Before Jimmy Smith, Shirley Scott, Big John Patton, Jimmy McGriff, Brother Jack McDuff, Groove Holmes and all the other organists you know, there was Wild Bill Davis. Born in Missouri, Davis started his recording career in 1945 as organist and arranger for Louis Jordan and His Tympani Five, one of the leading pioneers of rhythm and blues. When Davis left Jordan in 1951, he led a trio and began recording for Okeh. Perhaps his best known recording today is April in Paris in 1953. Davis was supposed to record the song with Count Basie's Orchestra in 1955 for Verve, but when he couldn't make it, Basie used Davis's arrangement for his big band and had a huge hit with the recording. Duke Ellington also favored Davis, recording with him for the first time in 1951.
Over the years, Davis recorded frequently with tough tenor saxophonists such as Eddie Lockjaw" Davis, Arnett Cobb, Buddy Tate, Paul Gonsalves, Sonny Stitt and others. Yet despite his fondness for the tenior-sax and organ combo, Davis most often recorded with Johnny Hodges, Duke Ellington's romantic alto saxophonist. In all, Davis and Hodges recorded eight ablums— Blue Hodge (1961), Sandy's Gone (1963), Mess of Blues (1963), Blue Rabbit (1964), Wings and Things (1964), Joe's Blues (1965), Con Soul and Sax (1965) and In Atlantic City (1966).
It's tough to pick a favorite, but a contender would be Joe's Blues (Verve). The band featured Lawrence Brown (tb), Johnny Hodges (as), Wild Bill Davis (org), Grant Green (g), Bob Bushnell and Bob Cranshaw (b) and Grady Tate (d). The addition here of Brown and Green binds the high tone of Hodges' alto sax to Davis's wide, swinging organ, and you can hear them feeding off of each other as songs progress.
The tracks are Davis's Joe's Blues, I'll Walk Alone, Harmony in Harlem, Warm Valley, Hodges's Wild Bill Blues, Somebody Loves Me, Solitude and Clementine.
There's a solid lineup of Strayhorn and Ellington compositions (four in all) as well as standards and several soulful blues. Most of all, Davis's organ is so unbelievably tasty. Unlike other players, he used the instrument like a big band—creating sections on the keyboard that deliver a call and response, hooks, riffs and all the tricks of bands in the swing and R&B eras. If you love the organ, this is the place to start.
Wild Bill Davis died in 1995 and Johnny Hodges died in 1970.
JazzWax tracks: You'll find Joe's Blues here on CD.
JazzWax clips: Here's the title track, Joe's Blues...
And here's Wild Bill Blues...
Note to labels: It's probably time to issue a Complete Wild Bill Davis and Johnny Hodges" set.