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14 Sep 2016

Betty Davis “Betty Davis” 1973 US Soul Funk

Betty Davis  “Betty Davis” 1973  US Soul Funk
Betty Davis’ debut was an outstanding funk record, driven by her aggressive, no-nonsense songs and a set of howling performances from a crack band. Listeners wouldn’t know it from the song’s title, but for the opener, “If I’m in Luck I Might Get Picked Up,” Davis certainly doesn’t play the wallflower; she’s a woman on the prowl, positively luring the men in and, best of all, explaining exactly how she does it: “I said I’m wigglin’ my fanny, I’m raunchy dancing, I’m-a-doing it doing it/This is my night out.” “Game Is My Middle Name” begins at a midtempo lope, but really breaks through on the chorus, with the Pointer Sisters and Sylvester backing up each of her assertions. As overwhelming as Davis’ performances are, it’s as much the backing group as Davis herself that makes her material so powerful (and believable). Reams of underground cred allowed her to recruit one of the tightest rhythm sections ever heard on record (bassist Larry Graham and drummer Greg Errico, both veterans of Sly & the Family Stone), plus fellow San Francisco luminaries like master keyboardist Merl Saunders and guitarists Neal Schon or Douglas Rodriguez (both associated with Santana at the time). Graham’s popping bass and the raw, flamboyant, hooky guitar lines of Schon or Rodriguez make the perfect accompaniment to these songs; Graham’s slinky bass is the instrumental equivalent of Davis’ vocal gymnastics, and Rodriguez makes his guitar scream during “Your Man My Man.” It’s hard to tell whether the musicians are pushing so hard because of Davis’ performances or if they’re egging each other on, but it’s an unnecessary question. Everything about Betty Davis’ self-titled debut album speaks to Davis the lean-and-mean sexual predator, from songs to performance to backing, and so much the better for it. All of which should’ve been expected from the woman who was too wild for Miles Davis….by allmusic….. 

Everyone knows Burger Records loves cassettes. Heck, they practically made their name in that game! You know who else loves cassettes? Why, Light In The Attic, that’s who! So it’s only natural that us two distinct and distinguished labels (ahem!) should team up on a slew of incredible cassette releases. LITA founder Matt Sullivan was overheard saying to his pet cat “Burger are the best. It’s not everyday you get to work with folks who love the good things in life: weed, cats and cassettes. I hope with this partnership that they’ll finally let us sleep over more often.” When asked for comment, Matt’s cat simply gave an approving “Meow,” while the Burger Records shop cat Queenie was seen happily licking herself. 

Starting May 13th, Burger Records/Light In the Attic will release one cassette a week for the following Light In the Attic releases below. Each tape is hand-numbered and housed in gorgeous old school hand-made tip-on box. C’est magnifique! Keep your eyes peeled as these puppies…er…kittens start to see release, as they’re sure to go SUPER quick! They’ll be available for purchase from Burger Records and Light In The Attic. 

One can hardly imagine the genre-busting, culture-crossing musical magic of Outkast, Prince, Erykah Badu, Rick James, The Roots, or even the early Red Hot Chili Peppers without the influence of R&B pioneer Betty Davis. Her style of raw and revelatory punk-funk defies any notions that women can’t be visionaries in the worlds of rock and pop. In recent years, rappers from Ice Cube to Talib Kweli to Ludacris have rhymed over her intensely strong but sensual music. 

There is one testimonial about Betty Davis that is universal: she was a woman ahead of her time. In our contemporary moment, this may not be as self-evident as it was thirty years ago – we live in an age that’s been profoundly changed by flamboyant flaunting of female sexuality: from Parlet to Madonna, Lil Kim to Kelis. Yet, back in 1973 when Betty Davis first showed up in her silver go-go boots, dazzling smile and towering Afro, who could you possibly have compared her to? Marva Whitney had the voice but not the independence. Labelle wouldn’t get sexy with their “Lady Marmalade” for another year while Millie Jackson wasn’t “Feelin’ Bitchy” until 1977. Even Tina Turner, the most obvious predecessor to Betty’s fierce style wasn’t completely out of Ike’s shadow until later in the decade. 

