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Blues

Agent double-o-soul

Melvin Davis put soul music on hold for a dependable post office gig. Then Europe discovered him.

MT Photo: Doug Coombe
AUDIO

Michael Hurtt and Melvin Davis are interviewed on WDET (MP3)
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Published 8/12/2009

The song, pressed on the local Wheel City label, is one of the most obscure in the history of recorded Detroit soul music. Yet when the band breaks into its intro, the packed house of testifying dancers erupts, and when Melvin Davis sings that first line, they're right there with him. They know every word. It's uplifting. It's soulful. It's downright spiritual.

Thirty-seven years after its 500-copy run sank without a trace in 1965, 5,000 — yes, 5,000 — Melvin Davis fans are flipping Wales' Prestatyn Soul Weekender on its collective ear. To this throng of music fanatics, DJs and record collectors, the song in question, "Find a Quiet Place (and be Lonely)," is an anthem, and its rarity has only amplified its legend. 

Davis turns in an electrifying set. Then he signs autographs, just as he does after other overseas shows (most recently this past June). Later, he presides over a panel discussion that gives fans a glimpse of what it was like to be a full-fledged participant in one of the most astounding music scenes of all time. His even-keeled outlook, lucid memory, outgoing nature and philosophical perspective make him a natural ambassador for both his city and its music. 

It's no wonder that many of his fans can hardly believe that when Melvin Davis returns home to Detroit's west side in a few days, he'll be back to the grind at the post office. 


Detroit is a city filled with them: men and women whose contributions to musical culture are priceless, yet who've received minuscule amounts of credit, money or name recognition for their inspiring contributions. Davis doesn't let it get him down. He's not bitter, regretful or weighed down by a fiscal fortune that could've or should've been. Sitting in the living room of his modest home, he's clearly comfortable with his life, his career path, his past and most importantly, his future. Fine-boned, distinctively handsome and more than six feet tall, his is an aura of positive energy that's even more impressive than his towering, nearly youthful countenance. 

"I didn't punch a time clock till I was 42 years old," he says with characteristic upbeat candor. "I never needed a regular job because I was doing music almost 24 hours a day." 

It's easy to overlook, or not hear, Davis' vast musical contributions, because this giant was unjustly somewhat under the radar in the '60s and early '70s radio mainstream. But he was certainly there all along. He's the impossibly funky drummer behind guitarist Dennis Coffey and organist Lyman Woodard on the legendary, sample-worthy single "River Rouge"/"It's Your Thing"; the evocative lead vocalist on the 8th Day's AM soul staple "You've Got to Crawl (Before You Walk)"; the songwriter who penned J.J. Barnes' desperate ode "Chains of Love," which — in the hands of Detroit rock band the Dirtbombs — served as the musical centerpiece of the 2007 Julian Schnabel art-house film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Songwriter royalties aside, Davis is still not a household name. 

One listen to his records as an artist is testament to the star Davis might have been. But to the music's true aficionados — those who give every record an objective ear, whether it hit or not — he is much, much more. He's a soul renaissance man whose talents were spread over a myriad of local labels in the '60s and early-'70s, such as Jack Pot, Fortune, Ke Ke, Groovesville, LaBeat and Invictus, imprints run by players arguably as necessary to the development of music in the Motor City as Berry Gordy, yet unjustifiably lesser known. 

Davis puts these lesser-knowns into perspective: "People aren't familiar with the wealth of contributions that have been made by so many artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, promoters; just a host of people who were out there putting their heart and soul into trying to make their place in the industry. Detroit has always been a hotbed of expression; of soul on the cutting edge. And the essence of that spirit is still here." 

Davis' multifaceted career confronts the very idea of fame as a reward for talent, originality and hard work in the music business. While jazz artists are often forgiven for dwelling in obscurity, R&B and rock 'n' roll musicians have often been questioned for it. Theirs are genres sometimes cursed with the mistaken ideal that sales figures and popularity are the barometers of real achievement, says renowned soul DJ and Peoples' Records proprietor Brad Hales.

Hales, an expert on Motor City soul music, admires Davis for his remarkable longevity, not only as a vocalist, drummer and songwriter, "but as an artist who was able to stay relevant for several decades, coming out of the early '60s, going into the '70s and even into the disco era." 

