Nothing like some great obscure soul to get your body moving.
Betty Davis – Betty Davis
Betty Davis – They Say I’m Different
Light In the Attic
Stand up and shout hallelujah! Two of the greatest lost soul albums of the ’70’s have finally been reissued after way too many years out of print. Kudos to Light In The Attic for digging up these great albums and allowing the world to once again enjoy the unfettered funk of the sultry, sexy, flamboyant and raw Betty Davis! Of course, with all of the great soul and funk sides being re-released these days (as well as the classics we all know about) one would be forgiven for thinking I might be heaping undue hyperbole on these albums. Suffice it to say, one listen to these albums by the great Davis would erase all doubt. Don’t know who Betty Davis is? It’s no wonder, as these albums were put out on a tiny label and hardly promoted at all due to the semi-raunchy material contained within. But, let’s not confuse matters by blaming circumstances beyond anyone’s control. These two albums are some of the rawest, greasiest, greatest funk ever released and stand toe-to-toe with anything James Brown, Sly Stone or the P-Funk army released at the time.
Davis (nee Betty Mabry) was born in a small town in North Carolina but her family eventuallly moved up north to Pittsburgh, though she later moved to New York City by the early ’60’s. It was there that she began exposing herself to all the cutting edge music the ’60’s had to offer, from jazz to avant-garde to rock. Working for a time as a model, Davis slowly became part of the music scene, first by working at the hippest clubs, then by cutting a few singles, and finally by becoming a songwriter, scoring a hit song (“Uptown”) for the Chambers Brothers. Her talent and beauty placed her in the midst of the hipster circles where she eventually met and married Miles Davis and began influencing his career and persona in surprising ways right down to the clothes he wore. Introducing him to the music of Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone and other artists on the cutting edge of funk and rock (in some cases arranging meetings between the artists themselves) she began working with and inspiring her husband to craft albums melding funk, rock and jazz. These albums eventually became In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew (which Miles named in honor of his wife) and became milestone works in the world of jazz, influencing and inspiring much of the jazz fusion which followed. A long union was not to be, however, as Miles soon divorced his wife because he found her too intense and suspected her of carrying on an affair with Jimi Hendrix. She soon drifted to England where she began to get caught up in the heavy rock scene, briefly dating Eric Clapton (who wanted to work with her on an album but was rebuffed by Davis as being too blues-oriented – the relationship imploded soon thereafter) and a member of Santana’s band. Upon returning to the US, she decided to take the ideas she had been formulating and presenting to labels for bands like The Commodores (yep, she worked with Lionel Ritchie before he became famous – Miss Davis seemed to be everywhere during this time period) and turn them into vehicles for herself. Signing a contract with a little upstart label, she began recording her first album.
The self titled album Betty Davis (1973) was and is a milestone release. While countless female soul artists had released albums, no other female artist had such frank and overt sexual material on an album before Davis and had so obviously controlled the proceedings as she had. It was as if Davis was trying to position herself as a female version of George Clinton. For a comparison, think Millie Jackson (or, better yet, Tina Turner) dressed in a spacesuit and then add some searing P-Funk guitars and some thunderously booty-shaking beats to go with the very sexually risque lyrics. Featuring musical talent from Sly Stone’s band (including bassist Larry Graham), Michael Carabello and an incredibly young Neal Schon from Santana, background vocals from the Pointer Sisters, and members of the Tower of Power horn section, the album was stacked to the hilt with the best musicians of the era. Featuring songs such as “If I’m In Luck I Might Get Picked Up” and “Game Is My Middle Name”, Davis left no doubt she was freaky-deaky and ready for anything. Sadly, Davis wasn’t quite ready for one thing: her album to bomb. While containing no cusswords, Davis’ lyrics left little to the imagination. Consequently, her album got little airplay and her concerts were often picketed.
Disappointed but not deterred by the poor sales of her debut, Davis released her next album, They Say I’m Different, a year later with a different cast of musicians than her first groundbreaking release. Gone were the big names and studio ringers of her debut, replaced with younger, newer players who had been raised on the funk sounds of the artists she was trying to emulate and, more likely, dethrone so she could take her rightful place on top of the funk heap. Not surprisingly, these young turks were more than up to the challange and manage to at least equal (if not better) the deep, deep funk displayed on her debut. Featuring the songs “Shoo-Be-Doop and Cop Him” and “He Was A Big Freak” Davis once again challenged listners and censors with her raw sexual appetites and her willingness to sing about them. The cover features her in an outfit straight from the P-Funk Mothership and seems to be a distant cousin of the outfit Cher wore on her Take Me Home album of the late ’70’s. Once again, radio stations refused to play her music and angry protestors made their presence felt at her now-infrequent live appearances. It seems the world was not ready for a sexually charged, talented young black female to tear the roof off the sucka. Davis released one more album (entitled Nasty Gal) to the same public apathy as her discs before abandoning the music scene forever and moving back to Pittsburgh. Tired of her music being ignored, Davis never recorded again. An album consisting of outtakes from her third album was issued after Davis “retirement” but, like her other albums, it made pretty much no impact save for a small but devout coterie of followers, DJ’s and beatheads who know great music when they hear it. A greatst hits compilation was also released, but quickly deleted.
Fans of funk need these albums in their collections. It isn’t an issue of “wanting” these reissues – if you are a fan of funk and soul music these are albums you simply have to acquire or settle for having a mediocre collection. You wouldn’t want that, would you? Then rush to your local store and order this right away. You will not be sorry – this is some of the most blazing funk of all time!