Ms. Davis’s unique story, still sadly mostly unknown, is unlike any other in popular music. Betty wrote the song “Uptown” for the Chambers Brothers before marrying Miles Davis in the late ‘60s, influencing him with psychedelic rock, and introducing him to Jimi Hendrix — personally inspiring the classic album ’Bitches Brew.’ 

But her songwriting ability was way ahead of its time as well. Betty not only wrote every song she ever recorded and produced every album after her first, but the young woman penned the tunes that got The Commodores signed to Motown. The Detroit label soon came calling, pitching a Motown songwriting deal, which Betty turned down. Motown wanted to own everything. Heading to the UK, Marc Bolan of T. Rex urged the creative dynamo to start writing for herself. A common thread throughout Betty’s career would be her unbending Do-It-Yourself ethic, which made her quickly turn down anyone who didn’t fit with the vision. She would eventually say no to Eric Clapton as her album producer, seeing him as too banal. 

In 1973, Davis would finally kick off her cosmic career with an amazingly progressive hard funk and sweet soul self-titled debut. Davis showcased her fiercely unique talent and features such gems as “If I’m In Luck I Might Get Picked Up” and “Game Is My Middle Name.” The album Betty Davis was recorded with Sly & The Family Stone’s rhythm section, sharply produced by Sly Stone drummer Greg Errico, and featured backing vocals from Sylvester and the Pointer Sisters. …… 

There’s been a huge resurgence of interest in funk-rock-soul diva Betty Davis over the past year, fueled in part by Seattle’s niche reissue company, Light in the Attic, and their release of her two iconic albums from the early ’70s, which have been sampled by the likes of Ice Cube, Talib Kweli and Ludacris. Suddenly, articles and reviews are springing up everywhere. Davis recently graced the cover of Wax Poetics (the featured article, “Liberated Sister” by John Ballon, is a must read for any fan and the photos will knock you out) and Seattle Weekly managed to track down the reclusive singer for a personal interview. 

Born Betty Mabry in 1944, she literally burst onto the scene in the 1960s. After recording one song which failed to chart, she started writing for other musicians, including the Chambers Brothers and later, the Commodores. Meanwhile, she became a major trendsetter and fashionista, working as a top model and then opening her own cutting-edge nightclub, The Cellar, in New York City. But by all accounts, it was her marriage to jazz icon Miles Davis which provided the necessary catalyst for her music career. 

According to legend (and John Ballon’s article), Miles had caught Betty’s eye during a performance at a local jazz club in 1967. She later showed up unannounced at his door wearing a see-through butterfly dress and handed him her card saying only, “I’m a musician and I think you might want to get together with me.” Then, after noticing Cicely Tyson in the background, added, “And when you throw that bitch out, I’ll be back” (in all fairness to Ms. Davis I must point out that she has disputed this account). To make a long story short, the two not only got together, but were married for one brief year (1968-1969). During this period Betty is said to have had a tremendous influence on Miles, introducing him to the music of Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone, and personally inspiring his landmark fusion album Bitches Brew (a name suggested by Betty to replace Miles’ original working title, Witches Brew). Miles repaid the favor by agreeing to produce an album for Betty and enlisting the help of Wayne Shorter, drummer Tony Williams, and bassist Billy Cox, but after recording only a few tracks, the project was scrapped for reasons that are still not entirely clear. Yet this did not have a negative impact on her career; in fact, the opposite may have been true. 

Known as “young, wild, and raunchy” (in Miles’ words), or more elegantly stated by Ballon as “a potent mixture of beauty, music and sex,” Betty was a true free spirit, fiercely determined to chart her own musical course. After the break-up with Miles, she was linked with many other musicians, including Jimi Hendrix, Hugh Masekela, Eric Clapton, Robert Palmer, and Michael Carabello of Santana. A gifted songwriter, she continued to pen songs for herself and others, but her personal relationships with jazz & rock’s elite no doubt opened other doors, and proved particularly useful when it came time to gather session musicians for her first album. 

