Several years ago a very good friend of mine asked me to play bass on a gig and learn what he said was the best disco song ever. I looked at him skeptically and he quickly pointed out that the song was in fact a really good song, period.
He also said it had a great bass line.
The song in question was Thelma Houston’s “Don’t Leave Me This Way” and after listening I had to admit it was a very good song. And I liked the bass line and bass tone so much I wanted to know who was the bass player on the track.
A search on the Talk Bass forum revealed that the player in question was Henry E. Davis, the bass player for LTD and the same person that played the great bass line on “Back in Love Again.” I decided to contact Henry and ask him about how he got his great sound and groove.
Here’s what he had to say about his sound and approach to the Thelma Houston song:
I was influenced by Larry Graham, the Godfather of Thump. As a matter of fact, he was the first bass player that I was aware of that played walking octaves. I had no idea that he played with his thumb when I first heard him with Sly and the Family Stone, but I liked the lines he played so I incorporated his lines into my arsenal of riffs, practiced it until his lines felt comfortable in my hands. The Graham-influenced style of playing was first explored with my own group. LTD, and then “immortalized” first with Diana Ross’ “Love Hangover”, and then on Thelma Houston’s record. A lot of producers on subsequent sessions wanted that “Love Hangover thing” on their records. I complied but didn’t really feel it because those songs/sessions didn’t have all the same elements that the Love hangover sessions did; i.e. the song, the musicians, the studio, the time we recorded, the studio, the joking, the overall mood, etc. Musical performance is a “thing of the moment” that takes in to account everything involved in that moment; what’s happening influences what happens.
We exchanged more e-mails, discussing basses, strings, pickups, and his excitement over LTD getting back together, as well as a promise to give me a bass lesson when the tour got to New York. I also pointed out to him that he had achieved a type of immortality in that the recordings he made in the 1970s were being enjoyed 30 to 40 years later by an entirely new generation of listeners.
Sadly, Henry died last year and I never got to meet him and take that bass lesson. But I am very glad I got to tell him how much I enjoyed his work and how much it had influenced my playing. Indeed, I’ll be playing at least one of hist bass lines at The Top Shelf’s upcoming performance at The Cutting Room on March 22.
In the meantime, I leave you with two great Henry E. Davis bass performances. Enjoy.
Tagged: Back In Love Again, Bass, Disco, Don't Leave Me This Way, Henry E. Davis, LTD, steve wexler, Thelma Houston, Top Shelf
Wex, Looks like you have another calling – writing the definitie book about these great pioneers of the bass!
Not sure if anyone will read this, but I had the pleasure of playing with the great Henry Davis in the 90s when he did a short stint with Princess Cruise Lines. I was lucky enough to room with him for a couple of months. I remember spending most of our time enjoying music and laughing hysterically. He was polite, funny, had a great personality and as is stated above, was a GREAT BASS PLAYER. I just found out that Henry passed in 2012. RIP Henry, you were a beautiful person and wonderful musician.
Henry Davis was a highly phenomenal and influential studio of the ’70s. Aside from LTD, I remember hearing his unique style on countless studio sessions. One particular haunting LP was “Pure Smokey” , the second solo album by Smokey Robinson circa 1974. I was always a James Jamerson fanatic but when I heard the PS album I was astonished by this colorful and enigmatic bassist, along with Jeffrey Osborne on drums (many do not know this).
Last I tried to cover the bass on “I Am, I Am” and was totally frustrated by not being able to play as I haven’t played it in a long time. I was truly humbled by his intricacy and perfection. He also played on David Ruffin’s “Me and Rock ‘N’ Roll) LP (same era) and, my very favorite,
the Undisputed Truth’s “Cosmic Truth” 1975 album. I adopted the cut “Squeeze Me Tease Me” as my theme song and fell in love with the whole rhythm section and especially Davis’
strong C-note ad libs and overall masterpiece of how a simple vamp rhythm can sound so complex. He made realize how dynamic chords and walking-octave notes can sound. RIP
Henry Davis; you are truly missed.
T. Nick Nicholson 3 Dec 2014.
Thanks for your wonderful post. And for clearing up the apparent current confusion about who played bass on Thelma Houston’s Don’t Leave Me This Way. Henry Davis indeed one of the greatest bass players who I first heard of when listening to Herbie Hancock’s – Manchild LP (he guested on bass together with James Gadson on drums).
Thank you Henry for your musical genius that still resonates to this day!!!
The saddest fact of this all, is that most of these brilliant musical talents goes largely unrecognized financially. Most of the great musical talents unfortunately die as paupers or nearly paupers……………..Yet they are the ones whose music lives forever!!!
My sincere hope is that at least God will reward them abundantly, even if us humans don’t!!!
Shame on humankind!!!
Hi Wex, please also post Diana Ross’s ‘Love Hangover’ which showcases how great a bassist Henry Davis really was. It also features the other great jazz musicians of that era namely James Gadson on drums and the late Joe Sample on keyboards!
What a pity that music today cannot match those masterpieces from the 70’s & 80’s!!!