Long-term relevance can trump mainstream popularity, Hales says, pointing to the UK's ever-growing Northern Soul phenomenon — an age-old club culture centered around DJs spinning rare up-tempo American soul music for thousands of dancers at wild all-night parties and weekenders. Melvin Davis penned many of the genre's most crucial cornerstones: Johnnie Mae Matthews' "Lonely You'll Be," Darrell Banks' "I'm the One Who Loves You," Lonette McKee's "Stop! Don't Worry About It," Edward Hamilton's "I'm Gonna Love You," Ann Perry's "That's the Way He Is," Steve Mancha's "I Won't Love You and Leave You," Jackie Beavers' "I Need My Baby." 

"There was just so much music out at the time," Hales says of the soul-rich '60s and '70s, "that whatever companies had the most money to cram it down people's throats were going to get the attention. Whereas some people just kept making quality music and hoped for the best." 


Melvin Lincoln Davis
was born on Aug. 29, 1942. His family moved northward to Detroit when he was 3, often returning to his grandparents' 300-acre farm in Milledgeville, Ga. It was there where he first heard Little Richard, and it was live. 

"On the other side of our property, out in the woods, was a juke joint called Shady Rest, where Little Richard used to come and perform," Davis says. "I used to sit on the back porch and just listen to him scream and listen to the Upsetters play. That was my first experience with hearing live music, other than just one instrument like a piano: a whole band just playing this incredibly new music. It was way down through the woods, across this valley, but the music would come floating right across. It was an incredible atmosphere." 

The intense prayer and inspired a cappella voices of his family's Baptist church seeped into Davis' young mind, as did the potluck dinners that brought in such gospel groups as the original Soul Stirrers, featuring Sam Cooke, and WLAC radio out of Nashville, which beamed in the latest rhythm-and-blues hits. 

At 17, Davis joined the Navy and found his strongest and earliest musical motivation: "I couldn't swim," he recalls in a dignified, precise Midwestern argot. "And they pushed me into 20 feet of water and I almost drowned, so I stopped going to my swim classes. Instead, I'd go to the recreation hall and check out either a guitar or a piano and that's when I started fooling around with little chords." 

When he returned home to Detroit, it was music that moved him and so he pursued it. Drawing upon this well of creativity, Davis set out to write a song a day following his discharge. He waxed the soulfully punk-edged single "I Don't Want You"/"About Love" for the local Jack Pot label in 1961. Uniquely Detroit, it sounded like a garage band coming face-to-face with an R&B singer. 

"That's exactly what it was," Davis laughs. "That was my first record. I got Joe Peel — a guitar player I grew up with — to help me with it." 

Peel had already infiltrated Detroit's fertile music scene, and he began introducing Davis to its various players, including Popcorn Wylie of Popcorn and the Mohawks. Wylie was a well-connected piano player and producer who, in turn, shared his expertise and knowledge of the music industry. 

"That's what it was all about in those days; meeting with different people, getting around to the different companies, just networking," Davis says. "After Jack Pot, I went to Fortune and cut ‘I Won't Be Your Fool' and ‘Playboy.'" 


For young Detroit musicians coming of age in the '50s and '60s, Fortune Records' cinderblock studio on Third Avenue was almost a rite of passage of sorts. Run by eccentric music lovers Jack and Devora Brown, Fortune was, at that point, hot on the heels of its biggest hit, Nathaniel Mayer's smash "Village of Love," which crossed over to the Top 25 on the Billboard pop charts in 1962. 

"Garage material," is how the late Mayer described Fortune's dirt-floored studio in a 2006 interview. "It was junky, that's what was happening. But folks could get in there; a band could get in there, and you could have a party in there." 

Davis confirms Mayer's description of Fortune's somewhat haphazard business approach: "Jack liked to just sit in the front and just rock, you know?" Davis says. "And Devora, if she wasn't writing a song, she wasn't back there [in the studio] either. And if their son wasn't there to run the controls, then I ran them. We got the mix by moving the instruments around: ‘Move the piano back, turn the drums around the other way — now that sounds good!' Then I'd go in and push the button and run in and count it off. When it was over, I'd run back and cut the machine off, spin it back and see what it sounded like." 

Davis' Fortune single, "Playboy," began to pick up airplay, but when the Browns left the city for a three-week vacation, the promotion — and the record — died on the vine. The 45's flipside, "I Won't Be Your Fool" remains one of Davis' most infectious recordings. Its stream-of-consciousness lovelorn lyrics are Davis at his finest, resigned-yet-passionate, sung by one whose experience transcends his youth. Superb backup vocals lock in with soulful guitar chords and an irresistible bass line, all driven by Butch Vaden's explosive drumming. 

