Billie Davis was born Carol Hedges on 22 December 1945, in Woking, Surrey. She had several hits in the 1960s and is best remembered for the UK hit version of the song, Tell Him (1963) and I Want You to Be My Baby (1968).
Billie got into music in the time-honoured way: “I won a talent contest, it started from there. A place in Southwold. I was pushed onto the stage by a few friends of mine and won it – I think it was a Connie Francis number, I can’t remember the title. There were a couple of people there who got a recording contract together for me (on Decca) and an agent.”
“The very first tour I did was with Johnny Leyton, the very first record was the comedy thing with Mike Sarne – we had the Sarne agent, Robert Stigwood. He thought I’d be right for it and he thought it would be great experience for me to go round with Mike Sarne, promoting the record and getting to know the business, in general. It was purely for the experience and then we searched for a long time for the right song and found Tell Him. There were three versions of it actually: there was Alma Cogan, the Exciters, which was the original American and which I still think is a gas, and mine. I don’t even have a copy of my record anymore, I don’t know what happened to it.”
Tell Him reached #10, stayed in the top twenty for five weeks, and earned Billie her circus place in her own right.
Her act was mostly black numbers – early Motown stuff, My Guy, The Ronettes – and she was backed by the group that became Tucky Buzzard. The follow-up single He’s The One, was written by Tell Him arranger, Charlie Blackwell.
It had just about reached the top thirty when: “I had this car accident which put me out for a year and a half. We were coming back from a show and hit a bus. I broke my jaw. I couldn’t do anything at all.”
While she was in hospital, “Sandie Shaw and Cilla Black came along, started to happen and I was pushed into the background. A year is a long time, a hell of a long time. You can’t pick it up again. Situations and times change so quickly.”
And it was not as if she’d made her fortune already: “I had insurance and all that kind of thing, it kept my head above water. In fact, I had made a lot of money but I was very young, had signed the contract green from a talent contest, and never ever saw a penny of royalties. Someone went bankrupt, it happened all the time.”
“There are so many sides of the business you don’t know about; you’re busy on the road, working, and can’t get involved with all the money details. Your values become so different – you do your gig and someone says ‘Oh, here’s fifty, go out and get a meal and some clothes’ and maybe it should be fifty thousand but you don’t think. I was basically on a retainer and it wasn’t till the accident that I started talking to a few people in the business and realised what they were earning”
When she’d recovered, 1965 by now, Billie left Stigwood and went to Delfont, signed with Pye: “I went into making duets again, with a guy called Keith Powell. This was the soul time – Sam and Dave, Geno Washington, the Big Roll Band, and all that. We still used the Sarne band, Tucky Buzzard, and went back on the road. This time we did all the universities, all the disco dates, and the record did the top thirty – it was called When You Move You Lose. It was a soul record – Keith had this great Joe Cocker-type voice.”
In 1966 Keith Powell left to go solo and Billie had another misfortune: she was the girl in the Jet Harris Affair.
He was done for drugs and driving, she was plastered over the Daily Mirror – “I Will Stick By Jet!!”
Suddenly people didn’t want to know, the TV work stopped. In Europe, in Germany and Scandinavia, Billie’s soul style began to have a spate of success, but in England, no plays, no news.
In 1967 the English music business discovered a new straitjacket: the ‘underground’. Music was divided into ‘progressive’ and ‘pop’, musicians into artists and hacks. This peculiar ideology hit Billie Davis hard.
She was a performer, a craftswoman. She hadn’t made an album, she didn’t write her own songs. Her music was club music, dance music, and it was this scene that died.
Billie followed her circuit mates (Georgie Fame, Alan Price, Long John Baldry) into a new kind of music – modern ballads – and into a new kind of audience – cabaret.
She was still dogged by the old kind of bad luck. In early 1967 she made Angel of the Morning (written by Chip Taylor, produced by Michael Aldred) and did alright. It got airplay, dented the charts, people forgot about Jet Harris.
The follow up was a Jon Hendriks song, I Want You To Be My Baby with an elaborate production (32 voices including the Moody Blues) which Hendricks himself dug. It reached #23, Billie did every possible TV and radio show, and Decca had a strike: “It sounds like a story but it’s true. By the time they got back in their stride, which was six to eight weeks later, it had died.”
Billie left hastily for Europe, where both records had snowballed: “We had fantastic success in Germany and that went on to France, to Holland and Belgium, behind the Iron Curtain, to Spain and from there to South America, to Argentina, where I had my own series of TV shows.”
In some ways, Billie’s success in Europe and South America compensated for her lack of recognition in England (which she virtually ignored) but she was unhappy with the whole cabaret bit.
In 1967 she married Alan David, an independent producer/writer who became her manager and rescued her from the Delfont organisation and sustained her through the cabaret years.
In 2006 Billie was reunited with Jet Harris for a series of concerts.