Bobby's One Hit Wonders: Volume VIII: Linda Davis - Does He Love You
By: Bobby Peacock
Once again, I find myself looking at an artist's discography and asking, "did they really have only one hit?" Specifically, Linda Davis.
Davis first hit Music City in 1982, pairing up with Skip Eaton and releasing three singles through MDJ Records as Skip & Linda. While MDJ was the label that helped Alabama get its foot in the door, history did not repeat itself. Davis then worked as a receptionist at a studio. There, she met her longtime husband Lang Scott, who had two singles of his own for MCA in 1984. Linda then sang jingles for KFC, Dr Pepper, and Mug root beer before taking a job in a piano bar at the Sheraton Music City. Producer/songwriter Bob Montgomery discovered her there and signed her with Epic Records, though none of her three singles for the label made it any higher than #50.
1990 brought another record deal, this time with Capitol. Managing her were none other than Reba McEntire and husband Narvel Blackstock. Davis's debut for the label, In a Different Light, produced only meager chart entries with its title track and B-side, "Some Kinda Woman." (One wonders if "In a Different Light" could've been a hit had Doug Stone not put out another song with the same title a mere two months later.) Davis also sang backing vocals on Kenny Rogers' "If You Want to Find Love" late in the year. A few structural changes at Capitol later, she ended up on sister label Liberty in 1992 for her self-titled second album, whose only single was the non-charting "He Isn't My Affair Anymore." (Rick Trevino was apparently one of the few who bought this album, as he covered "Just Enough Rope" a year later.)
After the Liberty contract ended, Reba chose Davis as a backing vocalist for her touring band, and ultimately as a duet partner on her 1993 single "Does He Love You". Set as a dialogue between a wife and "other woman", each questioning the other as to which of the two is more loved by the man, the song was clearly meant as a two-woman duet. MCA executives pushed for labelmates Trisha Yearwood or Wynonna, but it was Linda who won out. And she proved to be no slouch, easily keeping pace with Reba's passionate, convoluted phrasing. The off-the-board choice clearly worked, as the song went to #1 and won both artists a Grammy.
Now, Reba was decidedly nonconformist at this point in her career, her big voice and bigger production in contrast to the more traditional leanings of Yearwood, Pam Tillis, or Suzy Bogguss, or the more folksy approach of Kathy Mattea and Mary Chapin Carpenter. That said, her no-nonsense, strong-woman lyrics and twangy tone kept her firmly in the country vein. Linda Davis suggested more of the '80s Reba — the Reba who still hadn't quite figured out the full power of her voice; the Reba who was held back some by the extremely dated production of Jimmy Bowen (who also did Linda's first two albums); the Reba who was on the edge of something really big.
However, even with the momentum of "Does He Love You", Linda was not destined for stardom. Her first album for Arista, 1994's Shoot for the Moon — which Arista president Tim Dubois called "rushed out" — accounted for only two low-charting singles: "Company Time" (a smart Mac McAnally song which I bet Mary Chapin Carpenter was kicking herself for not cutting) and "Love Didn't Do It". It also featured "In Pictures", later a Top 5 hit for Alabama. Reba and Linda collaborated one more time, with additional help from Yearwood and Martina McBride, for a somewhat gimmicky round-robin cover of Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald's "On My Own", from McEntire's covers album Starting Over.
1996's Some Things Are Meant to Be got Linda as close to post-"Does He Love You" success as she could manage. The title track was her biggest solo hit at #13, but "A Love Story in the Making" (written by "Big" Al Anderson of NRBQ) stalled out at #33. The album also included yet another duet with Reba ("If I Could Live Your Life") and "What Do I Know", which Ricochet released in December 1995 as their debut single. However, a flop of a third single in "Walk Away" led to her walking away from Arista.
She returned to the Top 20 in 1998 with "I Wanna Remember This", a cut from Decca Nashville's soundtrack to the Patrick Swayze Black Dog. By year's end, she'd signed to the newly-established DreamWorks Nashville and released I'm Yours. The album was a bizarre hodgepodge comprising seven of her earlier songs (five singles, plus her versions of "What Do I Know" and "In Pictures"), "I Wanna Remember This", and six new songs. Among those new songs were the title track and "From the Inside Out", neither of which were successful enough to get her anywhere with DreamWorks. Since then, she's released three albums independently, and seen her daughter Hillary Scott hit the big time as one-third of Lady Antebellum. Davis still keeps her name out there as a singer and motivational speaker, particularly with the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
Looking more closely at Linda Davis's career, I see a lot of untapped potential. The Capitol and Liberty albums suggest a Reba-a-like in search of a truly knockout song, and that knockout song ended up being a duet with Reba. By the Arista albums, Davis was becoming more assured, but 1994 was a time when the more "traditional" females were starting to lose their grip. The latter half of the 1990s saw the dawn of country-pop crossover divas like Shania Twain, Faith Hill, and post-"A Broken Wing" Martina McBride, and Davis just wasn't pop enough to keep up. Though she clearly had the talent, and her single choices were often solid, Linda often comes across to me as a bit of a latecomer to 1990s trends. Perhaps if each of her albums had come out a year or two earlier, she would've been more successful. Perhaps a different single after "Does He Love You". A higher focus on new material for I'm Yours. Any number of factors could've taken her to the next level after her one big hit. But at the same time, what she did put out is still interesting and enjoyable on its own merits.