Trumpeter Danny Davis Loved The Tivoli

  • Saturday, June 29, 2024
  • Earl Freudenberg
Trumpeter Danny Davis
Trumpeter Danny Davis

Trumpeter Danny Davis career covered nearly seven decades beginning as a youngster playing the instrument. His last concert was on July 23, 2005 at the Colonnade in Catoosa County, Ga.

Davis enjoyed coming to Chattanooga and said the Tivoli Theater, labeled as “the Jewel of the South,” was one of his favorite places to perform with the Nashville Brass. Davis said after the massive 1987 renovation there wasn’t a better place for a Nashville Brass concert than the Tivoli.

Davis was born in Massachusetts in 1925. His daddy died when he was five and his mother taught music to support the family. Davis learned the trumpet at home and started playing with the Massachusetts All State Symphony when he was 14.

Davis’ first professional job was in the early 1940’s with the Gene Krupa orchestra. That led to other bands including Sammy Kaye, Freddy Martin, Art Mooney and eventually Merv Griffin.

Davis got a big break when Bandleader Martin hired him to play the trumpet on the 1950 top ten novelty recording of “I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch of Coconuts.” It was this recording that led to a lengthy friendship with Griffin and appearances on his 1960’s TV show.

The next decade the trumpeter went to work for MGM in New York City and produced several artists including Connie Francis and Herman’s Hermits. His biggest production came in 1958, producing the top ten recording “The Stripper” by David Rose and his orchestra. Rose was musical director for the Red Skelton hour on CBS. Davis made one long play recording for MGM entitled “Brass on the Rebound.”

It wasn’t long until Davis’ met Chet Atkins and his world changed.

Davis said, “Chet handed me the world on a silver platter when he personally brought me to Nashville. He gave me RCA’s best to produce - Don Gibson, Floyd Cramer, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Hank Locklin and Dottie West. Chet was the nicest person you’d ever meet. If you take Chet Atkins from country music it would be like taking a transmission out of a car.”

Davis said even with that roster of country artists he wanted something of his own. He pitched the idea to Chet Atkins of recording country songs with brass instruments. Atkins hand-carried a demo to a meeting of RCA executives and in October 1968 the first album was released, “The Nashville Brass play the Nashville Sound.” Davis said, “If it hadn’t been for Chet there wouldn’t have been the Nashville Brass.”

Shortly before the first album was released to music stores, Davis came to Chattanooga to meet Luther Masingill, host of the Sundial on WDEF AM and FM. His friend, Floyd Cramer, told him he needed to see Luther because he was the first to play his million selling recording of “Last Date.” During Davis’ meeting with Luther, he introduced him to Harry Thornton who was preparing to launch a new morning television show on WDEF TV. Davis told Thornton he’d like to be on his show to promote the Nashville Brass. Mr. Thornton said he’d make that happen but told Davis he needed something, a theme song that people wouldn’t recognize the tune. Davis said he had the perfect song on his new LP, “The Middle of the Road.” Davis told Harry, “Nobody knows it; I only recorded it because I like the melody.” Thornton listened to the first minute of the song and said, “I like it, I want this for my theme song.” Their friendship lasted for many years to come; Davis visited both Masingill and Thornton when he’d come to Chattanooga.

In 1970, RCA decided Davis would stop producing and devote all his energy to the Nashville Brass. That same year the group received a Grammy for best country instrumental performance.

Davis said during his travels through Chattanooga he fell in love with the area and wanted to perform here so he contacted Sewanee, Tn. promoter and former legendary coach Lon Varnell.

Mr. Varnell introduced the trumpet player to Clyde Hawkins, manager of the Memorial Auditorium – Tivoli Theater and the two became close friends. Hawkins, a big fan of the Nashville Brass, booked the band at the Tivoli Theater in 1985. It was a near sell out. Hawkins decided to bring the Nashville Brass back (1987) for the last concert before the Tivoli renovation that lasted 20 months.

According to “Hello Chattanooga” by David Carroll, the grand re–opening took place March 29, 1989 with former Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander and Mayor Gene Roberts on hand.

It wasn’t the first event in the remodeled Tivoli, but because of their popularity, Hawkins brought back the Nashville Brass on June 6 for a gala re-opening and that performance was a near sell out.

Promoter Varnell brought Davis to Chattanooga on May 19 for several interviews to promote the upcoming June concert. Davis appeared on the “Hey Earl Show” the same day that President Ronald Reagan was in Chattanooga to speak to Hamilton County Students at the UTC Arena.

Davis said, “I know President Reagan,” he joked, “The president heard I was in town and came to see me.”

Republican activist Charlie Peavyhouse told this writer he was driving the limousine when the president was coming into town. The President was sitting in the front seat and heard Davis on the radio. Peavyhouse said the President looked at him, smiled and said, “I really like Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass, that’s my kind of music.”

Davis and the Nashville Brass recorded over 30 albums for RCA and many can be purchased on the Internet.

In 1977, Davis joined Chet Atkins and Floyd Cramer, masters of their instruments, in recording the album, “Chet, Floyd and Danny.” It was nominated for a Grammy. Davis again brought an early release of the LP to his good friend Luther at WDEF who especially liked “La Chicana" by the trio.

During intermission of his final concert at the Colonnade, Davis told this writer he was retiring: “Earl, I just can’t hit those high notes anymore. I’m going back to Nashville and enjoy family, my wife Barbara (married for 67 years) and our four children.”

Before saying good-bye, Davis said one of his all-time favorite places to perform was the Tivoli - built in 1919. Davis said he’d never forget the wonderful people in the Chattanooga area, especially his good friend Steve Plemmons who helped with all the details of his final concert. Davis shook hands, hugged some of us and said “Goodnight friends.”

Davis said Chattanooga is a beautiful city and has so much to offer both residents and visitors, especially the Tivoli Theater.

Davis said, “I’m so glad (1976) Clyde Hawkins encouraged the leadership (Mayor Pat Rose and Public Utilities Commissioner Jim Eberle) to purchase the Tivoli Theater. I’m especially glad I got to entertain on the same stage as one of my mentors, Guy Lombardo, whose band played the Tivoli several times.”

Before Mr. Hawkins left Chattanooga and became manager of the Northwest Georgia Convention and Trade Center, he said, “I’ll never forget Danny Davis, he’s a true professional and my favorite trumpet player; but I cherish his friendship the most.”

The veteran trumpet player suffered a heart attack at his Nashville home and died June 12, 2008 at the age of 83.

The Tivoli Theater was temporarily closed in August 2022 for a major renovation. It’s set to reopen in the spring of 2025.

Danny Davis at the Tivoli
Danny Davis at the Tivoli
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