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The Melody Man

Joe Davis and the New York Music Scene, 1916-1978

Bruce Bastin

Publication Year: 2012

Joe Davis, the focus of The Melody Man enjoyed a 50-year career in the music industry, which covered nearly every aspect of the business. He hustled sheet music in the 1920s, copyrighted compositions by artists as diverse as Fats Waller, Carson Robison, Otis Blackwell, and Rudy Vallee, oversaw hundreds of recording session, and operated several record companies beginning in the 1940s. Davis also worked fearlessly to help insure that black recording artists and song writers gained equal treatment for their work.

Much more than a biography, this book is an investigation of the role played by music publishers during much of the twentieth century. Joe Davis was not a music "great" but he was one of those individuals who enabled "greats" to emerge. A musician, manager, and publisher, his long career reveals much about the nature of the music industry and offers insight into how the industry changed from the 1920s to the 1970s. By the summer of 1924, when Davis was handling the "Race talent" for Ajax records, he had already worked in the music business for most of a decade and there was more than five decades of musical career ahead of him. The fact that his fascinating life has gone so long under-appreciated is remedied by the publication of Never Sell A Copyright.

Originally published in England, in 1990, Never Sell a Copyright: Joe Davis and His Role in the New York Music Scene, 1916-1978 was never released in the United States and available in a very limited print run in England. The author, noted blues scholar and folklorist Bruce Bastin, has worked with fellow music scholar Kip Lornell to completely update, condense, and improve the book for this first-ever American edition.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v

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Preface to the New Edition

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pp. vii-ix

I first encountered Never Sell a Copyright the year after Storyville published it in 1989. I’ll confess to reading through it rather quickly and then occasionally referring to it over the years. Largely, however, like most of my books, Never Sell a Copyright sat quietly in my bookshelf. In early July of 2009...

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pp. xi-xiv

Some time ago a British jazz critic who probably didn’t know better criticized the reissue of a Charlie Ventura album in a jazz magazine that should have known better, on the grounds that Ventura was not a “great.” The same forces that led me to reissue a very pleasant Charlie Ventura album led me to write this book. The...

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pp. xv-xvi

Above all I must thank Lucille Davis Bell, for her support and encouragement throughout, not least for her open access to her father’s memories. The following have all generously provided information: Les Airey, Mark Berresford, Alain Boulanger, John Chilton, John H. Cowley, Ate van Delden, Roger Pryor Dodge...

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pp. xvii-xix

The “Roaring Twenties,” the “Jazz Era,” or the “Age of Prohibition,” three of the terms often applied to the 1920s, describe a decade of profound changes that transformed American music. New styles, such as blues and jazz, and new artists like Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, Duke Ellington, and Bessie Smith first...

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Chapter 1 “That’s Got ’Em”

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pp. 3-35

Joseph Morton Davis was born into precisely the right period of American history in precisely the right place to enable him to carve his later musical career. Decades before Barry Gordy’s Motown stable of artists finally (and firmly) pushed black popular music comfortably into the mainstream, Davis can be viewed...

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Chapter 2 The Melody Man

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pp. 36-54

In October 1924, Eldridge Johnson stated publicly, on behalf of the Victor Talking Machine Company, “that radio is not a Victor competitor nor a substitute for talking machines.” True enough in 1924, but the writing was on the wall because the new all-electric recordings would revolutionize the industry within...

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Chapter 3 Fats Comes Aboard

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pp. 55-101

Without doubt the most significant events of 1929 for Davis’s publishing companies were the collaborations of Fats Waller and Andy Razaf emanating from the show Hot Chocolates, and the subsequent Waller-Davis cooperation on many future projects. This collaboration lasted well into the 1930s, but 1929 was, even...

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Chapter 4 How Joe Davis Did Business

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pp. 102-131

For Joe Davis the 1940s opened the same way that the 1930s closed, but within two years events were to take place that completely redirected his business and personal life. The music publisher of the past quarter century would also become one of the spirited minor independent record producers— indeed, one of...

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Chapter 5 The Gennett Connection

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pp. 132-155

In early 1944 Davis settled in to his new four-story premises at 331 West 51st. This large building—nicely trimmed with knotty pine walls and ceiling— effectively functioned as a record emporium. Davis used the ground floor for shipping, the second floor held the executive offices, while the third floor contained...

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Chapter 6 God Bless Our New President

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pp. 156-173

By January 14, 1945, Joe Davis officially reorganized his business as Joe Davis Record Co. doing business at 331 West 51st Street, New York, New York. His January 24, 1945, application with the United States Patent Office showed he had used the name for about ten days and listed his own residence as New Preston, Connecticut. This new name didn’t signal a sea change, it merely recognized...

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Chapter 7 Caribbean Music and Albums

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pp. 174-199

The rapidly dwindling sales of November and December 1945 continued into 1946. Davis eventually realized that this trend didn’t merely represent a seasonal drop, but that the bottom had begun to fall out of the market. Perhaps sensing these...

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Chapter 8 Back to the Brill Building

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pp. 200-216

The year 1948 marked Joe Davis’s effective departure as a full-time record executive. He sold his West 51st Street building and moved back into the Brill Building at 1619 Broadway, the city’s longtime “home” for songwriters and publishers. Nonetheless, Davis occasionally ventured back into producing discs. The Billboard for February 21, 1948, carried this caption: Davis To Issue Celebrity Label. Beneath...

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Chapter 9 The Deep River Boys

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pp. 217-232

Throughout 1951 Davis recorded popular artists, often covering children’s songs. The Art Waner Orchestra with Andy Pierce and the Song Spinners produced a sizable seller with “Easter Bunny Day,” part-written by Joseph W. Burns, who produced another huge seller for Davis a couple of years later. Bud Brees with Paul Taubman tackled such stalwarts as “Toyland Jubilee” and “Circus on Parade...

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Chapter 10 Jay-Dee Records and Otis Blackwell

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pp. 233-261

Joe Davis interest in the young girl singer, Leslie Uggams, dates at least as early as November 1952, when he signed a contract with her manager. By the end of the year his contract with her stipulated a $100.00 payment for each group of four recordings plus 1 cent per record sold. She had been something of a star..

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Chapter 11 Listen to Dr. Jive

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pp. 262-286

Joe Davis booked the Mastertone Studio for late evening on the first Friday of 1956 to record titles from the Scale-Tones. Typically, Davis rehearsed the group before the session and at least one song was recorded at a runthrough session, with only a pianist and drummer in attendance. He jotted down seven titles on...

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Chapter 12 I Learned a Lesson I’ll Never Forget

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pp. 287-304

By the time Joe Davis began to slow down his musical career, the recording industry must have seemed in utter upheaval to a man who’d spent just over four decades in the business. The ways of doing business so familiar to Davis, such as the power of single record releases and the promotion and distribution of records...

Tune Title Index

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pp. 305-317

Name and Subject Index [Image Plates]

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pp. 318-332

E-ISBN-13: 9781617032776
E-ISBN-10: 161703276X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781617032769

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2012