The late pop/country artist and Meridian songwriter who penned such memorable '80s hits as “I Go Crazy,” “65 Love Affair” and “Cool Night” was honored Oct. 17 when he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. It was an event that marked not only the songwriter’s achievements in the industry, but also served as a starting point to give Davis well-deserved recognition in his home state.
Hall of Fame songwriter Paul Overstreet inducted Davis while longtime friend Meurice LeFevre of Meridian escorted Davis’ son, Jonathan, and Jonathan’s mother, Pam, to the stage. Jonathan, who is challenged in his speech, accepted for his father.
“He sat down and typed what he wanted to say about his daddy,” LeFevre said. “I introduced Pam, who got up there and read what he wrote. It was a great honor to me.”
LeFevre said he and Davis became friends about 35 years ago, when Davis moved to Atlanta. At the time, LeFevre owned LeFevre Sound Corporation, the first music quality recording studio in Atlanta. Since they were both in the music industry, the two became fast friends. LeFevre even met his wife, Peggy, through Davis; in fact, Peggy is Pam’s sister.
Jennifer Kimball, J. Fred Knobloch, Kyle Lehning, Anthony Martin, Ronn Price and Ed Seay performed a medley of Davis’ hits, including “I Go Crazy,” “Ride ‘Em Cowboy,” “Sweet Life,” “’65 Love Affair,” “Bop” and “Cool Night.” Following their performance, Tanya Tucker took the stage to perform “Love Me Like You Used To,” a song Davis wrote and Tucker recorded.
Davis was born in 1948 in Meridian. Beginning his career as an R&B songwriter at Malaco Records in Jackson, Davis was later discovered by producer/songwriter Bert Berns and signed with Berns’ Bang Records in 1969. His self-penned hits fared well on the Adult Contemporary Charts between 1970 and 1982. His single “I Go Crazy” reached No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song stayed in the Top 100 for a record-setting 40 weeks. His success continued after signing as an artist with Arista Records in 1981. The achievement was amazing considering Davis was never formally trained in music.
Later, as a full-time songwriter in Nashville, Davis penned hits for Tanya Tucker (“Love Me Like You Used To” and “Down to My Last Teardrop”), Lorrie Morgan (“Back in Your Arms Again”) and Dan Seals (“Bop”) and the Marie Osmond duet (“Meet Me in Montana”).
Davis was inducted alongside hit songwriters Pat Alger and Steve Cropper and, by special induction, America’s first professional songwriter, Stephen Foster, at the organization’s 40th Anniversary Hall of Fame Dinner & Induction Ceremony.
Davis was also inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame this year at a ceremony held in September. Longtime friend Art Matthews said he would love to see Davis properly honored in his home state.
“Paul hasn’t gotten the recognition in Mississippi he deserves yet,” Matthews said.
Matthews moved to Meridian in 1973 and opened the Music Emporium where he fell in love with his first customer and wife-to-be, Debbie May. Debbie was a friend of Davis’ wife, Pam, and Matthews and Davis met at a party when Davis opened a studio in the basement of his home.
“The first time I’d ever met him, it felt like I’d known him all my life,” said Matthews, whose children referred to Davis as Uncle Paul. “You couldn’t dislike the man. There wasn’t any way. He was like a member of your family after a while.”
LeFevre and Matthews recall their friend’s love of fishing, playing golf, riding dirt bikes and woodworking, which spurred the ideas for many of Davis’ hits.
“Paul was probably the most laid-back person I've ever met,” LeFevre said. “He never got overly excited. He was just easygoing and kind. He was a fine person. Paul Overstreet, when introducing Paul’s award, alluded to that also. Nothing could have been truer.”
Those who knew Davis are always quick to mention what a good, kind person he was.
“He was one of the absolutely nicest people I’ve ever come in contact with,” Matthews said. “He was humble. He just had a way of making you feel special.”
Matthews said Davis had a dry sense of humor, and he put his heart and soul into every venture, whether it was his music or his hobbies.
Davis died of a heart attack in Meridian on April 22, 2008, the day after his 60th birthday. Though not as prolific as other songwriters, a remarkably high percentage of Davis’ tunes enjoyed enormous success throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
Of his friend’s death, Matthews said, “It was kind of like losing a brother.”
“He was a genius,” LeFevre said. “A musical genius. And he never had any lessons. It was all God-given natural talent. If you listen to the words of his songs, I think life experiences dictated a lot of what Paul wrote. He turned out tremendous songs, one right after the other.”