MEMOS FROM A MUSIC FIEND
BY ALEJANDRO MAGAÑA
BETTY DAVIS: BETTY DAVIS
Just Sunshine Records,1973
Unjustly flying under the radar for decades, simply because she was Miles Davis’ second wife, Betty Davis, born Betty Mabry, is now spoken of with the same reverence as any of the funk greats that emerged in the late 1960s and after, say Sly and the Family Stone, and Parliament-Funkadelic.
Her style is unabashedly raw and nakedly sensual. Inspired by the blues, according to an interview her grandfather had a killer record collection of old 78s and 45s of early country blues and the antecedents of r&b, she had been writing songs since she was a young girl, and actually released a couple 45s that went nowhere in the early ‘60s under her maiden name, Betty Mabry, but eventually finding some success penning a tune for the Chambers Brothers. She was also a professional model and between modeling and music she would come in contact with some significant players of the day, Hugh Masekela, Jimi Hendrix, and of course Miles Davis, and she turned these contacts into opportunities with Columbia Records that never quite came to fruition.
It wasn’t until after her marriage to Miles that she wrote and arranged the songs on the few albums she is mostly known for beginning with this one. She was never considered much of a singer, however when she was finally given a shot what she lacked in technique, she easily made up for with her style. She sounds positively feline, prowling through the hard hitting rhythms and yowling like a wounded jaguar padding through the jungle of sinewy bass and razor- sharp guitar. To listen to her records is revelatory, hearing a black woman at this time giving absolutely zero fucks while simultaneously sounding so in control.
On this debut, she had an awesome line-up of musicians as her backing band, including bass player extrordinaire Larry Graham, Neal Schon of Santana, and backing vocals by Sylvester and the Pointer Sisters. It’s produced by Gregg Errico, former drummer for Sly and the Family Stone. The result is a thick slice of unbridled funk that has an aggression any punk rocker would be envious of, with song titles like, “If I’m Lucky I Might Get Picked Up,“Your Man My Man” and “Anti Love Song.” She is in every way way ahead of her time. At this moment in our nation’s cultural history she still sounds cannily futuristic. My words really can not do her justice. Can the words of any man? Do yourself a favor and check her out.