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  Betty Davis

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Click below for a Betty Davis sample:

He Was A Big Freak


Creator of some of the most outrageous jams of the 70s, Betty Davis should be a household name.  She had the model-worthy looks, songwriting skills, sexually charged persona and requisite connections to have been on par with a Chaka Khan, Grace Jones, or Millie Jackson.  Instead, Davis remains an enigmatic figure lost to obscurity while leaving behind a legacy that has been appropriated (perhaps unknowingly) by Madonna, Lil Kim, and her most obvious descendant, Joi. 

Born as Betty Mabry, she had a successful modeling career while writing songs for the progressive r&b/rock group Chambers Brothers and the Commodores, eventually garnering attention from labels interested in her obvious talent.  But when her demands for complete artistic freedom and ownership were denied, Davis rejected these offers and turned instead to the role of cultural facilitator.  

She was the link between Jimi Hendrix and "uptown" (to quote the song she wrote for the Chambers Brothers) New York City, helping the guitarist reconnect with his black roots. More famously, she married Miles Davis (it's her face on Filles de Kilimanjaro) and urged him to take his music in new directions, culminating in the landmark In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew albums. Yet the combination of two such strident personalities was ultimately too explosive to handle, and they divorced by 1970. 

Far from feeling sorry for herself, however, Betty kept Miles' surname and stepped out on her own with a self-titled album on Just Sunshine in 1973.  A west coast celebration featuring backing support from Family Stone veterans Greg Errico and Larry Graham, members of Santana, the Pointer Sisters, and Sylvester, it is some of the hardest funk committed to wax.  With titles as brazen as "Game Is My Middle Name," "Anti Love Song" and "If I'm In Luck I Might Get Picked Up," there was no doubt that Davis was a liberated woman and not ashamed to tell it.  She didn't sing as much as growl the lyrics, demanding your attention and turning the tables on traditional notions of gender roles as far as sex was concerned.  

For her second album, modestly titled They Say I'm Different, Davis threw some blues influences into the mix, groaning her way through "Your Mama Wants Ya Back" and "70s Blues." She also kept delivering exquisite slices of sleazy funk such as "Shoo-B-Doop and Cop Him" and one of her most famous cuts, "He Was A Big Freak," which broke all the rules by introducing s&m references to black music. (Many assumed the track was about Miles Davis, which Betty denies.) 

The final album of her career was Nasty Gal, released by Island in 1975.  Despite the move to a larger label, there was no compromise in the music.  On "Dedicated To The Press," "F.U.N.H," and the title jam, Betty represented the freak flag to the fullest, breaking it down on the self-explanatory "Talkin' Trash."

It is at this point where things begin to get murky.  Although Betty Davis thrilled the hipsters and was adored by cultural revolutionaries, she was considered way too hot to handle by the mainstream, and none of her albums sold particularly well.  She recorded an album in 1979, but it was not released until decades later.  By that time, Davis had long disappeared from the scene, having retreated so deeply into the background that rumors circulated that she had either died or had a nervous breakdown.  

As it turns out, for whatever reason, she decided to return to her hometown in Pennsylvania, where she apparently has been living quietly for the last three decades. Her records began to be sampled in the 90s, leading to extensive bootlegging of her material.   A proper reissue campaign was launched in 2007, with Davis participating in her first interviews since the 1970s. Among the more interesting tidbits she revealed is that she has continued to write songs, leaving open the tantalizing possibility of more Betty Davis albums in the future.  

Betty Davis' Deepest Grooves

Betty Davis (Just Sunshine, 1973)

They Say I'm Different (Just Sunshine, 1974)

Nasty Gal (Island, 1975)

Crashin' from Passion (Razor and Tie, 1990s)
This collection of previously unreleased material from the late 70s emerged out of the blue thanks to Razor and Tie.  It is unclear whether this represents the complete "lost" Davis album or if these were random tracks from the vault.   

Anti Love: The Best of Betty Davis (MPC, 2000)
Grab bag of material for those who want to wade in Davis' waters without getting too deep.  If you like this, you'll find the complete albums essential. 

Copyright 2001, 2007  All rights reserved.

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