Todays Artist is a wildly flamboyant funk diva with few equals even three decades after her debut, she combined the gritty emotional realism of Tina Turner, the futurist fashion sense of David Bowie, and inspired the trendsetting flair of Miles Davis, her husband for a year. It's easy to imagine the snickers when a 23-year-old model married a famous musician twice her age, but Davis was no gold digger; she turned Miles on to Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone (providing the spark that led to his musical reinvention on In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew), then proved her own talents with a trio of sizzling mid-'70s solo LPs. . ........ N'joy
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Born July 26, 1945, Betty Mabry grew up in Durham, North Carolina, and just outside Pittsburgh. On her grandmother’s farm in Reidsville, North Carolina, she listened to B.B. King, Jimmy Reed, and Elmore James and other blues musicians. One of the first songs she wrote, at the age of twelve, was called "I’m Going to Bake That Cake of Love." Aged 16, she left Pittsburgh for New York City, enrolling at the Fashion Institute of Technology while living with her aunt. She soaked up the Greenwich Village culture and folk music of the early 1960s. She associated herself with frequenters of the Cellar, a hip uptown club where young and stylish people congregated. It was a multiracial, artsy crowd of models, design students, actors, and singers. At the Cellar she played records and chatted people up. She also worked as a model, appearing in photo spreads in Seventeen, Ebony and Glamour.
In her time in New York, she met several musicians including Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone. The seeds of her musical career were planted through her friendship with soul singer Lou Courtney, who produced her first single, “The Cellar” with simple, catchy lyrics like, “Where you going fellas, so fly? / I’m going to the Cellar, my oh my / What you going to do there / We’re going to boogaloo there.” The single was a local jam for the Cellar. Yet her first professional gig was not until she wrote "Uptown (to Harlem)" for the Chambers Brothers. Their 1967 album was a major success, but Betty Mabry was focusing on her modeling career. She was successful as a model but felt bored by the work. According to Oliver Wang’s They Say I’m Different liner notes, she said, “I didn’t like modeling because you didn’t need brains to do it. It’s only going to last as long as you look good.”
She met Miles Davis in 1967 and married him in September 1968. In just one year of marriage, she influenced him greatly by introducing him to the fashions and the new popular music trends of the era. In his autobiography, Miles credited Betty with helping to plant the seeds of his future musical explorations by introducing the trumpeter to psychedelic rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix and funk innovator Sly Stone. The Miles Davis album Filles de Kilimanjaro (1968) includes a song named after her and her photo on the front cover.
Miles believed that Hendrix and Betty had an affair which supposedly hastened the end of their marriage, but Betty denies this. Hendrix and Miles stayed close after the divorce, planning to record, until Hendrix's death. The influence of Hendrix and especially Sly Stone on Miles Davis was obvious on the album Bitches Brew (1970), which ushered in the era of jazz fusion. The origin of the album's title is unknown, but some believe Miles was subtly paying tribute to Betty and her girlfriends. In fact, it is said that he originally wanted to call the album Witches Brew—it was Betty who convinced him to change it.
As Betty Mabry, she recorded "Get Ready For Betty" b/w "I'm Gonna Get My Baby Back" in 1964 for DCP International. Sometime in that same era, she also dueted with Roy Arlington and under their joint name "Roy and Betty," released a single for Safice entitled, "I'll Be There." Betty's first major credit was writing "Uptown (to Harlem)" for the Chambers Brothers, 1967.
In 1968, when she was still involved with Hugh Masekela, she recorded several songs for Columbia Records, with Masekela doing the arrangements. Two of them were released as a single: "Live, Love, Learn" b/w "It's My Life." Her relationship with Miles Davis began soon after her breakup from Masekela and in the spring of 1969, Betty returned to Columbia's 52nd St. Studios to record a series of demo tracks, with Miles and Teo Macero producing. At least five songs were taped during those sessions, three of which were Mabry originals, two of which were covers of Cream and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Miles attempted to use these demo songs to secure an album deal for Betty but neither Columbia nor Atlantic were interested and they were archived into a vault until 2016 for the compilation, Betty Davis, The Columbia Years, 1968-69, released by Seattle's Light in the Attic Records.