Vaden was the house drummer that year at Fortune, anchoring Nolan Strong's compelling 1962 hit "Mind Over Matter," and Mayer's relentless "Leave Me Alone." Davis' next release was a collaboration that spotlighted Vaden's powerful groove on a pair of exotically flavored, jazz-tinged instrumentals, "Harem Girl" and "The Roll." 

Released under the moniker Butch Vaden and the Nite Sounds, the band was Davis on piano, Vaden on drums, Clyde Wilson (later known as Steve Mancha) on guitar and Tony Newton on bass. Vaden was white, but, in Detroit, the musical cross-pollination that had long been the rule — rather than the exception — valued musicianship over skin color. 

"I even had Butch play behind me on some gigs," Davis says. "He did all these black gigs with us and he was completely comfortable."

Davis soon began playing drums himself. "I went on this gig playing piano at the Ebony Club in Muskegon. We were staying at the place, so during the day I would go downstairs and fool around with the drums. The bandleader, Cornell Blakely, got into a fight with the drummer 'cause he (the drummer) got drunk. Out there in the woods, he's fired. I said, ‘Well, who's gonna play drums?' He said, ‘You are.' And I've been playing ever since."

While most young Detroiters were punching time clocks in auto plants, Davis earned his living playing nightly all over Michigan. Eventually, the Muskegon connection gave him the opportunity to become a bandleader. 

"After I worked with Cornell for so long, I got to know the owner of the Ebony Club and I started bringing up shows for him," Davis says. Along with bassist Newton and guitarist Wilson, he recruited future Motown star David Ruffin and formed the Jaywalkers. 

"When I met David," Davis says of the soon-to-be Temptations lead singer, "his whole family was living in one bedroom with Billy Davis." Billy produced artists on the Chess, Checker and Argo labels out of Chicago, and Ruffin was broke. 

Of Ruffin, Davis says, "He'd had a couple of records out but he didn't have any money, he didn't have any cigarettes … so I said, ‘Do you want to go out on some gigs?' And that's how we got really close. He'd play drums and I'd come out front and do three or four tunes, then I would get behind the drums and he'd come out and sing. He was one of the fiercest competitors I've ever seen."

The Jaywalkers' synergy — as well as their relentless gig schedule — inspired Davis to hone both his musical sensibilities and his business acumen. "From the time I got up, I'd jump in the car and I was all over the Upper Peninsula looking for gigs," he says. "We frequented this place called Club Ponytail near Sault Ste. Marie. There were a lot of Indians up there and most of the people had never seen black people before. The place was jammed every night and we had a real hot show; we had the routines, we had the uniforms, we had the whole thing. We were doing these one-handed flips and landing in the splits. … We drove them nuts. They didn't know what to do. But this is how I think we all developed; as artists, as performers and as musicians." 

Davis returned to Fortune with his razor-sharp band in tow, laying down "I Won't Come Crawling Back to You" in early 1963. The song, which Davis considers one of his finest musical moments, was never released. 

Why? 

"I was getting some action from other places and, as it turned out, Ke Ke Records was ready to record right then." 

Davis had no contract with Fortune, and, as he would so many times in his career, he swapped one legendarily obscure Detroit record label for another. 

"I went in with Dave Hamilton and wrote ‘Wedding Bells' and he wrote ‘It's No News.' We recorded those two songs along with two tunes on Juanita Williams (released as by La Wanda William) at United Sound, and those two records were it for the Ke Ke label. All through the '60s there were fledgling labels popping up all over the place with different degrees of success. There were literally dozens of them." 

Like Davis' previous discs, the fact that "Wedding Bells" didn't hit had more to do with the fly-by-night operation of the label than the quality of the music. The song's propulsive backbeat, minor-keyed melody and haunting vocal performance were stunning. As Davis was to learn, however, quality alone wasn't enough. 

If you really wanted to survive in the music business as a label owner, you had to love the music, as D-Town Records impresario Mike Hanks did. 

Hanks, a producer and skilled musician in his own right, was an early and legitimate competitor to the Motown empire. His stable included gritty hit maker (and Mitch Ryder favorite) Lee Rogers, popular vocal trio the Fabulous Peps, and gospel legends the Staple Singers, as well as local favorites Cody Black, Dee Edwards and Silky Hargraves.

