Born: April 23, 1931, in Chicago
Died: December 24, 1999
Drummer Billy Davenport
was born April 23, 1931, in Chicago. His parents were sharecroppers
from rural Alabama that migrated to Chicago in 1928. He began learning
drums at the age of six, after finding an old pair of drumsticks in an
alley behind the Twin Door Lounge on the South side of Chicago. A natural
musician, his parents soon recognized his gift and encouraged him. He started
out playing on tin cans after seeing a movie about Gene Krupa. He also
admired Sid Catlett. He took drum lessons while in the Boy Scouts
and went on to play jazz in high school, in the R.O.T.C., in swing bands,
and various venues in the Chicago area. In 1949, he studied music for one
year at Midwestern School of Music in Chicago. He played with Bob Hadley,
Leo Parker, Slam Stewart, Neal Anderson, Tampa Red, Sonny Stitt, and others.
He got to hear everyone live -- Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Billy Eckstine,
Gene Ammons -- all the greats. His drum influences included Art Blakey,
Louis Bellson, and Max Roach.
From 1951 to 1955,
Davenport was in the U.S. Navy, in the Mechanic Drum and Bugle Corps. In
the middle 1950s,
the jazz scene was on the decline and Davenport turned to blues gigs to
rent. In the late
'50s, he played with Billy Boy Armond, Dusty Brown, and Freddy King. In
played with the Ernie
Fields Orchestra and joined Otis Rush in 1961, working with him for about
year. He also worked
with harp player Little Mack Simmons, Syl Johnson, Junior Wells, Mighty
Young, James Cotton,
Muddy Waters, and Howlin' Wolf.
He met Paul Butterfield
at Pepper's Lounge in 1964 and sat in with them at their gig at Big Johns
Chicago's North side.
When Butterfield's drummer Sam Lay became ill late in 1965, Butterfield
called on Davenport
to join the group and tour with them. Davenport's jazz background brought
to the Butterfield group. It was at this time that Bloomfield was absorbing
scales and with the
more sophisticated drumming of Davenport, they began to work on a tune
called "The Raga."
This resulted in the tune "East/West,"
the extended tune that was to have such an
impact on rock music
history. Much of this success was due to Davenport's ability to add color
tone to the composition,
something not generally found in straightahead blues drummers.
Davenport retired from
music in 1968 due to illness, but was playing again from 1972-1974 with
Jimmy Dawkins, Willie
Dixon, and Buster Benton. He again retired from 1974 to 1981, after which
he joined the Pete
Baron Jazztet, with whom he still works. Davenport describes his own drumming
as a combination of
his two idols: the two base drums of Louis Bellson and the unique drum
Art Blakey. -- Michael
Erlewine, All Music Guide