Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Betty LaVette - He Made A Woman Out Of Me (Silver Fox 17)

He Made A Woman Out Of Me

Hey y'all. Just dropping in here to say a few words about the positively excellent show that Bettye LaVette put on last night at the Highline Ballroom in Manhattan. At 61 years old, the 'Great Lady Of Soul' has still got it going on!

After some forty six years in 'the business', Betty has lived it all. At sixteen years old, Atlantic Records picked up a single she had made for Johnnie Mae Matthews (the 'Godmother Of Detroit Soul'), My Man - He's A Lovin' Man, and sent it all the way to #7 R&B in late 1962. After her follow-up, You'll Never Change, failed to make much noise, Atlantic dropped her. When a one-off single for Robert West's LuPine label back in Michigan didn't do much, Betty headed for the big town.

Becoming a part of the burgeoning New York Soul scene, she began working with Don Gardner and Dee Dee Ford, whose amazing R&B revue performed regularly at places like Small's Paradise up in Harlem. A song Dee Dee wrote for her would become the second release on the brand new Calla label, and Betty would make it her own, taking Let Me Down Easy into the R&B top twenty in the spring of 1965. After two more Calla releases failed to chart, Betty moved on to labels like Big Wheel and Karen, but nothing much was happening.

I'm not sure how she got hooked up with the 'Silver Fox', aka Lelan Rogers (yes, he's Kenny's brother), but I'm sure glad she did! This absolutely incendiary hunk of sweltering sexy southern soul we have here today just kills me. Whew! Like one of those Tony Joe White swamp songs on steroids, it cranked its way to #25 R&B as 1969 turned into 1970, despite being banned by many radio stations down south. I'm not sure of the session details here, but it sure sounds like Muscle Shoals to me...

[listen, I just got the incredible My Goodness, Yes!, the Sundazed Silver Fox collection, and according to the liner notes, Betty met Lelan through Kenny himself, when he was the lead singer of the First Edition and she covered their Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) for Ollie McLaughlin on Karen... our selection here today was cut at Sounds Of Memphis Studio with the Jim Dickinson led band that was soon to become Jerry Wexler's Dixie Flyers. There ya go.]

When the follow-up for Silver Fox, Do Your Duty, broke the R&B top forty as well, Shelby Singleton began releasing Betty's 45s on his primary imprint, SSS International.

By 1972, however, he had apparently lost interest. Atlantic re-signed Ms. LaVette to their Atco subsidiary soon after that, sending her back to Detroit to work with Ollie McLaughlin (whom she had recorded with in her Karen days). They came up with a soulful cover of Neil Young's Heart Of Gold (Atco 6891) that, unfortunately, died on the vine. They had big plans for Betty, and flew her down to Muscle Shoals later that year to record a full length album, tentatively entitled Child Of The Seventies.

With producer Brad Shapiro in tow, Betty cut what she felt was the best music of her career down there in November of 1972. Your Turn To Cry (Atco 6913), an achingly beautiful rendition of a 1971 Joe Simon tune, was released as a single in early 1973. When that missed the charts as well, Atlantic pulled the plug on the album, and never released it. Betty was shattered. She couldn't believe it. Those tapes, after lying dormant in a vault somewhere for like thirty years, were finally issued on a French CD entitled Souvenirs in 2001. More recently, the kind folks at Rhino have released it as part of their limited edition 'handmade' series under it's original title, Child Of The Seventies. It's REALLY good, man. Buy one.

Her stellar performance last night combined elements from all of those early years with some of the the top shelf work she's been creating recently. Her Handy Award winning 2003 effort A Woman Like Me, along with 2005's I've Got My Own Hell To Raise (which was produced by Joe Henry... no not the Joe Henry mentioned in today's selection!), have proved to the world that Bettye LaVette is still a force to be reckoned with.

The material from the new album just gave me chills, as Bettye put her heart and soul into compositions by folks like Elton John and Willie Nelson, giving them new life in the process.
Her crack touring band, led by musical director Alan Hill, moved effortlessly between the decades, and gave Bettye plenty of room to stretch out. At once intimate and in-your-face, this was an evening I won't soon forget.

You go, girl!

On the new album, recorded at Fame down in Muscle Shoals (The Scene Of The Crime, get it?), Bettye is backed by the way-cool Drive By Truckers, the cookin' band which features good ol' Spooner Oldham on the keyboards, and is led by guitarist Patterson Hood, the son of 'Swamper' David Hood, who also shows up on the album.

It was just released today. Get one.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Always glad to see a blog bring back forgotten performers..forgotten by radio that is.
When i saw the Calla label i was reminded of The Sand Pebbles great song "Forget It." Any chance of a post? To me this was one of the really great funk tracks. Thanks

1:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Flea market funk has a great Calla Sand Pebbles track up at the moment called Love Power.
This is a great blog-thanks for all the great music! I love this Bettye Lavette track. It's my second favorite by her after Let me down easy. Any chance of doing a Soul Brothers Six post? They have some great A and B sides!

4:19 AM  

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