Betty headed out to San Francisco in 1972, where Carabello introduced her to Sly Stone’s rhythm section. Funk bassist Larry Graham and drummer Greg Errico were tapped for Betty Davis, along with guitarists Neal Schon (Santana) and Doug Rodrigues (Mandrill), and organist Hershall Kennedy (Graham Central Station). Back-up vocalists included Sylvester, the Pointer Sisters, Patryce Banks (Graham Central Station), and Kathi McDonald (Insane Asylum), among others. As if that weren’t enough, the horn section featured Tower of Power regulars Greg Adams, Mic Gillette, and Skip Mesquite. The result was a unique combination of heavy funk grooves underlying Davis’ gritty, piercing vocals. The standout track on the album, said to be “the classic bad girl anthem and one of the funkiest recordings ever made,” was “Anti Love Song,” penned by Davis and possibly directed at Miles (“No I don’t want to love you / ‘Cause I know how you are / Sure you say you’re right on and you’re righteous / But with me I know you’d be right off / ‘Cause you know I could possess your body / You know I could make you crawl / And just as hard as I’d fall for you, boy / You know you’d fall for me harder / That’s why I don’t want to love you”). 

Davis’ 1974 follow-up album, They Say I’m Different, was basically a reprise of the first, and does not demonstrate any significant musical growth. In fact, Davis’ vocals (she was by no means a “singer’s singer”) can grate after awhile. But once again she gathered a stellar line-up of musicians, including ex-Hendrix guitarist Buddy Miles, and consequently this album really smokes. It also came to personify Davis’ bad girl image. Two songs, in particular, would eventually have a very negative impact on her career. The sadomasochistic “He Was a Big Freak,” about Hendrix, was banned from airplay (“I used to beat him with a turquoise chain / When I was a woman, I pleased him / When I was his mistress, Ooooh / When I was his flower, Ooooh”). “If I’m in Luck I Might Get Picked Up” created an even bigger furor for its overtly sexual lyrics (“I said if I’m in luck I just might get picked up / I said I’m dishin’, trickin’ you can call it what you want / I said wriggling my fanny / I want you dancin, doin it, doin it / This is my night out”). So what’s all the fuss about, you might ask. Yes, this is pretty tame stuff by today’s standards, but in 1974 the song was actually blacklisted by the NAACP! 

Davis was eventually ostracized by mainstream Black America for pushing the envelope too far—her Afro was too big, her attitude even bigger, her clothes too skimpy, her sexuality too much on display, her music definitely not suitable for prime time. But her live performances remained a huge draw—her aggressive on-stage persona was equalled only by the likes of Rick James, Sly Stone and Mick Jagger. Certainly no female performers of the era even came close. According to Carlos Santana (as quoted from the liner notes), “She was the first Madonna, but Madonna is more like Marie Osmond compared to Betty Davis. Betty was a real ferocious Black Panther woman. You couldn’t tame Betty Davis.” 

Light in the Attic must be applauded for these fine reissues. Mastered from the original session tapes, each CD includes several bonus tracks with previously unreleased material. The 30+ page booklets feature extensive liner notes by Oliver Wang with dozens of vintage photos. Credit must also be given to John Ballon, who managed to track Davis down in Pittsburgh by sifting through tax records (many had thought she was dead), and then convinced her to sign off on these reissues. You’ve got to check this stuff out- both the reissues and Ballon’s article in Wax Poetics. What a blast from the past! ……. 

Betty Davis was one of the nastiest ladies in 70s soul – and this is one of her greatest albums – a killer batch of funky tracks all the way through! Betty has a sound like nobody else – and she takes heavy drums, throbbing bass, and ripping guitars – all as a hard and funky backing for raunchy, raspy vocals that are belted out with a slinky, sexy sort of sound! Davis’ vocals are unlike anyone else we can think of – easily some of the most badass work you’ll ever find on record – and the tracks are a mix of hip themes about sex, gal power, and struttin your stuff – all delivered by a righteous woman who can definitely do just that! The album features the classic break tracks “If I’m In Luck I Might Get Picked Up” and “Steppin in Her I Miller Shoes“, but every cut is a funky monster. A great one if you dig hard female soul, heavy funky guitars, or both at the same time! ……. 

Brenda Nelson-Strauss ……. 

A1 If I’m In Luck I Might Get Picked Up 5:00 
A2 Walkin Up The Road 4:31 
A3 Anti Love Song 3:08 
A4 Your Man My Man 5:12 
B1 Ooh Yea 2:55 
B2 Steppin In Her I. Miller Shoes 3:39 
B3 Game Is My Middle Name 3:14 
B4 In The Meantime 2:43  

johnkatsmc5, welcome music..





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