"I loved Mike because he loved the music business," says Davis of Hanks, who died in 1970. "He loved the idea of expression, and he really allowed creativity to flow and flourish. He was an action man, but he was also a gangster: He always carried two .38 revolvers — with permits!" 

In fact, Davis says, grinning, his friendship with Hanks was born while staring down the barrel of a gun. 

"He pulled a gun on me and that's how we became friends. I'd started doing a couple of sessions with him and it was time to get paid, but he was always not paying people, you know? I just told him, ‘Look, man, I've got to have my money.' ‘Well, I ain't got no money, man …' ‘Well, you gonna have to find some money 'cause I've got to have my money, Mike.' So then he took his gun out. ‘I ain't got no money.' I said, ‘You know what, you might as well go 'head and shoot. 'Cause that gun don't mean shit to me, Mike.'" 

Davis says that Hanks cracked up with laughter. "He loved me after that, and I was the only one who he paid all the time. 

"He had very rough manners, very rough," Davis continues. "If he didn't like you then he didn't mind giving you a hard time. A lot of people didn't like him because of that. And then there were a lot of people around that he didn't like, starting with Berry Gordy."

Anticipating the revisionist history of the future, it was as if Hanks could see that one day, the entire Detroit music scene would be boiled down to Motown. 

Davis: "Mike would say, ‘He [Gordy] ain't the only one who cut records! They gonna find out one day that he ain't the only one who tried to cut records! Fuck him!'

"You know, he was serious," Davis continues. "Mike started D-Town for Motown, Wheelsville for Hitsville, it was almost like a sickness. He leased the house two doors down from Berry on Grand Boulevard and we were getting ready to move in and a day later Berry bought the house and canceled Mike's lease. The top of Mike's head went to Venus!" 

But there was a lovable, enthusiastic flipside to Hanks' brash outward nature. "When you did something good, he would encourage it and admire it to no end. He had a joy that came out of him when he saw something really creative … he was just like a kid. And I guess a lot of people never saw that side of him. When I wrote ‘Find a Quiet Place,' he just flipped out." Recorded in 1965, that song would become the rarest — and eventually most beloved — record that either Hanks or Davis would be associated with. 

Davis had also established a lasting relationship with singer-producer-label owner Johnnie Mae Matthews. Matthews' lasting legacy might be her discovery of the Temptations (when they were still the Distants), but in retrospect, her myriad talents constitute one of the most essential elements in all of Detroit R&B, from the dawn of '60s soul to the hazy funk of the mid-'70s. 

"I met her in about '62 or '63, and I played piano behind her," Davis says. "I also wrote songs for her: ‘Lonely You'll Be' was one of them and ‘Here Comes My Baby' was another. She and I became really good friends. She had texture to her voice, a great stage presence and a great life presence too. Very energetic. She was a go-getter. That was back in the days when people didn't just talk about doing things in the music business, they did them. They pressed the records, did the footwork, took it to the distributor, took it to the radio stations, went around to the different clubs. They worked it." 

One of Johnnie Mae's lesser-known — yet criminally underrated — discoveries were the Arabians, led by the talented Edward Hamilton, for whom Davis produced several records on Lou Beatty's LaBeat Records.

By 1965, Detroit's music scene had exploded. There seemed to be a label on every block, and Davis spent his time exploring and exploiting his abilities wherever — and whenever —possible. A typical day would find him scouring the city's various recording studios for potential musical opportunities. If songs were needed, he merely opened his briefcase. If a backing track was needed, he was ready, drumsticks in hand. If a singer was required, Davis' seriously soulful delivery was there, warmed up and ready to go. 

"These things were all happening at the same time," Davis says, describing his increasingly dizzying schedule. A typical day would begin by cruising over to the east side to pick up Edward Hamilton and the rest of the Arabians and rehearsing them at the four-family flat on 14th Street that served as the LaBeat Recording studio. At 11:30 a.m., the whole gang piled back into Davis' midnight blue '65 Catalina convertible, and he rushed them back across town in time to make it to their afternoon shift at the plant. 

His next stop would be the Central Bowling Alley for a bite to eat and a workout on the lanes before heading to Mike Hanks' aptly nicknamed Pigpen recording studio. There he would rehearse, record, write songs and generally serve to inspire and focus Hanks' often chaotic approach to producing records. 

After dashing home to change clothes, it was off to the clubs to play with a band — his own or otherwise. Club appearances were often followed by late-night jam sessions or the occasional craps game at various after-hours joints throughout the city. 

