz, blues, country music, classical music of all sorts. But the r&b/soul-music bookshelf is rather skimpy. Yes, there are biographies of the major figures, genre examinations of doo-wop, Motown, and hip-hop (perhaps way too many books). But the Chicago soul-music scene of the 1960’s/70’s has been little documented between book-covers. Even rarer are first-person accounts of that scene in that era. The fact that Carl Davis was not only involved with it, he dominated the behind-the-scenes recording end of it, gives him a perspective on the record business that only a very few previous autobiographers have been willing to share with the public.

The number of artists and hit records with connections to Carl Davis makes for quite an impressive list. He was the man who brought you Gene Chandler, Major Lance, Tyrone Davis,. the Chi-Lites, Young-Holt Unlimited, and the second half of Jackie Wilson’s career. Barbara Acklin, the Artistics, and Walter Jackson were Carl Davis artists. He worked alongside Curtis Mayfield at the birth of the Chicago soul sound. He also touched the careers of many artists who were not normally part of the Chicago scene, but whose careers managed to intersect with his, including Louis Armstrong,. Mary Wells, Erma Franklin, Cassius Clay as he was in the process of becoming Muhammad Ali, even a young songwriter named Elton John. He produced records, groomed artists and songwriters, hired the arrangers, occasionally wrote parts of songs, and ran successful record companies. Dakar and Chi-Sound were his, but he was also responsible for most of whatever magic the historic Brunswick and Okeh labels retained throughout the 1960’s. Now in his mid-70’s, and long retired from the record industry, Carl Davis remembers it all, discusses it all, and supplies a context for it all.

Though Davis seems to have been an above-board fellow in his dealings with recording artists and people throughout the various levels of the industry, he certainly witnessed a few of the seamier sides of the record business, and is not hesitant to write about things he saw, naming a few names in the process. His is one of the most cogent descriptions of how the infamous payola “racket” of the 1950’s operated, and how matter-of-fact the practice of paying to have records played on the radio was considered to be by disc jockeys, record companies, and distributors alike. Davis talks about getting caught up in a later scandal near the end of his career, involving trusted associates/friends at Brunswick, entailing a lengthy and involved trial in which he was eventually exonerated. He also discusses mob infiltration of the booking-agency business. It’s not always a pretty story, but he tells the tale honestly and without fear.

There are many behind-the-scenes stories of how famous records came to be, as well as the foibles of particular artists. We are treated to the unlikely, but true story of how Gene Chandler’s classic “Duke Of Earl” came together. We find a fellow named Tyrone Fettson insisting that his records be released under the artist billing “Tyrone The Wonder Boy”, until Davis finally convinces him not to use that horribly corny moniker. Mr. Fettson then decides to appropriate his producer’s’ last name, thus becoming Tyrone Davis. We hear about talented performers such as Billy Butler and Sydney Joe Qualls, who simply failed to catch on with the public to the degree they should have, due to sounding similar to bigger stars. And that’s just a sample. If you like insider stories about the music business, Carl Davis is full oif them.

There is, of course, room for Davis to talk about his personal life. It’s not always the most pleasant topic for him, but he doesn’t dwell too long on his mistakes. His post-music life has been relatively uneventful, as he traces his uneasy adjustment from the fast-paced and highly lucrative music world to the emptiness of losing it all, necessitating a further change to life as just a “regular guy”. But eventually he found satisfaction in doing everyday work to the point where he felt comfortable enough to write his story down.

There’s a lot of fascinating material here, on a subject which has hardly been done to death in previous books. It’s an interesting enough read that even people with only a passive interest in the workings of the music business will find his story engaging. Nonetheless, it will have special appeal to pop-music historians and people who just want to know the inside scoop on what the record business used to be like.

“The Man Behind The Music” is essentially a self-published book. Life To Legacy helps turn authors’ idea into finished products rather than being a conventional book publisher/distributor. Unlike the usual “vanity press” book, however, Carl Davis’ book may be easily ordered through or directly from

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