NAMM Oral History Spotlight: Gail Davies
When you think of “Nashville Sound” or more specifically, record producers in Nashville, what names come to mind? Perhaps names like Owen Bradley, Chet Atkins, Cowboy Jack Clement, or Fred Foster top your list. However, the name that should be on your list but probably isn’t is Gail Davies.
A singer-songwriter, Gail Davies made her mark as the first female record producer in Nashville and is often considered the first female record producer in country music. Growing up with country music roots, Gail’s father, Tex Dickerson, was a popular musician, occasionally appearing on The Louisiana Hayride, a radio and later a television program broadcast from Shreveport, Louisiana. After graduating high school, Davies moved to Los Angeles where she was hired as a session singer by A&M Records working with artists such as Neil Young and Glen Campbell, sat in on John Lennon sessions produced by Phil Spector and was the lead singer for The Midnight Band playing weekly Saturday nights at The Troubador in Hollywood. At one of these gigs, Frank Zappa was so impressed with Davies’ performance he invited her to tour Europe with him, but Davies opted to tour the country with country icon, Roger Miller, instead and making her television debut on The Merv Griffith Show.
It was also at this time Davies became friends with Joni Mitchell and through this friendship with Mitchell and Mitchell’s recording engineer, Henry Lewy, that Davies learned the craft.
Davies branched out to writing thanks to the encouragement of her brother and relocated to Nashville. In 1976 she signed with EMI Publishing as a staff songwriter and penning hit songs such as “Bucket to the South” for Ava Barber. For a woman who achieved success at each turn, Davies decided to pursue a solo career and recorded her self-titled debut album. Despite the album’s success on the charts, Davies was not entirely happy with its production and decided to take on the challenge of producing her sophomore album, The Game, making Davies the first female producer in Nashville and country music.
After The Game, Davies took a brief respite to welcome her only child, Chris Scruggs, to the world. Scruggs, is the son of songwriter Gary Scruggs and grandson of legend Earl Scruggs, who grew to be a multi-talented musician in his own rights.
Back in the studio, Davies cut Where Is A Woman To Go which featured the song “Unwed Fathers.” Deemed too controversial for mainstream country radio, the track, which featured backup vocals from Dolly Parton and was written by John Prine and Bobby Braddock, was named “The Best Country Song of 1985” by Newsweek Magazine.
Over the course of her career, Davies has earned an International Bluegrass Music Award, both a GRAMMY® and American Music Award nomination, and was inducted into the class of 2018 Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. If Davies wasn’t on your list of top Nashville producers before, it probably is now. Having worked with icons such as: George Jones, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Pam Tillis, Dwight Yoakam, Crystal Gayle, Charley Pride, Dale Watson, Allison Moorer, Vince Gill, Alison Krauss, John Anderson, Shelby Lynne, Guy Clark, Suzy Bogguss, Delbert McClinton, Mandy Barnett, Jim Lauderdale, and Benny Golson, NAMM is honored to have added Davies into the Oral History Collection, which now boasts over 4,000 interviews.