While their marriage only lasted a year (1968-1969), Betty's impact on the immortal jazz trumpeter was tremendous. Her cutting-edge musical tastes and incomparable sense of style were too much for Miles to resist. A self-righteous 23-year old model, Betty conquered the man twice her age with a potent mixture of youth, beauty, and sex. Within a year, she had completely remade Miles in her own youthful image. As she poured herself into him, his playing grew younger, his outlook fresh. She ripped through his closets, tossing out the elegant suits he had worn for years. This was the late '60s, revolution was in the air, and suits were the uniforms of the Establishment. The time had come to get hip, and Betty pointed the way, introducing Miles to the musical and material gods of revolutionary style: Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone. Anyone with half a grip on the past knows that Miles experienced far more than a wardrobe makeover during his tumultuous Betty year. Deeply influenced by the cosmic rock guitar of Hendrix and the experimental funk of Sly Stone, Miles turned mad genius and unleashed the electrified musical Frankenstein known as Bitches Brew
After the end of her marriage with Davis, Betty moved to London, probably around 1971, to pursue her
modeling career. By the beginning of the '70s, Betty Davis began work on a set of songs and tapped a host of great musicians to bring them to fruition: Greg Errico and Larry Graham from Sly Stone's band, Michael Carabello from Santana, the Pointer Sisters, and members of the Tower of Power horn section. Her self-titled debut album finally appeared in 1973, and though it made no commercial impact at all, it was an innovative collection with plenty of blistering songs. Even more so than a soul shouter like Tina Turner, Davis was a singer for the feminist era. As Betty's lyrics attest, she was not a tragic woman beholden to any man. This was a woman with the strength of a Black Panther, a woman in total control, a predatory feline fully aware of the power that her beauty and sexuality gave her over men, and cooed her way through extroverted material like "Anti Love Song," "Shoo-B-Doop and Cop Him," and "He Was a Big Freak." Religious groups protested many of her concert appearances (several were canceled), and radio outlets understandably refused to play her extreme work.
She had two minor hits on the Billboard R&B chart: "If I'm in Luck I Might Get Picked Up", which reached no. 66 in 1973, and "Shut Off the Lights", which reached no. 97 in 1975. Davis hardly let up with her second and third albums, 1974's They Say I'm Different and 1975's Nasty Gal, but they too made little impact. Though she would have made an excellent disco diva, Betty Davis largely disappeared from the music scene. Unfortunately for Betty, America was not yet ready to embrace a woman with such an explicitly sexual persona. Her outrageously flamboyant image eclipsed her talent. Several of her live shows were boycotted by religious groups and even canceled. Radio steered clear of her unconventional music, judging it too hard for black stations and too black for white ones. Her records didn't sell. Betty vanished from the scene. These days, December 2017, not even one live or even moving clip of her on youtube, bizar.. I guess the male chauvenistic pigs of the day thouroughly managed to keep her out of the picture....
Material from the 1979 recording sessions was eventually used for two bootleg albums, Hangin' Out in Hollywood (1995) and Crashin' from Passion (1996). A greatest hits album, Anti Love: The Best of Betty Davis, was released in 2000.
Bay Area music producer Greg Errico knows something about artist buzz. He used to drum for a band called Sly and the Family Stone. But he can't believe the hum he's hearing now about an artist he produced decades ago: the mysterious funk queen and rocker Betty Mabry Davis.
"She never had big commercial success. We did this 35 years ago. And she's been a recluse for large parts of that," he says. But at a recent National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences function, he adds, veteran musicians were buzzing about her as if she were a brand-new sensation.
This month, the Afroed beauty, circa '73, graces the cover of hipster music journal Wax Poetics magazine, and today, indie label Light in the Attic Records re-releases lovingly packaged versions of her first two albums, "Betty Davis" and "They Say I'm Different," both cut in San Francisco in the early '70s.
Former musical colleagues don't know much about what happened next. "She disappeared for years and years," says Errico, who has spoken to her only a few times in the past two years. "First time I talked to her, she had really seemed like she had come out of some deep, serious seclusion. Very soft-spoken. She wasn't the same person." When asked about what she has done since her retreat from the public eye, Davis becomes diffident. She hints that she took comfort from being close to her parents (who have since passed away) and her younger brother. She adds that she is talking to the media reluctantly. "The guy who runs Light in the Attic, he asked me if I would do interviews, and to help him sell the album I told him I would," she says. But after this interview, she says, the rest will be canceled. Is she pleased by the resurgent interest in her career? "You want your music to sell. You want your work to be heard, regardless of how long ago you did it," she answers. "So, um, it's good." A trace of impatience creeping into her voice, she says, politely, "Have a good day." And the enigmatic woman who always wanted to do it her own way hangs up the phone.
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Betty Davis is best known for being married once to Miles and for being the bitch that inspired the brew. But she is also a talented composer and singer who deserved a more successful solo career.
