Link Davis was born in 1914 in Sunset, Montague County, Texas. One of eight children, he formed a trio with two of his brothers during the late '20s, playing local dances. A natural musician, Davis started out playing the fiddle and later took up the saxophone. He gravitated toward Western swing music when he turned professional and one of his earliest known steady gigs was as a member of the Crystal Springs Ramblers, a Fort Worth-based outfit with which he cut his first record in 1937. It was after passing through several other local bands that Davis became a member of Cliff Bruner & the Texas Wanderers, playing fiddle or saxophone on a number of their records during the early '40s. He tried forming his own band -- later known as the Blue Bonnet Playboys -- in 1945, and cut his first solo sides in 1948. Davis moved to the Gold Star label the following year for one release, which included his version of "Good Rockin' Tonight," retitled "Have You Heard the News."
Davis spent the 1950s working under a variety of names, as well as backing various other musicians, including bandleader Benny Leaders, Floyd Tillman, and Smith Spadacene (working as "the Harmonica Kid") on fiddle or saxophone, occasionally singing with them, and making music in a variety of idioms and styles, ranging from country blues and Cajun music to rockabilly. He was equally capable in all of these areas -- as far back as 1949, he'd cut a hot adaptation of "Good Rockin' Tonight" under the title "Have You Heard the News" -- and could easily have been a competitor in the new field of rock & roll when it began breaking out in the middle of the decade. Some of the flavor of his stuff, such as "Grasshopper," was a little too southern to ever find favor outside of the region, but he was better suited in style to the new music than many other country music veterans who tried it on for size. Moving between the Starday, OKeh, Columbia, Nucraft, Sarg, and Allstar labels, and his own Western and Tanker labels, among many others, he left behind a significant legacy spread among all of those variant styles, which may be one reason Davis isn't better known. A fixture in the industry, he was too good at too many different kinds of sounds and not great enough in any one of them to make a deep impression with the public. He did earn a spot in the footnotes of rock & roll history by accompanying the Big Bopper's "Chantilly Lace" and Johnny Preston on "Running Bear," but most of Davis' recognition would reside in the country field.
Even into the 1960s, he occasionally made a foray into rock & roll with songs like "Rice and Gravy," but he failed to make a lasting impression in the field. He continued to be a top session musician and cut records in Western swing, Cajun, and blues style throughout the decade for different labels, mostly based in Houston, TX, until he was sidelined by a stroke late in the decade. After that, Davis' activities were far more limited, until his death in 1972 at age 57. It's only in the 1990s, some 20 years after his death, with the deep reissues of music by Cliff Bruner and Floyd Tillman, that Davis' wide-ranging contributions to country music, Western swing, and rock & roll fully began to be acknowledged. His son, Link Davis Jr., also a multi-instrumentalist, has similarly worked in a multitude of musical idioms, including recordings with Asleep at the Wheel and one of the latter-day incarnations of the 13th Floor Elevators. ~ Bruce Eder