Classic Soul Music

Sunday, August 14, 2005

BETTYE LAVETTE IS EASILY ONE OF THE VERY BEST FEMALE LIVE R&B SINGERS I'VE EVER SEEN!


Imagine a Thursday night in L.A., sitting on the edge of a seat in a funky dark-lit bar that usually hosts young rock'n'roll and punk performers. The Echo Cafe in Silverlake is not the most likely place you'd find me on any night of the week but I'm here to see Bettye Lavette, one of few remaining real authentic no-shit female soul singers who started her career in the '60s. I'm sitting next to another member of that ever-diminishing breed, my good friend Thelma Jones. I've known Bettye since the mid'70s when a single on Epic Records was my 'excuse' to interview her for Britain's "Blues & Soul" magazine. We've had a few 'moments', me and Miss Bettye: when she was visting NYC in the late '70s, she needed a place to crash - and my studio apartment was it! Over the years, we would chat periodically: when a small French label was brave enough to issue her long-lost lone Atco album in the '90s, I got to contribute a few lines to the liner notes and when Bettye signed with a tiny San Francisco label a few years ago, it was an excuse to finally see her live after having spent some time with her in L.A. while she was recording the album for Blues Express.

I trotted off with my friend Rudy Calvo (the renowned make-up artist and stylist and major soul fan) and there we were in a truly little SF club watching Bettye do her thing - and what a thing! She was unlike almost any other performer I'd ever seen, pouring her heart, soul and guts into songs that I'd known through years of listening to her from back in '65. She was deep. Unfettered, unaffacted, just real as all could be. It was scary to see so much emotion come out of one tiny body (cause Bettye is no big mama but almost fragile and slim unlike most hardcore R&B been-through-it-all performers). She sang like she was on the edge, 'bout to break down. And when she sang "Your Time To Cry" and her all-time classic "Let Me Down Easy," she delivered with such feeling, grown men were weeping.

Thankfully with some prompting Mike Kappus of The Rosebud Agency was there that night and the next few nights, Bettye was seen by more than a few notable pop and rock luminaries such as Huey Lewis and Bonnie Raitt. Those SF gigs turned Bettye's career around. She was truly - in her own words - on her last career 'legs,' having struggled to make ends meet without any real representation, no major label and just occasional gigs in Europe and at home in Detroit somehow helping to pay the bills. Within a couple of years, Mike had Bettye working more than she ever had in her entire life. She had married, left Detroit and moved to New Jersey. Now, she had a record deal with Anti Records, a primarily rock label based - where else but in Silverlake, a few blocks from The Echo Cafe...

Just a week or so before, I had sat stunned in my bedroom seeing Bettye on "The David Letterman Show"! I actually cried a little. Not just because of the stellar performance she gave but because this was her first EVER major national appearance on any late night show after a 44-year-long career. Talk about survival. Damn. And singing Dolly Parton's "Little Sparrow" she was just as real as she had been that night in San Francisco...

The Echo Cafe show confirmed that Bettye Lavette is indeed in the top 3 performers I've ever seen in my 40 years as a soul music fan, up there with '60s Aretha and Nina Simone. I watched intently as she delivered song after song from her upcoming album "I've Got My Own Hell To Raise," songs written by female artists which seem tailor-made for this woman who is finally finally coming into her own. Thelma J. was speechless at the end of the show when Bettye rendered a throw-down of the acapella opening track on the album. So was I. Afterwards, I told Bettye that seeing her on the Letterman show had me saying, 'There really is a God!" She hollered and was effusive in her greeting of Thelma, telling her how honored she was to meet her. Thelma was inspired and encouraged that doing a real soul album could get her out there too. And I pledged to do whatever I could to promote Bettye's new album via the website...and was inspired to start this blog as a result.

My friend and soulmusic.com colleague Michael Lewis called me yesterday to tell me that Bettye had made it to the front page of the L.A. Times Calendar section. Soul justice: in a musick world of fakery and fools, Bettye Lavette is the passionate, no-holds-barred, make-you-wanna-slap-somebody real real deal. Yes, her time is here and yes, karma is a mother, hanging in there when you got a soulful mission will pay off and yes, there is a God! Nuff said, y'all.

9 Comments:

At 6:27 PM, Blogger LeeBay said...

It's about time you did a blog! :) Thanks for sharing, David. Your bud, Lee Bailey

 
At 11:50 AM, Blogger David Nathan, The British Ambassador Of Soul said...

Hey and I got a whole lot more to say, Lee...and feel free to add the link anywhere you want on your site...

 
At 8:52 AM, Blogger Oliver said...

Bettye LaVette is back with a vengeance! It took a lot of hard work to accomplish this remarkable "comeback." She's been so successful, she actually won the distinguised W. C. Handy Award for her brilliant, "A Woman Like Me" CD, as "best comeback album of the year." Now, she's competing, in earnest, with the likes of Etta James and Mavis Staples in the world of blues.

LaVette is actually a soul singer, right along side Aretha, Patti and Gladys. And, like Patti and Aretha, she is an alumnus of Atlantic Records.

Bettye is currently receiving some of the most incredible reviews I've ever read. No matter where she appears, she's gets raves from local music critics. She's giving the type of shows they haven't seen in a while, especially with the onslaught of the hip/hoppers with all the dancers, fireworks, etc. that they need to put on a show.

People like Bettye LaVette do not need all of that distraction, which attempts to disguise the fact that most of these "artists" cannot sing.

I predict that her new CD, "I've Got My Own Hell To Raise" will bring her smack dab in the lap of the mainstream.

 
At 6:36 PM, Blogger zeca azevedo said...

I'm a brazilian soul fan and I really adore BETTYE LAVETTE's voice and musicianship. She's one of the best Soul singers ever (and that is saying something, really). Her SOUVENIRS CD is one of my favorites ever. I'd love to see the lady performing live... Anyway, thanx David for your post about BETTYE. I'm your fan too. Good work, my friend!

 
At 4:46 PM, Blogger David Freeland said...

These posts are right on the money! Since Bettye's Letterman appearance I've been getting comments like, "This is just the singer we've been waiting for," and "Thank GOD she's getting this kind of exposure - we need a singer for grown people, like ourselves." People have also been astounded by Bettye's intense theatricality, the way she somehow creates a lifetime's worth of experience through the course of a two-minute performance.

These viewers are tired of people with little or no singing ability, with no conception of how to "hold" a stage, or who deliver such bloodless, dispassionate performances. They are ready for a singer like Bettye, and - even better - she's ready to give it back to them, and then some. I really can't think of any other singer right now who lives a song quite like she does, or who is capable of so deftly placing an individual stamp upon whatever she sings, no matter the type of song or material. This is why people who don't necessarily consider themselves music fans can be transported by Bettye's intelligence, magnificent presence, and storytelling ability. Her qualities transcend any kind of social or cultural limitation you could think of. She is simply a singer, a performer, and a communicator.

I'm thrilled for Bettye, because no one deserves this more!

David Freeland

 
At 3:32 AM, Anonymous GoogaMooga said...

Must get Bettye Lavette's new album! I'm so happy for her that she's enjoying a revival. Please, Bettye, please visit London soon. The reissue of your Atco label is one of my greatest discoveries in recent times. To think you could make Neil Young sound soulful!

 
At 3:35 AM, Anonymous GoogaMooga said...

It should of course read "Atco label album" in my above post. Why can't we edit our posts on this site?

 
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At 12:41 AM, Blogger Music Center said...

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