As the Davis Sisters’ first RCA-Victor single, “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know,” rose into the top of Billboard magazine’s country-western charts during the dog days of summer 1953, a midnight car accident claimed the life of lead singer Betty Jack Davis. Skeeter Davis, the other member of the duo and a survivor of the crash, fell into a depression while she recovered in hospital, and then in the home of Betty Jack’s parents near Covington, Kentucky. With encouragement from the Davis family, and commitment from Betty Jack’s older sister Georgie, the Davis Sisters soon returned to the road, to take advantage of the record’s popularity.
Nearly two years before, Betty Jack and Skeeter moved to Detroit, Michigan, at the invitation of bandleader Casey Clark, to sing on the WJR “Big Barn Frolic” radio jamboree, as well as personal appearances that producers Norman J. O’Neill, David Abadaher, and Clark booked in the region. O’Neill, a Detroit-based construction business owner, provided personal management to the Davis Sisters. In May 1953, Betty Jack and Skeeter made their first session for RCA-Victor in Nashville, Tennessee, and moved back to Kentucky. When Georgie stepped into her new role, the women cut ties with O’Neill. The Davis Sisters toured North America with major C&W entertainers, appeared as guests on barn dance radio programs, including the “Grand Ole Opry,” and recorded new songs until 1956, when Georgie settled down with her family, and Skeeter began singing solo.
On May 26, Memorial Day 2014, Craig Maki and Keith Cady visited with Georgie Davis. Here are highlights from the conversation.
Gotta Git A-Goin’
Georgie: We worked with [bandleader] Pee Wee King a lot. He took me on my first plane ride – insisted! I wasn’t gonna do it. No way, was I gonna get on that plane. And all the time he was scootin’ me along, and he got me right up there before I knew I was on it. Scared me to death. … He always had to get somewhere quick, so if he decided we were gonna sing with him, he’d take us with him. Because if he left us here, we might not get there [on time]. So that’s why he pushed us on the plane. But we worked with all of them. They’re all great, all of them. Eddy Arnold … There’s no better than Eddy Arnold. … We went all the way to California with him, doing show dates all the way. And Elvis [Presley] too. Elvis was on it.
Keith: What was your impression of Elvis?
Georgie: Well, he was a spoiled brat. [laughs] But, we learned to love him anyway. I love him even more, now. He was just somebody you had to, kinda, you know, deal with. He thought he was, uh … This is not a real good story for you young fellas, but – he loved the girls, and the girls loved him, of course – he walked in our dressing room unannounced, and I got mad at him. I said, “Listen here! You knock on that door when you walk in!” That didn’t mean anything to him, as far as that goes, but he never did walk in again. … He was a good guy, and he turned out to be a great guy.
Craig: When you were touring with the [RCA] Country Western Caravan, did you ride buses or cars? How did you travel?
Georgie: We were on a bus, hitting every city on that particular tour. It was a long tour and a lot of work, no sleep, and all that kind of stuff. Skeeter and I actually fell asleep on stage one night, because we couldn’t find any place to sleep. So we kind of curled up in a corner and took a little nap. [laughs] I don’t think anyone ever knew it, because they never mentioned it.
Craig: You were on the “Ozark Jubilee.”
Georgie: I was, but I don’t know if it’s in writing or not. Because I was filling in for … Kitty Wells. She couldn’t make it that night. And [Red Foley] asked me if I would sing with him. I said, “Sure” … But I think the papers would show that Kitty Wells was the singer on that show, even though it wasn’t.
Craig: I noticed on the [Davis Sisters] record, “I’ve Closed The Door,” you’re listed as one of the songwriters, along with Skeeter. Did you have a process for songwriting? Or picking songs to do? Did [someone] give you songs to do?
Georgie: Well, we more or less picked them. They’d give us so many, and then we had to choose from that, what they gave us. Because they had writers, you know, coming out of their ears. There were just plenty of writers. But, if they said we want you to do this, we did it, simple as that, I guess.
Keith: Did you ever find yourself recording a song that you …
Georgie: Didn’t like? Yeah. I can’t remember names of everything nowadays. … It was great fun, I can say that. … We took my oldest daughter – she was just a little tot, then – we’d take her with us, where we went. She loved it. She’d even stand on the stage and do some singing. [Editor’s note: Georgie had been married for several years before she joined the Davis Sisters act.]
Craig: Did you have a manager?
Georgie: Not really. The manager that they had when Betty Jack died was the only manager that they had. So, from different things that he had done, we decided that we didn’t want a manager. We’d do it ourselves.
Craig: So you were independent?
Georgie: Yeah, we were.
Craig: That must have taken some work.
Georgie: It did. But they would get in touch with us, if they wanted us on the show … and it was either yes or no, but most of the time it was yes. We’d go. We never had any qualms about it. We were always treated good. Nothing bad ever happened to us.
Fiddle Diddle Boogie
Keith: Before Skeeter and B.J. got together as the Davis Sisters and started recording, did you and your sister sing locally, as kids growing up? How did you get into music?
Georgie: We always sang, but we didn’t do anything, you know, in the music field. We just sang for our own amusement, and loved to sing. … We sang at church, and at places where we were asked to sing, like that. … We didn’t get paid for it, and I wasn’t looking for pay, at the time. We were just singing. We loved singing.
Keith: When did you first start singing [professionally]?
