Singer, songwriter, producer
Country singer, songwriter, and producer Gail Davies is recognized as an instrumental force in breaking the gender barrier in the recording studios located on Music Row in Nashville, Tennessee. In the late 1970s, she became the first woman in the country music genre to produce her own recordings in Nashville, and, in 1990, became the first female staff producer in Nashville. In addition to her accomplishments as a producer, Davies helped forge the blending of country and rock genres in country music several years before the alternative country movement of the 1990s. She also championed what later became known as the neo-traditionalist movement with productions that emphasized old-timey, bluegrass instrumentation and with performances of cover songs by such golden-age country music stars of the 1950s and 1960s as Webb Pierce and Marty Robbins. Davies has earned recognition as a songwriter of distinction. She has written and performed many hit country songs in addition to writing hits for such other performers as Ava Barber, Lynn Anderson, and Mitzi Gaynor. Her vocal abilities have also earned critical accolades, and she has recorded or performed with artists including Emmylou Harris, Frank Zappa, John Lennon, Neil Young, Roger Miller, and Dolly Parton.
Davies was born Patricia Gail Dickerson in Broken Bow, Oklahoma. Her father, Tex Dickerson, was a guest performer on the Louisiana Hayride live performance and radio program. Dickerson introduced his daughter to the music of Carl Smith, Webb Pierce, and Johnnie and Jack. Her parents separated when she was five, and her mother took her and her two brothers to live near Seattle, Washington. Her mother subsequently married Darby Alan Davies, who adopted the three children. Gail Davies began singing in clubs with her brother Ron when she was 14 years old. After graduating from high school, Davies moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music. She and Ron signed a recording contract, but they never released an album. Her brother went on to write songs that were recorded by David Bowie and Three Dog Night.
Davies was married briefly to a jazz musician and pursued a career as a jazz singer, but the jazz aspirations ended along with the marriage shortly thereafter. She became a session singer for A&M Records, singing backup for Neil Young, Hoyt Axton, and Tom Pacheco. She also met Joni Mitchell and worked with Mitchell’s recording engineer, Henry Levy, who taught her how to record her own music. She spent nine years touring with a rock band but quit when she felt that her voice was suffering. She then began singing backup for country performers. One of these supporting positions resulted in the opportunity for her to duet on the song “Ashes of Love” with country star Roger Miller on The Merv Griffin Show. She began writing songs in 1975 and signed with EMI Publishing. EMI, in turn, convinced her that she should reside in Nashville, Tennessee. Upon arriving in Nashville, she wrote her first hit song, “Bucket to the South,” which was recorded initially by Ava Barber and later covered by Lynn Anderson and Mitzi Gaynor. She also met Richard Allen, who worked in the EMI Nashville office, and the couple became engaged after one week of working together.
Following the success of “Bucket to the South,” Davies was signed to a recording contract with Lifesong/CBS in 1978. Her debut album, Gail Davies, was produced by Tommy West and yielded the hit single “No Love Have I,” which was a remake of a hit written by Mel Tillis and made famous by Webb Pierce. She also performed a cover of Carl Smith’s “Are You Teasing Me.” Another cover song, Johnny and Jack’s “Poison Love,” was a potential hit, but radio programmers refused to broadcast it after the mass self-poisoning by the Jim Jones cult in Guyana. Her first album also includes her own version of “Bucket to the South,” as well as a musical collaboration called “Grandma’s Song”—a version of the standard folk song “Come-a-lou, Come-a-hi-lo” that features the voices of Davies’s mother and her grandmother, Frances Whitten. Another standout on the album, according to critics, was Davies’s composition “Someone Is Looking for Someone Like You.”
According to Mary A. Bufwack and Robert K. Oermann in their book Finding Her Voice: The Saga of Women in Country Music, the debut “was a stunning effort, easily the equal of anything Emmylou Harris and the other country-rock women were recording at the time.” While critics hailed her debut, Davies was distressed by the amount of fighting she had to do in order to create the music she desired. She left Lifesong/CBS and entered into a contract with Warner Bros, that stipulated that
Born Patricia Gail Dickerson on September 1, 1948, in Broken Bow, OK; daughter of Tex Dickerson (a performer on the Louisiana Hayride) and Jewel Dickerson (later Davies); married first husband (a jazz musician); divorced; married Richard Allen, c. 1976; divorced, 1981; married Rob Price, 1995; children: (with Gary Scruggs) Christopher.
Recorded with Neil Young, Hoyt Axton, John Lennon, Frank Zappa, late 1960s-early 1970s; duet partner with Roger Miller, 1970s; signed with EMI Publishing, 1975; wrote hit single for Ava Barber, “Bucket to the South,” 1975; signed recording contract with Lifesong/CBS, released debut album, Gail Davies, 1978; worked as producer on second album, The Game, 1979; signed with RCA Records, 1984; released duet with Dolly Par-ton on John Prine/Bobby Braddock song “Unwed Fathers,” 1984; appeared at Wembley Festival, London, England, 1985; formed country-rock band Wild Choir, 1985; organized first all-female Writers in the Round for television program Austin City Limits, 1986; signed to MCA Records, 1988; became first female staff producer in Nashville, for Liberty Records, 1990; formed Little Chickadee Productions, early 1990s.
