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Billie Davis

Billie Davis

Early careerDavis' performing name was suggested by the impresario, Robert Stigwood, and was derived from those of blues singer Billie Holiday and the entertainer Sammy Davis Jr.In her teens Hedges was an engineering secretary before she started her recording career. After winning a talent contest in which she was backed by Cliff Bennett's band, the Rebel Rousers, she cut some early demo records with the Tornados for record producer Joe Meek. However, her first commercial success, under Stigwood's guidance, was "Will I What", released in August 1962, on which she performed as a foil to Mike Sarne, rather as Wendy Richard had done on Sarne's chart-topping disc, "Come Outside". This reached number 18 in the UK Singles Chart in September 1962.In February 1963 Davis had her biggest success with a cover version of The Exciters' "Tell Him". Written by Bert Russell (also known as Bert Berns), this song was covered in the sixties by a number of artists, including Helen Shapiro and Alma Cogan, and was successfully revived in the late 1990s by Vonda Shepard, for the American Fox television program, Ally McBeal. Davis' recording reached number ten in the UK chart, and was followed by "He's The One", which crept into the Top 40 in May 1963.SetbackIn 1963, the year in which popular music was transformed by the rise of The Beatles, Davis left Decca records due to financial disagreements. In September of that year she suffered a broken jaw when a chauffeur-driven limousine in which she and Jet Harris, former bass guitarist of the Shadows, were returning from a concert in Worcester crashed in the West Midlands. Harris received head injuries that seriously affected his already troubled career. The reporting in the press of a relationship with Harris, an unhappily married man, earned Davis, still only 17, some unwelcome publicity at a difficult time and may have been one of the factors which held back her career. In an interview included in the liner notes of the 2007 compilation CD Whatcha Gonna Do? (RPM 326), Davis acknowledges the scandal, but also places blame for the "lost momentum" on being unable to record for four months due to having her jaw wired shut after the accident. Despite the high regard in which many held her as a performer, she never achieved the fame of such contemporaries as Cilla Black or Sandie Shaw.StyleDavis was an early proponent of many of the fashion styles for which the 1960s are remembered: bobbed hair, long boots of the kind popularised by Honor Blackman in early episodes of The Avengers and leather mini-skirts. She was said to have beaten the latter for 'percussive effect' when recording. The biographer of the "supergroup" Cream has described her as "astonishingly photogenic".Later careerIn the late 1960s Davis returned to Decca. Recordings included Chip Taylor's "Angel of the Morning", on which she was backed by, amongst others, Kiki Dee and P. P. Arnold. Arnold later recorded the song herself and had the bigger hit in 1968. Davis' final chart entry was a Northern soul version of Jon Hendricks' "I Want You to Be My Baby", originally recorded by Louis Jordan in 1952, which reached number 33 in October 1968, although sales were affected by an industrial dispute at the manufacturing plant.Davis left Decca in April 1971 after a stay of eight years. She continued to record into the 1980s and was popular, in particular, with audiences in the Spanish-speaking world. Her cover of Burt Bacharach's "The Last One to Be Loved" appeared on the compilation album Trains & Boats & Covers (1999). A retrospective collection of her recordings for Decca was released in 2005.In 2006 she was re-united with Jet Harris for a series for concerts.

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