The king of romantic Chicago soul, Tyrone Davis' warm, aching vulnerability and stylish class made him especially popular with female soul fans during a lengthy hitmaking run that lasted throughout the '70s. Best known for the classics "Can I Change My Mind" and "Turn Back the Hands of Time," Davis was a versatile baritone singer who could handle everything from pop-soul to funk to bluesy chitlin-circuit R&B, but smooth soul was his true bread and butter. Once Davis broke through in the late '60s, he never really stopped recording; although the R&B chart hits dried up by the early '80s, he was still going strong into the new millennium, decades after his first single was released.
Tyrone Davis was born May 4, 1938, in Greenville, MS; he spent most of his formative years in Saginaw, MI, and moved to Chicago in 1959, where he eventually found a job as a valet and chauffeur for bluesman Freddie King. He befriended the likes of Bobby "Blue" Bland, Little Milton, and Otis Clay, among others, and began to pursue his own singing career in the clubs on the city's West and South Sides. Singer/pianist Harold Burrage took Davis under his wing and helped him refine his craft, and the budding blues shouter got his first shot in 1965 on the Four Brothers label. His first single, "Suffer," was recorded under the name Tyrone the Wonder Boy and written and produced by Burrage, as was the follow-up "Good Company." Unfortunately, Burrage passed away in late 1966, and after one more single Davis moved on to cut one-offs for Sack and ABC. He found a home at Carl Davis' new label Dakar in 1968, when a Texas DJ flipped his first release over and started playing the B-side, "Can I Change My Mind." Showcasing Davis' lovelorn pleading to best effect, the song went all the way to number one on the R&B charts, and reached the pop Top Five as well.
Teamed with producer/arranger Willie Henderson, who'd masterminded "Can I Change My Mind," Davis capitalized on his breakthrough with a string of orchestrated hits that emphasized his new, smoother style, and helped point the way for Chicago soul into a new decade. "Is It Something You've Got" reached the R&B Top Five in 1969, and it was followed in 1970 by the sublime "Turn Back the Hands of Time." It was his second R&B number one, and also his biggest hit on the pop charts with a peak at number three; plus, the accompanying album of the same name ranks among the best soul LPs of its time, producing two more hits in the R&B Top Ten "I'll Be Right Here" and "Let Me Back In." Davis hit the R&B Top 40 with steady regularity over the next few years, including the Top Tens "Could I Forget You," "I Had It All the Time," "Without You in My Life," and "There It Is." In 1975, he scored his third number one R&B hit with "Turning Point," but left Dakar for Columbia the following year.
Davis' ballad mastery was a main selling point for Columbia, which made his backing orchestrations even lusher than before, but he also made the occasional concession to contemporary dance trends, which informed his debut Columbia hit "Give It Up (Turn It Loose)," a number two R&B single from 1976. Further successes followed in "This I Swear" (1977), "Get On Up (Disco)" (1978), and the slinky ballad "In the Mood" (1979). Davis recorded his final album for Columbia in 1981, then switched to Highrise, where he promptly landed a Top Five R&B hit — his last, as it turned out — with "Are You Serious" in 1982. Short stints with Ocean-Front and Prelude followed before Davis settled in with Future for the latter half of the '80s. He spent the first half of the '90s on retro-soul label Ichiban, recording several albums, and then moved to Southern soul imprint Malaco in 1996 for an equally productive stay that lasted into the new millennium. Davis continued to release new albums every year or two, and toured the soul/blues circuit as restlessly as ever. Tyrone Davis suffered a stroke in October of 2004 and remained hospitalized until his death in February of 2005. ~ Steve Huey