Awards: DJs of America, Best New Vocalist, 1980.
Addresses: Website —Gail Davies Official Website: http://www.gaildavies.com.
she would not only write and perform her music, but would produce it in the studio as well.
The first album Davies self-produced was done with the help of co-producer Garth Fundis. The Game included the leadoff song written by Paul Kraft, “Blue Heartache.” The song featured a distinct bluegrass sound and became her first Billboard top-ten hit single. Two other songs from the album, “Good Lovin’ Man” and “Like Strangers,” both charted at number 21 on the Billboard country music charts. The album also earned Davies a nomination as Best New Female Vocalist by the Academy of Country Music Association as well as a Country Music Association Horizon Award nomination. On her follow-up, I’ll Be There, Davies enlisted the help of Emmylou Harris and Paulette Carlson, later the lead vocalist for Highway 101, for backup vocals. The album featured a song inspired by the early life of Roger Miller, “I’m Hungry I’m Tired,” and the hit singles “I’ll Be There,” a cover of Carl Smith’s “It’s a Lovely, Lovely World,” and “Object of My Affections.”
In 1981 Davies divorced Allen and subsequently gave birth to a son fathered by Gary Scruggs. An out-of-wedlock child was considered scandalous in Nashville in the early 1980s, and Davies’s career was negatively affected, with radio programmers refusing to broadcast her songs. One song, however, earned her a Billboard number-nine hit: the K.T. Oslin song “Round the Clock Lovin’.” She also covered Marty Robbins’s classic “Singing the Blues” in a style more resembling jazz than country. Her final recording for Warner Bros., What Can I Say, was the result of Davies writing, performing, and producing while juggling the responsibilities of single motherhood.
Signed to RCA Records, Davies joined with Leland Sklar to produce Where Is a Woman to Go, which features the single “Unwed Fathers.” A duet with Dolly Parton that highlights Nashville’s double standard-ostracizing single mothers but embracing male country stars who father out-of-wedlock children—the song was written by John Prine and Bobby Braddock and was named best country song of 1984 by Newsweek magazine. In 1986 Davies formed the band Wild Choir with guitarists Kevin Welch, Larry Chaney, and Pete Pendras, bassist Denny Bixby, keyboardist Gene Sisk, and drummer Bob Mummert. The result was an album that combined country and rock music and was considered widely influential. While the album produced no hit singles, Martina McBride did have a number-one hit with the Wild Choir song “Safe in the Arms of Love” in the mid-1990s.
Davies subsequently returned to solo performing and signed a recording contract with MCA Records. The one album she recorded for MCA, Pretty Words, produced no hit singles for Davies, but the song “I Don’t Know Why”—retitled as “Tell Me Why”—became a hit single for Jann Brown. Her next album, The Other Side of Love, was released by Capitol Records. The changing climate of country music radio in the early 1990s, however, favored such acts as Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, and Clint Black, and Davies’s more traditional album did not receive radio play. For the next several years, Davies worked as a staff producer for Liberty Records, where she attempted to mold the sound of teenage singer Mandy Barnett. She resumed performing in 1994 and toured Europe. She recorded the album Eclectic in 1995 on her own Little Chickadee Records and performed in England to support sales of the album. While in England, she married British bass player Rob Price. Price and former members of Wild Choir performed on Davies’s Love Ain’t Easy in 1999, and in 2001 Davies released a live album recorded in Nashville, Live at the Station Inn.
Gail Davies, Lifesong/CBS, 1978.
The Game, Warner Bros., 1980.
I’II Be There, Warner Bros., 1980.
Giving Herself Away, Warner Bros., 1982.
What Can I Say, Warner Bros., 1983.
Where Is a Woman to Go, RCA, 1984.
Wild Choir, RCA, 1986.
Pretty Words, MCA, 1989.
The Other Side of Love, Capitol/EMI, 1990.
The Best of Gail Davies, Capitol/EMI, 1990.
Eclectic, Little Chickadee, 1995.
Gail Davies Greatest Hits, Koch, 1998.
Love Ain’t Easy, Little Chickadee, 1999.
Live at the Station Inn, Valley, 2001.
Bufwack, Mary A., and Robert K. Oermann, Finding Her Voice: The Saga of Women in Country Music, Crown Publishers, 1993.
Kingsbury, Paul, editor, The Encyclopedia of Country Music, Oxford University Press, 1998.
“Gail Davies,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 30, 2002).
Gail Davies Official Website, http://www.gaildavies.com (April 30, 2002).
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