Although I was just a kid, I was a pretty serious student of Top 40 radio from the mid-’60s until I “graduated” to “progressive rock” radio in the early’-70s, which I realize in retrospect actually narrowed my tastes for a time.
But I remember ever so vividly being blown away by both of Tyrone Davis’s smash pop and R&B hits “Can I Change My Mind” (’68) and “Turn Back the Hands of Time” (’70), the smooth but undeniable groove, the earthy gentle voice oozing regret but not giving up on the possibility of renewal, just classic.
Davis died yesterday at 66. Greg Kot has a fine tribute in the Chicago Tribune:
- Whether they know it or not, many of today’s soul crooners take their cues from Davis, who forged one of the more distinctive personas in rhythm and blues during the last five decades.
He was a suave smoothie who sang about relationships with a mixture of wisdom and regret.
He not only helped define the sound of Chicago soul in the 1960s and ’70s in the wake of Curtis Mayfield, Jerry Butler and Gene Chandler, he continued to record and tour until he suffered a stroke last September.
….Davis’ hits, including “Turn Back the Hands of Time,” “Can I Change My Mind” and “Turning Point,” reflected a dark, nearly whispered perspective on relationships that endeared him to the black working-class community for decades.
By 1971, Davis was a star, riding a couple of top 10 hits.
“He was like Mr. Chicago,” singer Willie Clayton once told the Tribune.
“It was a thrill to be around and see the fancy cars; you name it, he had it.”
Val Kashimura, an R&B singer and executive at Davis’ Mississippi-based label, Malaco Records, called Davis “one of the big dogs in our line of work.”
“They used to call Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. the `Rat Pack,'” Kashimura said. “Well, I used to call Tyrone Davis, Bobby Bland, Johnny Taylor and Little Milton the `Four Pack,’ because they were the godfathers of R&B and blues for a couple generations of artists.”
Davis was born in Greenville, Miss. But by age 19, he was in Chicago and forged relationships with such contemporaries as Otis Clay, Mighty Joe Young and Otis Rush.
….Davis in the role of the penitent gentleman in a brightly colored tuxedo established a sound that distinguished him from more strident soul contemporaries such as Clay and Taylor.
“He was the ladies’ man,” said Graham, who also worked as Davis’ producer, songwriter and guitarist.
“He tried to put messages in his songs, and he found a niche that no else had.”
As popular taste changed, Davis adapted by recording songs such as “Get on Up (Disco),” but he never veered from his becalmed yet sensual perspective.
By the time he started recording for Malaco in the 1990s, he had become a respected elder statesman on the blues and R&B circuit.
“We used to call him `Daddy’ because he was the wise one, someone who all the other artists on the label looked up to,” Kashimura said.
His records continued to sell to black audiences, and he was regularly booked for weekend concerts until the stroke silenced him.
Davis is survived by his wife, Ann, and numerous children and grandchildren. Funeral services are pending.
Also of interest is an Internet chat Davis held on the Soul Patrol site.