"After that, I'd go home, get a little sleep and then get up and do it all over again." 

At the same time, another Detroit-bred musical hustler named Don Davis — no relation — was trying to make his mark as well. Cutting his teeth as a Motown session guitarist on early hits such as Barrett Strong's "Money" and Mary Wells' "Bye Bye Baby," Don would eventually bring the Dramatics to worldwide fame as a staff producer at Memphis' Stax label. Melvin met him early on through Johnnie Mae Matthews and by mid-decade Don had established his own label, Groovesville. One of his first signings was Davis' old friend and band mate Clyde Wilson, soon to be known as Steve Mancha.

"Clyde signed a contract with Don," Melvin says, "and so did J.J. Barnes, so I started going over to Groovesville with Clyde."

The Davis-Davis connection produced a mature and sophisticated catalog of songs that saw Davis' musical prowess come to full fruition. Although the thundering mid-tempo dancer "I Must Love You" was his only release as an artist on Groovesville, Davis' songwriting put that label on the map: he penned "I Don't Want to Lose You" for Wilson/Mancha and "Chains of Love" — a huge regional hit — for Barnes, while Darryl Banks and Johnnie Taylor cut "I'm the One Who Really Loves You" and Jackie Beavers waxed "I Need My Baby." 

As always, Davis kept a band on the side, his latest a power trio that included himself on drums, Lyman Woodard on organ and Dennis Coffey on guitar. It all started in 1966 at Detroit's Frolic Show Bar.

"We had the best band in town," Coffey said in a recent interview. "No one could beat us. All the pimps, all the players, all the judges — everyone would come down. The place was packed every night." 

"That gig went on for years," Davis confirms, "first at the Frolic and then at Maury Baker's Showplace Lounge." 

The switch to Maury Baker's coincided with Davis leaving Groovesville, and, as was becoming a career hallmark, the closing of one door led to the opening of another: In 1968, Coffey produced two singles for Davis for the New York-based Mala imprint. One of them — "This Love Is Meant to Be" b/w "Save It (Never Too Late)" became Davis' biggest hit to date. A two-sided smash in Detroit, its respective decks topped the charts on local rival R&B stations. 

Meanwhile, the smooth and soulful Detroit of the '60s was seguing into the gritty street-tough Motor City of the '70s. The '67 riot loomed as the largest local flashpoint, but there were others, including the emergence of drugs, the seething national political scene and the Vietnam War. Taken together, they sounded the death knell for much of the musical culture that had birthed Detroit's independent record label scene, but Davis, Coffey and Woodard moved with the times. The trio bottled its distorted guitar, wailing organ and danceable drum-driven magic on Coffey's 1969 debut album Hair and Thangs, as well as the killer funk single "River Rouge"/"It's Your Thing," credited to the Lyman Woodard Trio. 


Around the same time, Davis landed a two-year gig drumming for Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Unable to read music, Davis relied on his bear-trap memory to pass the audition. He memorized the entire Miracles set — note for note, cymbal crash for cymbal crash — by ear. "I recorded their show with a tape recorder and I stayed up all night learning it," he laughs. "The next day I played the whole show without one mistake, so I got the gig! 

"That was really a great experience," he continues. "The shows were in these big theaters. The first time we went to California we did the Greek Amphitheater — palm trees everywhere, an entire orchestra with strings and Smokey's out there singin' ‘Ooh, Baby, Baby.' … I was just freakin' out!" 

Fully immersed in his element, Davis learned to read music and became a Motown staff drummer, playing behind the Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and the Originals. Despite his busy schedule, he always found time to write songs.

It's a strange twist of fate then, that Davis — whose songwriting had revolutionized more than one record company — would enjoy his next moment in the limelight as an uncredited singer delivering a million-seller penned by someone else. 

Former Motown songsmiths Eddie and Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier had formed Invictus Records, and called in both Mancha and Davis to dub in vocals for an album that they planned to release under the name the 8th Day. 

"One of the songs I sang was ‘You've Got to Crawl (Before You Walk),' and it became a million-seller," says Davis, who went to work assembling a genuine 8th Day to back up the hit. 

With a self-contained band under contract to Invictus, he was now writing, producing — and of course, performing — for them as well. All his ducks, it seemed, were finally in a row. But problems arose when the group (which came to include former Davis band mates Tony Newton and Lyman Woodard) began taking on its own identity. 

