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With recent DJ gigs racking-up airmiles between Russia, France, Canada and all over the USA, a steady stream of production work for Warners, and a potential radio show in the works, a newly invigorated Roy Davis Jr. is finally ready to drop his musical "thank you" to the city he grew up in.
"Chicago Forever" was originally slated for release in the fall of 2003. But Roy Davis Jr. lost his mother, went through a divorce, and moved away from family to Los Angeles. The events from the past two or three years have made this the most difficult album he has ever produced. "I almost lost inspiration, and felt like I was wasting time making music," explains Davis Jr. "But the last thing my Mom had said was "don't you ever stop making your music!" Thinking about her, all the things I have in my life, and my faith has kept me going," he adds.
As if a mothers last words weren't enough motivation to get him in the studio he has also become determined to elevate the current perception of dance music from novelty status back to a genre that's as popular as any other black music, back to the days when Chicago house ruled the dance floor and set him out on his own career.
"The soulless dance music that most people have access to is so commercialized and sugar coated. The best tunes are so often underground now - it's time to take this black music from the hoods of Chicago, Detroit, LA, etc, back over the top," explains Davis Jr. "My approach is to merge aspects of more popular genres like soul and hip hop into my sound because there's a younger generation that may not have grown up on dance music like I did. And it's important to have better songs at varied tempos so the tracks are not always at 127 or 125 bpm."
Prior to the album release two singles have dropped on Ubiquity. Featuring vocals by Ubiquity label mate Jeremy "Ayro" Ellis and another Detroit native Terry Dexter, the latter single spent 10 weeks on the Billboard Dance Chart. It's a hugely uplifting dance floor production complete with strings and keys by Tomi (of Babyface fame). Terry Dexter (not to be confused with Julie Dexter or Terry Walker!) has worked with Eric Benet, Jaheim, The Black Eyed Peas and Raphael Saadiq and recently had her acting debut in Focus Features "Deliver Us From Eva" playing the part of Natalie and performing a stirring rendition of "Amazing Grace". The two met years ago when Roy remixed a single for Dexter that ended up going Top 5 at Billboard. The album also features plenty of exclusive unreleased tracks - cameo interlude appearances from Common and Roy's son Caleb, co-production with PPP Waajeed, an uplifting gospel tinged "Heavenly Father" a dance floor bound "My Soul is Electric", two unreleased tracks featuring Terry Dexter and a tribute to the Chicago Steppers genre.
Davis Jr. also appeared on Rewind II - producing and singing a cover of Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" - an apt way to start a project inspired by the music of Chicago. Expect a slew of live and DJ dates around the world to follow.
Born in Van Nuys California he moved at the age of 1 to the southern suburbs of Chicago. Apart from 3 years in Tennessee Davis Jr. lived there until his move to Los Angeles in 2003.
He was introduced to dance music by late 1980s legends DJ Pierre, Farley Jackmaster Funk, and Lil' Louis, ”I’ve always been into Music but these were the DJs that really inspired me. I went to all their parties and just danced all night. Lil’ Louis was always my favorite DJ because he knew how to play it all, from mellow, club, classics, he was so diverse - he taught me how to mix it up, that’s how I got my style, ” says Davis Jr. “I started DJing myself when I was 12 or 13, spinning break dance music, Italian disco, then house,” he adds.
His first real taste of the music industry was as a lowly shrink wrapper at Trax. He brushed shoulders with the likes of Glenn Underground, Ron Kell, Steve Poindexter, and DJ Rush, who all worked in the same building, boxing records, doing the day-to-day stuff at one of the most happening labels of the era. Of course they all had musical aspirations, “None of us were singing, we were just making track, we were just happy to own 303s and 909s, says Davis Jr. “But I played keys so I got hired for a lot of other peoples productions.”
Eventually Marshall Jefferson put out the first Davis Jr. tracks under the name Umosia. “I was still a lil’ kid but attending a music awards ceremony in Chicago I knew I had to take a chance when I saw Marshall Jefferson come on stage with his big posse. I gave him a cd of my tunes and Jefferson called me next morning to sign me up – he said he couldn’t stop listening!” says Davis Jr.
The big turning point for Roy Davis Jr. was in 1993. As a junior in college he was asked to work as an A+R scout for Strictly Rhythm in NYC. He went out to the East Coast weekly by train (he hated flying at the time!), and was subsequently hired to start his own sub-label called Red Cat records. The label lasted for about a year and half and Roy Davis Jr. became more in-demand as an artist and as a DJ career.
You can't mention Roy Davis Jr. without mentioning "Gabriel." Released in 1998 on Large, "Gabriel" was hailed "Dance Tune Of The Year" by countless publications worldwide and sold by the truckload. Produced with vocalist and multi-talented musician Peven Everett, "Gabriel" is a certified soulful house music anthem that sounds as fresh as the day it was made. Credited by some with kick-starting the UK garage scene it was a tune that would change Roy's musical direction and take him back to his spiritual roots. It’s well known that Davis Jr. has deep religious grounding; in fact his honesty about his beliefs has set him up for criticism from his audience.
“I’ve had to learn different ways to communicate about my religious beliefs through music without being too preachy. I sit back and think about how people might want to talk to me if I had no faith. Sometimes you can’t hold back, and sometimes you can. I just need to know that when I leave this place I did the best job I could,” explains Davis Jr.
After “Gabriel” he diversified his production work with critically acclaimed remixes for Gus Gus, Eric Benet & Faith Evans, Terry Dexter, and Hip-Hop queen Mary J. Blige, slowly letting his more soulful side rise to the top. “When I grew up I listened to Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder – the records my parents played- that was music that set you straight,” he says. “That’s how I came up with my sound. It shouldn’t just be about beats and instrumentation. Amp Fiddler and Peven Everett have opened up the doors for people to come through and show what soulful music can and should be.”
Davis has recorded for Thomas Bangalter's Roule imprint, Peacefrog, NRK, and Bombay Records; he is undoubtedly one of the hardest working producers on the dance music circuit. Aside from producing, Davis also runs Undaground Therapy records and has a busy DJ schedule. His label has released works from Men From The Nile, Earth Boys, Paul Johnson, Jay Juniel, Louie Maldonado, Brian Harden, and DJ Skull.