Friday, January 8, 2010

Betty Mabry Davis

This post is for a woman that I'm currently listening to. She is, along with Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a woman that is mentioned by many. While researching for my doc, I've asked several artists I wish to profile, who are some of their musical influences? Betty Davis comes up each and every time, with passion and wonderment in each and every voice that I speak too. She is the epitome of magic, beauty and strength that these current day female rockers admire and respect. I'm currently listening to her first album, Betty Davis (along with other artist of course), and really feeling "Anti Love Song" and "Game is My Middle Name". But the song that I have on replay is "F.U.N.K". Her voice is powerful, raw, and confident behind the delivery of her lyrics. I wish I could have witnessed her music live in concert.

Davis emerged as a singer in the era of Jimi Hendrix, Tina Turner, Sly & the Family Stone, James Brown, Al Green, Labelle, The Pointer Sisters, and Parliament Funkadelic. She was always head strong and had her own way of thinking, walking and talking. When people told her she couldn't do something, she relished in the challenge of proving them wrong. At a young age she moved to New York and worked as a model, appearing in such magazines as Seventeen, Ebony, and Glamour. While living in New York she hung out with friends Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone, hanging out at clubs that promoted all kinds of different styles of music.

In, 1966, Davis met Miles Davis and married him in September 1968. She was a huge influence on Miles Davis in terms of fashion, and music. During her short marriage to Miles Davis she introduced him to Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone, who introduced Miles to psychedelic rock, and a new way of playing and using instruments to manipulate the sound of music. Because of that introduction, Davis is credited for helping Miles Davis shift from traditional jazz, to fusion jazz. This is evident on Miles first two albums, In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew. Despite Betty's influence on Davis, the marriage only lasted a year.

After her divorce, Davis moved to London where she continued to model and work on writing music with the hopes of working with the group Santana. Upon her return to the US, she changed her focus and enlisted a bunch of friends to help with her first album entitled Betty Davis, released in 1973. Her friends on the album consisted of the Pointer Sisters as background vocals, Neal Schon on guitar from the groups Santana/Journey, Gregg Errico on drums from Sly & The Family Stone, Larry Graham on bass from Graham Central Station, Greg Adams and Mic Gillette on horns from Tower Of Power, Merle Saunders on electric piano, and Pete Sears on acoustic piano. She had the best of the best.

Although her peers praised Davis, she didn't achieve commercial success, partially due to her open sexual attitude, which was controversial for the time. Some of her shows were boycotted or shut down. Her songs were not played on the radio due to pressure by religious groups and the NAACP, along with the titles to the songs themselves like "He Was a Big Freak", "Nasty Girl" and "If I'm In Luck I Just Might Get Picked Up". Davis's other problem was that she was ahead of her time in demanding artist copyright ownership. This kept her at odds with the record labels. At the end of the day, her records did not sell and Davis returned to Pennsylvania.

With the passage of time her records have become highly regarded by collectors of soul and funk music. Both albums Betty Davis and They Say I'm Different were re-released by Seattle's Light in the Attic Records on May 1, 2007. In September 2009 Light in the Attic Records reissued "Nasty Girl" and her unreleased 4th studio album recorded in 1976, re-titled as "Is It Love or Desire?" (the original title was "Crashin' From Passion"). Both reissues contained extensive liner notes and shed some light on the mystery of why her 4th album, considered possibly to be her best work by many members of her band, was shelved by the record label and remained unreleased for 33 years.

For those of you that would like to learn more about Betty, there is a wonderful article located at this site
You can buy the back issue of Wax Poetics magazine, issue 22 for $9.99 on their site

You can also listen to an interview with Davis on NPR:

Here is the song F.U.N.K:

Last but not least, check out Light In The Attic. You can buy Davis's music as well as find out about some of the other artist that they rep. If your really feeling Davis you can buy one of the t-shirts that they're selling.

Hope you enjoy!

To a musical journey worth sharing!


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