Georgie: When Betty Jack died, then I HAD to start singing, right then. The plan was that I would sing with them later. Because I had a little girl, we were going to wait until she got just a little bit bigger, and I was gonna be the third one singing. But because of that [accident], in order for us to, say, get a payday from our record, we had to start singing right then. Skeeter said, “Why don’t you sing with me now?” So that’s the way that we did it. Whether we could sing or not, [chuckles] we did it! But it worked out, it worked out OK.
Keith: When you and your sister sang together, would you sing harmony together?
Georgie: Yes. All our life.
Keith: Do you remember who would sing what part?
Georgie: I always did the harmony part, at that time. But Skeeter did the harmony on the records.
Keith: Right. That’s why I was curious [to know] if you would sing harmony with Betty Jack.
Georgie: Yes, I did.
Keith: Skeeter always sang the harmony on the records. Did you guys ever switch on other songs on the road, at all?
Georgie: No, I don’t think so. I don’t think we ever did that. They had us record so many songs at one time in New York. You know, they just kept piling them on, they didn’t want to run out of Davis Sisters, or run out of music, or something. So we did a whole lot of songs that we didn’t even like that much.
Craig: Do you know if there were any plans to do an album?
Georgie: I have to say no, because I didn’t know about it, if they had any ideas about it. … Skeeter had a hit record – you probably know all about Skeeter [and] her hit records. She had a lot of hit records. And she did very well, with everything. So, I just kind of faded out of the picture. So that she could have her time.
Keith: Was that a conscious effort on your part? How was it decided to dissolve the Davis Sisters?
Georgie: Well, I don’t know exactly how that happened. I don’t know that we ever actually said, “We quit.” Because they would come back, occasionally, and want us to do something, and we’d turn it down, or we’d try to do it. Whichever it was.
Keith: So maybe, over the course of time, you just got to where you weren’t doing shows anymore?
Georgie: Right. Just not doing it. … But Skeeter tried to get us back together, shortly before she died. She thought it was time to get the Davis Sisters back together, and I was going over that in my mind, “Yeah, maybe so.” Different people would tell her, “She [Georgie] may not want to do that anymore. She’s been gone a long time.” And then she’d call and say, “Don’t you think we need to get the Davis Sisters back together?” It never happened.
Keith: It’s too bad. That would have been terrific to see you two, together.
Georgie: I regret it.
Tomorrow I’ll Cry
Keith: Do you get a chance to listen to your old records?
Georgie: Well, occasionally … I don’t do that often, ‘cause I cry too much. So I can’t let myself do that every day.
Keith: Happy tears, I hope?
Georgie: Well, some of them are. But they’re still tears. [chuckles] But yes, I love to sit down and listen to them once in a while. I’m usually by myself when I do that. You know, Betty Jack meant so much to us, some things can make me cry about her, you know, her life. And she loved music so much. She was the talent. Of the three of us, she was the talent. And it just broke my heart.
Craig: Everyone we spoke with who knew her, or had seen her in Detroit, remembered her as being a great singer. They were surprised at how young she was. … She was a very accomplished young lady, as far as singing [goes].
Georgie: She was the only one of us who could play an instrument. She was the only one that could do anything, really. She was just “it,” and we depended on her to lead us through it. Skeeter did great. She, of course, ended up with a lot of hit records. She did great.
Keith: You said your plan was for all three of you to sing together. Did the three of you ever sing together … ?
Georgie: At home?
Keith: … at parties and things?
Georgie: At home, yeah. We knew that we could do it. We just didn’t get the opportunity to get it done.
Keith: Do you remember there being a most-requested song that you had?
Georgie: “I Forgot More” was our big hit, so we had to do that a lot. Every time we got up to sing, we had to do that one.
Keith: Did you get a chance to do some of your originals? I know you got a chance to record some originals. When you did live shows, did you get to do some of those, as well? Or was it just what you were asked to do?
Georgie: Whatever we felt that people wanted to hear at that particular time – you know, music changes pretty often, and at that time we’d just do whatever they requested. And sometimes it was somebody else’s song that we would do.
Craig: When we spoke on the phone … you mentioned that Andy Griffith was a favorite personality you ran into.
Georgie: Oh, yes. We loved him. He was on our show, the last show that we did. We went to California with Eddy Arnold and him and Elvis, and all of us was on this one stage, you know. It was just great. So I have a good memory of that one.
Craig: Where was that? Was that in Los Angeles?
Georgie: Ummm. What studio would that have been? Now I can’t remember names. I don’t know which one it was. … There were so many towns on that trip. And we all went in … buses – not regular buses, but people’s buses. There was several of us. It was a whole line of traffic, you know. And Minnie Pearl. Is Minnie Pearl still alive?
Keith: No, she’s passed away.
Georgie: See, I haven’t been in Nashville for a long time. So I don’t know what’s going on. … We’ve got a … museum, here in Devou Park [the Behringer-Crawford Museum] … got the Davis Sisters in it. [They’ve] got a lot of stuff in there, from us.
Craig: We’ll have to visit that.
Georgie: I’m real proud of it. It’s great. They really did it well.
Craig: Thank you so much for letting us stop by, and for sharing your memories.
Georgie: Oh, it’s been fun.
Click here to read the post of session details, see photos, and hear sound clips of the Davis Sisters in Detroit, featuring Betty Jack. To read more about Casey Clark and the WJR “Big Barn Frolic,” see the book “Detroit Country Music: Mountaineers, Cowboys, and Rockabillies.”