Betty’s relationship with and eventual marriage to Miles is renowned for the effect she had on him: At 22, she got the pop-detached Miles into the giants of psychedelic rock, including Jimi Hendrix, that would revitalize his inspiration and lead to his revolutionary electric period. Betty wasn’t just a scenester or a hanger-on; she was a tuned-in tastemaker with deep charisma and the kind of attitude that could’ve made her a superstar in a less-anxious world, and she was both quick to learn and driven to direct. It’s one thing that Betty got Miles into Hendrix, but another thing entirely that she got a couple of Hendrix’s fellow band members to record with her—and had them join a group that included some of the key players on Bitches Brew, the album whose name was suggested by Betty herself. Still, Betty Davis’ story isn't quite as cut-and-dry between her Mabry years and her emergence as the woman touted as too wild for Miles—especially when you explore the actual recorded results of her and Miles’ mutual influence, as the newly unearthed sessions on The Columbia Years 1968-1969 prove.
The inspiration might have radiated both ways; John Ballon’s liner notes point out as much, with Betty vividly recalling Miles as a catalyst and a mentor who’d inspire her later solo run. But her full potential wasn't realized until years after these recordings, which primarily work as a sometimes exciting, sometimes half-sketched prelude to the more iconoclastic things that’d follow in the ’70s. For a set of recordings that feature the Billy Cox/Mitch Mitchell rhythm section of the Jimi Hendrix Experience's final incarnation and some of the most revolutionary players of Miles’ electric period—Harvey Brooks, John McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, Larry Young, and Wayne Shorter—just about everyone here, Betty Davis included, sounds like they’re just getting warmed up. This hybridized Hendrix/Miles vision of the band hadn't rehearsed prior to the recording session, and it shows: You can actually hear them start to click mid-song as early-take vamping starts to tighten up. Seven of the nine tracks were composed by the 23 year old Betty, 4 of these as the meanwhile Ms.Betty Davis, what followed were 4 years of arrested development before she unleashed her official debut album, and she was still ahead of her time..
Betty Davis - The Columbia Years 1968-1969 (flac 181mb)
01 Hangin' Out 4:56
02 Politician Man 5:46
03 Down Home Girl 5:26
04 Born On The Bayou 3:22
05 I'm Ready, Willing, & Able (Take 1) 1:05
06 I'm Ready, Willing, & Able (Take 9) 3:23
07 It's My Life (Alternate Take) 2:22
08 Live, Love, Learn 2:37
09 My Soul Is Tired 2:07
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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. Song for song,Betty Davis is actually one of the most extreme sounding debut records of the decade. Like Bitches Brew, it takes equal parts inspiration from Hendrix and Sly Stone. Future Journey guitarist Neal Schon gives the music its distinctly hard rock Hendrix edge. The Sly angle is fleshed out by former Family Stone drummer Gregg Errico, who plays on and produces the entire record. Former Sly bassist Larry Graham adds an even more unmistakable sound with his trademark grooves. The roster of other musicians playing on this record is impressive: Patryce Banks, Willie Sparks, and Hershall Kennedy of Graham Central Station; Tower of Power horn players Greg Adams and Michael Gillette; and the Pointer Sisters. All these musicians come together to form a flexible and propulsive band, laying down heavy beats behind Neal Schon's dominant lead guitar and Betty's shocking vocals. One critic aptly described their sound as something like a cross between Tina Turner, Funkadelic, and Sly & The Family Stone.
Like all original sounding music, Betty's voice eludes description, and must be heard. A friend was struck by how contemporary it sounded. It's pretty obvious that she was a major influence on Macy Gray. Betty was a powerhouse, pushing her vocal cords to the limit on every performance. She gave it all up, unpredictably alternating between sexy breathiness, moans, and full throated screams. Her voice is not for the feint hearted, as she drags the listener on an fiery tour of her bad-ass soul. This take no prisoners style of singing can sometimes be a bit much to handle. Make no mistake, Betty's brand of black music is not pleasantly soulful, it's ecstatically hard. 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.
