Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Betty Davis

Get ready for Betty...........

Betty never had the success she deserved at the time of her releases, but no doubt she was just too many miles ahead of the game for people to understand. Totally fierce, raunchy, confident and strong, she intimidated people who believed in more traditional gender roles. It's a shame, because although her lyrics and persona were seen as extreme and darkly predatory, it's actually really joyful. A musical celebration of openness, playfulness, confidence and sexuality. 

Betty was born Betty Mabry in 1945, and wrote songs from a young age. At 16 she moved to New York, where she worked as a model and studied fashion and soaked up the booming folk scene. By the mid 60's she had written songs for the Chambers Brothers and The Commodores and she was good friends with Sly Stone and Hendrix. In '68 she met (and promptly married) Miles Davis, who was greatly inspired by her sound and her friends, and his experimentation with funk and rock began.
She released her first, self-titled album in 1973, produced by Greg Errico (the Family Stone drummer). This contained the single 'If I'm In Luck I Just Might Get Picked Up', clearly a funk classic, but neither the album or singles set the charts alight. She released two further albums 'They Say I'm Different' and 'Nasty Girl' but none of her efforts had mass appeal.

Her lyrical content seems explicit even by today's standards, ('You dragged my name in the mud… but I used to leave you hanging in bed by your fingernails' and 'He was a big freak, I used to beat him with a turquoise chain') and in the 1970's some religious groups took offence to this brazen woman who wrote about her sexual desires and exploits. Some radio stations were also uncomfortable with her attitude and banned her music. After one more shelved record for Island in 1976, a frustrated Davis left the industry for good.

Although she thinks of herself primarily as a songwriter and 'not a great singer', her vocal and performance style have been hugely influential, as has her image. You can hear and see it in artists such as Prince, Beyonce, Grace Jones, Ludacris, Lenny Kravitz, Outkast, Lil Kim and Erykah Badu. Many people have noted her influence on Madonna, although I enjoy Carlos Santana's observation, that Betty "was the first Madonna, but Madonna was like Donny Osmond by comparison." He also recalls Betty as "indomitable – she couldn't be tamed. Musically, philosophically and physically, she was extreme and attractive".

A few years ago the stars at label Light In The Attic re-released Betty's albums, so no doubt she will be influencing many more generations to come.

Here we go:

'If I'm In Luck I Might Get Picked Up'   .....try not to pass out..... 

'They Say I'm Different' getting off, humping to John Lee Hooker.......

'Nasty Girl'

'If I'm in Luck' covered by Iggy Pop. Great fun.

QI: Without Betty's suggestion the classic Miles 1970 album Bitches Brew would have been called Witches Brew.......