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Heard on Ann Delisi's Essential Conversations

Billy Davis, the Detroit Guitar Legend Who Taught Jimi Hendrix

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Image credit: Adam Johnson / Brockit

Billy Davis’ career as a guitarist spans over 60 years, and now in his 80’s he has stories about everyone from Jackie Wilson to James Brown to working with Hank Ballard & The Midnighters.

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Billy Davis grew up picking cotton with his parents before landing in Detroit’s Black Bottom Neighborhood.

He met blues icon, John Lee Hooker, and at the age of 13 he met 16-year-old Jackie Wilson who would become his lifelong friend and collaborator.

When Davis heard Arthur Crudup’s ”That’s All Right” in a taxi cab with his mother, that was the moment he knew he wanted to play the guitar.

Davis reminisced with Ann Delisi on “Essential Conversations” about living in Detroit and the abundance of talented singers and musicians standing on the street corners of the Motor City. 


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Elizabeth Tiffany / EMT Photographic

His first band was “Billy Davis and The Upsetters” which became Berry Gordy’s in-house band before Motown Records and the Funk Brothers. He would go to work with Hank Ballard and The Midnighters on and off for 30 years. He also developed a close friendship with Sam Cooke.

In 1959 while touring with Hank Ballard, Davis met a young guitarist named Jimi Hendrix.

Davis tells the story of meeting him for the first time and becoming a mentor to the aspiring teenage guitarist. He was struck by his determination.

When I would show him something, he had to perfect it. He would do the same thing for hours and hours, he wanted to be perfect.”

Davis tells stories about his mentor, John Lee Hooker, James Brown with whom he became friends, and the invaluable advice he got from B.B King. 

Davis recently released his self-titled album at the age of 80 in 2018 on Jett Plastic Recordings based in Detroit. He is an inductee into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, The Doo Wop Hall of Fame and the R&B Hall of Fame. 

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Ann Delisi, Host, Ann Delisi Essential Music

Ann Delisi will guide you through the “essential music,” both new and familiar, that’s shaping our culture and feature music made in Detroit every hour.

anndelisi@wdet.org Follow @anndelisimusic

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