April 27, 2008
Some artists simply come along before their time. They lay out a path that other artists will follow, but they don’t reap the benefits of it. Gail Davies was one of those artists, a nineties woman who just happened to come along in the seventies.
Davies was born into a country music family, the daughter of country singer Tex Dickerson. She experimented with jazz music while married to a man who performed it, but she returned to country music quickly. In Los Angeles, she found work as a session singer, backing up A&M artists like Neil Young. She became friends with Joni Mitchell, which led to her engineer Henry Levy teaching Davies the intricacies of the recording studio.
When she saw her older brother Ron Davies have a song of his recorded by David Bowie and Three Dog Night, she was inspired. She bought a guitar, began writing songs, and discovered she had a talent for it. Soon, she was in Nashville, signed to EMI Publishing. Her first hit as a writer was “Bucket to the South”, which went to No. 14 for Ava Barber in 1978. This helped her land a recording deal of her own, and her self-titled debut was released that same year on Lifesong.
The album was well-received, and scored her three top forty hits. Her first was a cover of the Mel Tillis-penned “No Love Have I”, which established her love for older country music. Although the album did well, even having the single “Someone is Looking For Someone Like You” just miss the top ten, Davies wasn’t completely happy with it.
When she switched to Warner Bros. the next year, she made country music history. Her new label granted her the right to produce her own albums. Such a thing was a rarity even for male artists, but for a woman, it was unheard of. When the album was a hit, spawning the top ten hit “Blue Heartache”, she earned the credibility to produce herself from that point on.
The confidence clearly showed on her third album, I’ll Be There, which was her commercial peak. It featured three top ten hits, including “It’s a Lovely, Lovely World” with backup vocals from Emmylou Harris. When she launched her fourth album, Givin’ Herself Away, she did so with “‘Round the Clock Lovin’,” giving a big break to little-known female songwriter named K. T. Oslin.
Davies continued to chart throughout the eighties, changing labels from Warner Bros. to RCA and then to MCA. But what’s more impressive is what she did once her run as a major label artist ended. In 1990, she became a staff producer for Capitol Records (then called Liberty), the first woman to ever hold such a position on Music Row.
When her time at Capitol ended, she poured all of her skills and experiences in to Little Chickadee Productions, her own company that allowed her to produce artists and release albums. It is still the imprint that she uses today. In 2002, she helped honor one of her biggest influences when she produced Caught in the Webb: A Tribute to Webb Pierce. The album earned her an Americana Award nomination for production.
Most recently, Davies has released a compilation called The Songwriter Sessions, a 45-track collection of songs that she has written over the years. It’s a compelling documentation of her gifts as a writer, which have been largely overshadowed by her impact as a producer and an artists. Still, the importance of her producing her own albums cannot be understated. When Pam Tillis, Alison Krauss and Martina McBride went on to self-produce, they built on the foundation that Davies had created for them.
- “Like Strangers,” 1979
- “I’ll Be There (If You Ever Want Me),” 1980
- “It’s a Lovely, Lovely World,” 1981
- “Grandma’s Song,” 1981
- ”Round the Clock Lovin’,” 1982
- The Game (1980)
- I’ll Be There (1981)
- Givin’ Herself Away (1982)
- Where is a Woman to Go (1984)