The happy greeting by Marilyn McCoo on the phone at home last month showed just how arm-in-arm her partnership with Billy Davis Jr. has remained for more than four decades – in music and marriage, and as best friends.
She waited for her husband of 44 years to pick up another phone for this 2-for-1 interview, a preview of their headline concert in the Pawleys Island Festival of Music & Art at 7 p.m. Saturday. They would answer questions as a team, sometimes with one person starting a point that the other finished.
McCoo and Davis sang lead in The 5th Dimension, a quintet whose hits began in 1967 with “Up, Up & Away” and carried into the early ’70s with “Wedding Bell Blues,” “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” “One Less Bell To Answer” and “(Last Night) I Didn’t Get To Sleep At All.” Going solo as a duet, they struck gold in 1976 in the first bat, with “You Don’t Have to Be a Star (To Be in My Show),” and added other ventures such as their own TV variety show and appearing on others, such as the Captain & Tennille’s series.
Looking back, Davis called that period “a much simpler time,” and “a great time,” long before the inundation of so much communication and recording technology.
McCoo referred to these changes as major lifestyle transitions, which her husband called so big and fast.
“One minute we got faxes,” Davis said, “and the next minute you have email, and people haven’t even gotten used to faxing yet.”
“Nothing’s better than the telephone,” McCoo said, “and you hear the emotion through the voice; you don’t get that from email.”
In the studio, all the advances really “worked in one way or another to improve our lives,” Davis said.
“Recording today is so much easier,” McCoo said, flashing back to 5th Dimension days. “We were recording on eight-track machines. We would try to overdub, or maybe you would see something and you might want to correct a line.”
She laughed at the dexterity of skilled producer Dayton Burr “Bones” Howe, who she said “would have to bring out a razor and cut the tape,” vs. the 21st century, where edits and retakes happen with the press of a button.
“I still have a picture in my memory,” McCoo said, “of Bones Howe over a tape machine with tape around his neck and a razor in his hand, and Scotch tape, because he spliced the tape together afterward. He was so good at doing that, you would not even know he cut it.”
She and Davis agreed on how much more mechanical recording has become, but McCoo remembers “the warmth” they loved from laying down music on tape.
McCoo, co-hosted “Solid Gold” for five years in the 1980s, including one with the late Andy Gibb. She said his death at age 30 hit her hard, but she carries wonderful memories of him, such as the various duets she performed with him on that TV show full of music.
“Andy had that wonderful Gibb sound,” she said. “That wonderful Bee Gees sound.”
With The 5th Dimension’s music remaining a bookmark for so many people’s recollections of good times, McCoo said certain memories stay fresh and unchanged in her and Davis’ hearts as well, from the beginning of melodies in the studio to situations on stage.
“I remember one time,” Davis said, “we were singing ‘Aquarius’ and ‘Let the Sunshine In,’ and our fans were sitting out in the rain. They were all covered up in umbrellas and coats, … and when we got to ‘Let the Sunshine In,’ and all of a sudden, the clouds broke apart, and the sun came out, and it scared everybody.”
“Or it delighted everybody,” McCoo chimed in. “That happened in New York.”
Another beautiful aspect from those moments came through in a picture a fan took there “as we had our hands up,” Davis said.
Solo success, too
McCoo and Davis also have pursued solo projects, such as her “White Christmas” CD and acting in the TV soap “Days of Our Lives” and “Show Boat” on Broadway, and his “Let Me Have a Dream” album with the late gospel legend, the Rev. James Cleveland.
These extracurricular endeavors have let them bring new things that enrich their work as a couple, which have included singing for the late Pope John Paul II and at inaugural balls for both Presidents Bush.
“It’s because we blend so well together,” McCoo said. “It’s all about the music and how it feels, and how you believe in it. To touch the other person’s heart: That’s what it’s all about.”
Sharing a taste of their “Live” double CD, due for release this month, McCoo said they do “a lot of new things,” weaving in some blues and jazz songs they’ve wanted to record “for a long time,” including one number that Clint Eastwood co-wrote for one of his movies, and revisiting their hit parade.
Faith always has taken priority for this pair, and giving marriage seminars, they see that quest people have to find that lifelong partner “who loves them for who they are,” McCoo said.
An ordained minister, Davis said, “I believe, we as humans, need some kind of spiritual life. That’s part of our makeup. If you don’t believe in something, you’ll fall for anything.”
Davis, who has recovered from prostate cancer, emphasized the importance of “early detection – that’s the key.” He urged all men to have prostate-specific antigen tests regularly, “to see where things are at,” and that if a high reading results, to do research and find the next best step, “the sooner you can stop it, the better.”
He said treatment has improved immensely since the process “10 to 15 years ago.”
“There’s no need for men to be afraid,” Davis said, because surgeries today are “so much kinder on the body.”
Contact STEVE PALISIN at 444-1764.