Davis first linked up with Bowie during the recording of 1975’s Young Americans and continued to work with the legendary musician on the road and in the studio. He played on all three of Bowie’s famed Berlin records (Low, “Heroes“ and Lodger), as well as Iggy Pop’s The Idiot, which Bowie produced during the same period.
In an interview with Uncut magazine in 1999, Bowie spoke about Davis’ playing on those records, calling him “a powerfully emotive drummer… The tempo not only ‘moved’ but also was expressed in more than ‘human’ fashion.”
Born and raised in Manhattan, Davis learned to drum under the tutelage of jazz greats Max Roach and Elvin Jones. He began playing with the Clark Terry Big Band in 1967, but was called to serve in Vietnam, where he was wounded during a tour but was able to hone his skills in the U.S. Navy’s Drum and Bugle Corps.
Along with playing for Bowie after his service, Davis racked up credits with Roy Ayers, George Benson, Ronnie Foster and Stevie Wonder. In recent years, per his website, Davis had been piecing together his first solo album, The Groovemaster, though it had yet to be released before his death.
Visconti remembered Davis on Facebook as “one of the most creative drummers I have ever worked with … He was a disciplined jazz drummer who tore into Rock with a Jazz sensibility. Listen to the drum breaks on “Black Out” from the “Heroes” album. He had a conga drum as part of his setup and he made it sound like two musicians were playing drums and congas.
“By Scary Monsters he was playing parts that were unthinkable but they fit in so perfectly. His sense of humor was wonderful. As an ex-member of the US Air Force he told us stories of seeing a crashed UFO first hand by accidentally walking through an unauthorized hanger. There will never be another drummer, human being and friend like Dennis, a magical man.”