Betty Davis - Betty Davis (flac 282mb)
01 If I'm In Luck I Might Get Picked Up 4:51
02 Walkin Up The Road 2:47
03 Anti Love Song 4:24
04 Your Man My Man 3:28
05 Ooh Yea 3:05
06 Steppin In Her I. Miller Shoes 3:10
07 Game Is My Middle Name 5:09
08 In The Meantime 2:39
09 Come Take Me 3:56
10 You Won't See Me In The Morning 3:50
11 I Will Take That Ride 4:43
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For Davis' next album, 1974's "They Say I'm Different," she assumed complete control. She assembled her own band, wrote the music, produced the album and crafted her image. Her sound became bluesier, edgier and even less compromising. Hip-hop fans now consider the rippling riffs of "Shoo-B-Doop and Cop Him" breakbeat gold. Looking like an intergalactic funkstress on the album cover, her only peers on funk's cutting edge were fellow Afronauts Parliament and Funkadelic.She could do both rootsy and raunchy. On the title track, she transformed a roll call of blues men and women and her own blood relatives into a self-mythologizing genealogy. On "He Was a Big Freak," she sang about a man who enjoyed being whipped with a turquoise chain.
It was too much for some. "Don't Call Her No Tramp," a fierce defense of independent-minded women, caused the NAACP to call for a radio boycott. When she celebrated women whom she called "elegant hustlers," others thought she was advocating prostitution. Davis herself had been slandered and dismissed as a groupie by men in the industry, including her ex-husband. But she dealt with the situation with mother wit: "I said that I was colored and they were stopping my advancement!" The song has since taken on a new layer of meaning in the wake of the Don Imus controversy. The openers, "Shoo-B-Doop and Cop Him" and "He Was a Big Freak," are big, blowsy tunes with stop-start funk rhythms and Davis in her usual persona as the aggressive sexual predator. On the title track, she reminisces about her childhood and compares herself to kindred spirits of the past, a succession of blues legends she holds fond -- including special time for Bessie Smith, Chuck Berry, and Robert Johnson. A pair of unknowns, guitarist Cordell Dudley and bassist Larry Johnson, do a fair job of replacing the stars from her first record. As a result, They Say I'm Different is more keyboard-dominated than her debut, with prominent electric piano, clavinet, and organ from Merl Saunders, Hershall Kennedy, and Tony Vaughn. The material was even more extreme than on her debut; "He Was a Big Freak" featured a prominent bondage theme, while "Your Mama Wants Ya Back" and "Don't Call Her No Tramp" dealt with prostitution, or at least inferred it. With the exception of the two openers, though, They Say I'm Different lacked the excellent songs and strong playing of her debut; an explosive and outré record, but more a variation on the same theme she'd explored before.
Betty Davis - They Say I'm Different (flac 343mb)
01 Shoo-B-Doop And Cop Him 3:56
02 He Was A Big Freak 4:06
03 Your Mama Wants Ya Back 3:25
04 Don't Call Her No Tramp 4:08
05 Git In There 4:43
06 They Say I'm Different 4:14
07 70's Blues 4:59
08 Special People 3:21
Bonus Record Plant Rough Mixes (10/9/73)
09 He Was A Big Freak (Record Plant Rough Mix) 4:43
10 Don't Call Her No Tramp (Record Plant Rough Mix) 4:37
11 Git In There (Record Plant Rough Mix) 4:38
12 70's Blues (Record Plant Rough Mix) 5:02
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Funk diva Betty Davis was supposed to break big upon the release of her third album, Nasty Gal. After all, her Just Sunshine Records contract had been bought up by Chris Blackwell and Island Records, and they were prepared to invest not only big money in the recording, but in the promotion of the 1975 release. Davis and her well-seasoned road band, Funk House, entered the studio with total artistic control in the making of the album. This set contains classic and often raunchy street funk anthems such as the title track (with its infamous anthemic lyric: "...You said I love you every way but your way/And my way was too dirty for ya now...." ), "Talkin' Trash," "Dedicated to the Press," and the musically ancestral tribute "F.U.N.K." It also features the beautiful, moving, uncharacteristic ballad "You and I," co-written with her ex-husband, Miles Davis, and orchestrated by none other than Gil Evans. It's the only track like it on the record, but it's a stunner. The album is revered as much for its musical quality as its risqué lyrical content. This quartet distilled the Sly Stone funk-rock manifesto and propelled it with real force. Check the unbelievable twinning of guitar and bassline in "Feelins" that underscore, note for note, Davis' vocals. The drive is akin to hardcore punk rock, but so funky it brought Rick James himself to the altar to worship (as he later confessed in interviews). And in the instrumental break, the interplay between the rhythm section (bassist Larry Johnson and drummer Semmie "Nicky" Neal, Jr.) and guitarist Carlos Moralesis held to the ground only by Fred Mills' keyboards. In essence, the album is missing nothing: it's perfect, a classic of the genre in that it pushed every popular genre with young people toward a blurred center that got inside the backbone while smacking you in the face. Heard through headphones, its spaced out psychedelic effects, combined with the nastiest funk rock on the block, is simply shocking. The fact that the album didn't perform the way it should have among the populace wasn't the fault of Davis and her band, who went out and toured their collective butts off, or Island who poured tens of thousands of dollars into radio and press promotion, or the press itself (reviews were almost universally positive). The record seemed to rock way too hard for Black radio, and was far too funky for White rock radio. In the 21st century, however, it sounds right on time. Light in the Attic Records has remastered the original tapes painstakingly for the first North American release of this set on CD. As is their trademark, they've done a stellar job both aurally and visually, as the digipack is spectacular. The set also features a definitive historical essay by John Ballon.
