Chris "Big Dog" Davis, of Wallingford, sits at the keyboard in his home studio in Wallingford, Tuesday, January 14, 2014. Davis produced the song "Quiet Fire" for artist, Maysa, which has been nominated for a Grammy in the Best Traditional R&B Performance category. | Dave Zajac / Record-Journal
January 15, 2014 07:27PM
By Eric Vo
WALLINGFORD — On Sunday, Jan. 26, Chris Davis will among the biggest names in the music industry at the Staples Center in Los Angeles for the 56th annual Grammy Awards. Maysa’s “Quiet Fire,” a song Davis produced, is nominated for the Best Traditional R&B Performance Grammy.
The 53-year-old Waterbury native, who goes by the nickname “Big Dog” — for his 6-foot-3, 315-pound stature — has been living in Wallingford for six years. His house is his office space, with music equipment and keyboards set up throughout the living room. During his 13-year career as a music producer, Davis has worked with well-known rhythm and blues artists, such as Brian McKnight, Will Downing and Phil Perry.
The Davis-produced “Quiet Fire” is his first nomination, he said. He’s gotten close several times, he said, but this is the first year something he worked on made it through into one of the Grammy categories. Davis said he was unaware Maysa’s song had been nominated until his friends and family told him.
“They had the Grammy concert and they announce all of the nominees. I fell asleep and my phone went off with like 60 texts saying, ‘Oh, you’ve been nominated,’ ” said Davis, laughing. “I thought, ‘Get out of here!’ ”
Davis has produced Maysa’s last six albums. With “Quiet Fire,” Davis said the two decided to “put a twist to it and add more of an R&B thing on it.” The song was originally performed by Nancy Wilson.
Davis’ life has always revolved around music, he said. His mother and father were musicians and his brother and sister are also musical. From an early age, Davis said, he began playing the piano. Noticing his music abilities, he began taking lessons with a local teacher, “who took on special gifted people in her house,” Davis said.
“I was born with a gift. I was playing in church all my life,” Davis said. “My mother and father were musicians also — they were singers. My brothers and sisters were musically inclined, but I was the special one that my mother took and kept me at it.”
He was eventually enrolled in a program at Yale University, where he was classically trained. From Yale, Davis said he moved on to the Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford to study with Jackie McLean, the late alto saxophonist, composer and educator at the college for 36 years.
Upon completing his studies, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1980 and served for three years. In 1985, at 23, Davis said he moved to Des Moines, Iowa, and began his music career.
“At that age, I knew I wanted to do music for the rest of my life,” he said.
Davis spent nearly a decade in Iowa, where he spent time performing in local bars and gaining more knowledge of the constantly changing music industry. In 1995, Davis said he returned to Connecticut and received his “first big gig.”
“I was called to play with Brian McKnight,” Davis said. “I did the ‘Anytime’ tour with him. I was on all of his TV shows back then — Arsenio Hall, Jay Leno and Rosie O’Donnell — I did all that with Brian McKnight.”
Davis served as McKnight’s musical director, he said, and eventually produced one of his songs. It was then, Davis said, that he “got the bug for producing.” Shortly after that tour finished, Davis said, he went on the road with a four-man jazz group, which included Downing and Gerald Albright, a jazz saxophonist.
“That was my first big major tour where I was meeting all four artists at one time,” he said. “That was beautiful.”
Davis still maintains communication with Albright and the two still travel together and perform. In fact, Davis said Tuesday he was leaving at the end of the week to meet and play with Albright.
Barbara Fowler, a member of the Hartford Divas, has worked with Davis and known him for 20 years. Davis, she said, is a “musical genius.”
“He has a great mind for melodies and great arranging skills,” she described. “... Chris can do anything in this business. He’s a great engineer. I don’t think there’s anything that he really can’t do.”
As a performer, he’s able to travel and play with numerous artists in different shows. But as a producer, he has control over how the track ultimately sounds in the final product.
“I see the vision all the way through. People understand my vision of what I see in a song and how I hear it — how I want it to go,” he explained. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
“Quiet Fire” is nominated in the “Best Traditional R&B Performance” as opposed to the “Best R&B Performance” category.
“Traditional R&B is more so soul,” said Jamie Wexler, founder and editor of the blog “This Is RnB.” “It has ’70s soul and a classical sound associated with it and a bunch of instrumentation and live instruments. R&B is more electronic, with synthesizers. It’s a commercial, modern sound versus classical.”
If “Quiet Fire” wins the Grammy, Davis can add it to his long list of credits, but he’s modest about his accomplishments.
“It’s crazy. It’s really surreal,” he said. “A lot of people tell me that you deserve it, but I can tell you that everyone deserves it. This is called luck. We’re all deserving.”