The Discogs entry for Betty Davis runs to a couple of sentences, which is criminal. Wiki have Betty better remembered as a former model “married to Miles” and the person responsible for introducing the “moody” jazz maverick to Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone, turning him on, and plugging him in. Arguably reinventing him, and consequently reinventing jazz, in the process. Featured on the cover of Miles` Filles de Kilimanjaro, he immortalized her in the song, Mademoiselle Mabry.
Light In The Attic brilliantly redressed the balance, with some fine reissues of Betty’s own records, accompanied by high, high, quality liner notes – interviews with friends, fellow musicians, and the reclusive Betty herself. All detailing and describing her as a quiet, spiritual, sober, and private person, in stark contrast with the striking, “shocking”, stage persona in hot pants and thigh length boots.
Photograph by Robert Brenner.
The first I knew of Betty was when DJ Spinna put Anti Love Song on a BBE compilation, titled, super concisely, Funk Rock, back in 2001. An album that I think I picked up specifically for Santana`s Life Is Just A Passing Parade (and don’t ya know it). Stuffed with absolute smashes, classics, from Brian Auger to Yellow Sunshine, Anti Love Song, however, quickly became THE one. Supported by Sly`s band, Betty’s half-spoken / half-sung delivery, a mix of poetry and performance art. With lyrics, lungs, and loins full of lust, laying down a “progressive” temptress template only partially paralleled by contemporaries such as Annette Peacock and Ruth Copeland.
I have even more of soft spot for If I’m In Luck I Might Get Picked Up. I once had this gig at supposedly “Balearic” night in Tokyo, but when I walked in the DJ before me was playing a modern hip hop and R&B set. People were dancing, and not packing anything from either of those genres, not wanting to jar too much during our “transition”, I wasn’t quite panicking, but definitely scratching my head. Hard. There was another time, when the warm-up guy finished with Van Halen`s Jump – which involved me playing my box backwards, but that’s a whole other story. At this particular party, it was Betty who came to my rescue. Screeching, screaming, above the tight, tight, rhythm section, as they hammered out a churning, grinding, hypnotic, head-banging funk. Betty’s bastardized blues holler, outrageous, suggestive, provocative, the promise of her passion threatening, “Try not to pass out.” The song still sounds fucking raw. It should have been no surprise when LITA got Iggy Pop to cover it, but in comparison the ex-Stooges` version is SO tame.
Photograph by Robert Brenner.
The early `70s were a liberated time, ringing with revolutions of all shapes and sizes, but women weren’t expected / supposed / allowed to be THAT liberated. In concert, Betty was fiery, feisty, sexually-charged / aggressive, exaggerated to the point of predatory even, and unapologetic. Feminist for sure to the core. We live in a world, remember, where you have to shout to get your point, message, across.
Betty Davis Rest In Peace.