Betty Davis - Nasty Gal (flac 261mb)
01 Nasty Gal 4:35
02 Talkin Trash 4:40
03 Dedicated To The Press 3:40
04 You And I 2:45
05 Feelins 2:42
06 F.U.N.K. 4:20
07 Gettin Kicked Off, Havin Fun 3:07
08 Shut Off The Light 3:53
09 This Is It! 3:25
10 The Lone Ranger 6:08
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Whatever the reason that Betty Davis' Is It Love or Desire -- also known as Crashin' from Passion -- remained unreleased until 2009 no longer matters. Davis remembers a personal rift with Island's Chris Blackwell. Studio In the Country manager Jim Bateman (in Bogalusa, LA) claims the studio was never paid and therefore refused to release the masters to Island, etc. It makes no difference, because hearing this album, a ten-song set that was to be
Davis' and Funk House's final recording, is a revelation. (In 1976, funk was slowly giving way to the popularity of disco). Hindsight is 20/20, but had this album been released at the time, things might indeed have been different. Musically, Is It Love or Desire is so forward and so complete, it moves the entire genre toward a new margin. It is as groundbreaking in its way as the music Ornette Coleman was making with Prime Time à la Dancing in Your Head, and the blunt-edged fractured jazz-funk James Blood Ulmer laid down on his own a couple of years later on Tales of Captain Black and Are You Glad to Be in America?. The songwriting is top notch; some of it transcends the proto-sexual excesses of her earlier records though that's still in this wild mix, too. The production is so canny, it seems to get at the very essences of singers, songs, and musical arrangements, and then there's the music itself created by Funk House, one of the most amazing funk bands in the history of music. Being Davis' road and studio band had gelled the unit, which also practiced when they weren't working with her in a practice space at home in North Carolina. Check the dark voodoo-groove bassline Larry Johnson plays on "It's So Good," with Carlos Morales guitar filling the spaces with spidery, silvery lines, and the machine-gun snare groove laid down by drummer Semmie Neal, Jr with breaks and pops that underscore the outrageous distorted keyboards of Fred Mills, the band's music director. Speaking of Mills, his duet vocal on "Whorey Angel,"a spooky, psychedelic soul number that is far better than its title, is scary good. Check out the gris-gris choruses by Davis and her backing chorus with all that bass leading the entire band in its slow, backbone-slipping attack. The sheer sonic attack of "Bottom of the Barrel," may be country in its lyric intro, but the music is diamond-hard funk that makes no secret of its-anti disco sentiment. The ballad on the set, "When Romance Says Goodbye," is a steamy, sultry jazz noir number that gives the listener an entirely new aural portrait of Davis - Mills' piano work on the tune, with its sparse chords and spacious approach, gives Davis' natural singing voice -- rather than her sexual growl -- plenty of room to shine here. There's a bluesy number in &"Let's Get Personal," and a strutting rutting, gutter anthem in "Bar Hoppin' with some in excellent interplay between Mills' synth and Morales' guitar. The final track, a nocturnal, midtempo sexy number called "For My Man," features the violin talent of Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, to boot. It's easy to say that this the best thing Davis ever cut, especially when a record has existed in mythology for as long as this one has, but that makes it no less true. Many thanks to the Light in the Attic imprint for bringing Is It Love or Desire out of the realm of myth and the dustbin of history, and into the hands of music fans.
Betty Davis - Is It Love Or Desire (flac 227mb)
01 Is It Love Or Desire 2:35
02 It's So Good 3:18
03 Whorey Angel 5:00
04 Crashin' From Passion 3:25
05 When Romance Says Goodbye 3:41
06 Bottom Of The Barrel 3:45
07 Stars Starve, You Know 3:35
08 Let's Get Personal 3:31
09 Bar Hoppin' 3:12
10 For My Man 1:42
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