"Unfortunately, I don't think Invictus really understood what kind of a group the 8th Day was. They [Holland-Dozier-Holland] had come out of the Motown mold, where the singer and the band were separate entities, but by that time music had changed. The whole psychedelic thing had come in and the energy had shifted to self-contained groups like Sly and the Family Stone. We were a self-contained group with eight members that all played and sang and I don't think they really had a grasp on that. How could they? It wasn't them." 

Invictus' assembly-line approach was the final straw. After nearly 15 years of leaving his fate in the hands of labels owned by others, Davis organized his own, Rock Mill, in 1975. At the same time, he also formed a new band, Radiation, with MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer. Though he'd long dwelt in the R&B idiom, rock 'n' roll was never far from Davis' heart. He'd witnessed Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience — among others — at Detroit's Grande Ballroom and loved it; now he was throwing his hat into the rock 'n' roll ring, full force. 

"We ended up having two drummers, Dave Penny and myself, a bass player and two guitar players, Wayne [Kramer] and Mark Manko," Davis recounts. 

Radiation became a mainstay at downtown's Pick-Fort Shelby Hotel, where John Sinclair booked the talent and the parties raged till dawn. Lyman Woodard's landmark 1975 album, Saturday Night Special, was a result of the Pick-Fort Shelby scene, and one can only imagine what Radiation would have sounded like if they'd been captured in all their glory. But it was not to be. With the ingenious yet elusive Manko showing up only sporadically, by the time Kramer and Davis recorded some of their songs for Rock Mill, the band was finished. 

Rejoining Woodard in the late '70s, Davis continued to make Rock Mill a going concern, investing much of his savings in a single by local singer Liz Taylor. But with major labels ruling the roost, Davis could get no airplay. 

"After that I said, ‘Maybe it's time to get a job.' I put in my application at the post office and got hired in '84." 

Although music was no longer his sole source of income, he continued to write, record and release records, including a single with his son Bryan. He assembled a CD of his Rock Mill sides for the Japanese P-Vine label, and partnered with the British Hayley imprint for the career compendium, His Greatest Recordings. Both discs included previously unreleased recordings and fueled interest in Europe, where he has performed regularly since 2002. 

Last fall, Davis took an early retirement from the post office. He's negotiating with several reissue companies about compiling his music and preparing for another European trip. A pair of upcoming local appearances — his first in 20 years — will feature two of his '60s compatriots, guitarist Joey Kingfish and trombonist McKinley Jackson. 

"I guess I'm kind of fortunate because I'm not done. I've got my own record label, I can write, I can sing, I can play, I can record my own music, so the future is kind of up to me. A person who didn't try to learn anything while they were traveling along, they're stuck waiting for somebody else to come and produce them, so they might look at it a little differently than me. But all I've got to do is make it happen. 

"You know," Davis says, "I didn't see a whole lot of shows back in the day because I was always playing. But I saw Jackie Wilson at least 10 times. The only way that I can explain Jackie Wilson is to say that he was possessed. You can play to a point of where there's just a groove and something else takes over. That's why we do music, for those transcendent moments. Sometimes it happens when you don't even know it's going to, but Jackie could just conjure it. It's when that extra thing beyond your ability takes over and your combined knowledge and practice take on a life of their own." Davis pauses. And then, he says, "To me, that's the most fascinating thing that I've ever known. That's the essence of life, and that's how music and all of these creative efforts tap into the force of life, your creator, what you're able to do and beyond what you even know. 'Cause it's amazing what we can do. And it's even more amazing what we don't know we can do." 

The story of Melvin Davis is emblematic of Detroit. A working man in a working man's town, he seized on his talent and passion to weave himself into the musical fabric of one of the most soulful cities in America. With his hands in everything that Motor City music had to offer, Davis' unmistakable touch — though mostly unheralded in its time — endures today.

"The power of music is incredible," Davis concludes. "That's what captured me early in life and that's why it's such an important and vital part of my life to this very day. It's an inseparable part of me. Whether I ever make a dime out of it or not, that has nothing to do with it. It's just the wonderful sensation
of creating." 


Melvin Davis appears with the Detroit Historical Musicians’ Association at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 15, at the Shiawassee Neighborhood Summer Celebration, and at 9 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 16, at the African World Festival’s Nile River Stage on Hart Plaza.

Michael Hurtt is a freelance writer, historian and musician who lives in Detroit. Special thanks to Adam Stanfel for invaluable assistance with this article. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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