100 Greatest Women, #84: Gail Davies

#84

Gail Davies

2008 Edition: #69 (-15)

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 is one of those artists.

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 single “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. She also picked up an International Bluegrass Music Association award that year for her contributions to the Ralph Stanley duets project, Clinch Mountain Sweethearts.

Although Davies has remained active as a producer and a performer, her most recent solo release remains 2003’s 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 artist. She also released a collaboration with jazz legend Benny Golson in 2014, Since I Don’t Have You.

Essential Singles

  • 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

Essential Albums

  • The Game (1980)
  • I’ll Be There (1981)
  • Givin’ Herself Away (1982)
  • Where is a Woman to Go (1984)

Industry Awards

  • International Bluegrass Music Association Awards
    • Recorded Event of the Year
      • Clinch Mountain Sweethearts, 2002

Next: #83. Goldie Hill

Previous: #85. Hazel Dickens

7 Comments

  1. I think the connection between Gail and Joni Mitchell is magnified even further by the fact that Gail covered “You Turn Me On (I’m A Radio)”, which was Joni’s first US Top 40 hit (in early 1973).

    Also, someone correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Gail also have a minor mid-80s hit with a group called Wild Choir, “Jagged Edge Of A Broken Heart”? I seem to remember it, and thought it was a long-lost Linda Ronstadt country-rock record.

    In any case, Gail’s presence as both an artist and a producer in the new traditional style during the 1980s certainly continues to merit a spot for her on this survey (IMHO).

  2. I became a Davies fan after she was featured on this countdown 10 years ago! Not only are her songwriting and historical producing talents impressive, she has a great voice! I highly recommend her version of “Unwed Fathers.” It’s my favorite Davies song.

  3. I had never seen that Wild Choir video before, and it is the most 80s thing that the 80s ever 80s’ed, and I’m 100% on board.

  4. Love Gail Davies, and I owe my discovery of her to the original 2008 Greatest Women countdown. My favorites of hers include “Someone Is Looking For Someone Like You” and “It’s a Lovely, Lovely World”, and I also love her version of Ray Price’s “I’ll Be There (If You Ever Want Me)”.

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