Betty Davis is one of the lost greats of 70s funk, but if there is any justice in the world her music will one day be as revered as it deserves to be. This woman was outrageous, sexy and she had mad musical chops! Originally a successful fashion model when she met trumpeter Miles Davis, Betty Mabry, as she was then known, traveled in circles that included Jimi Hendrix, The Chamber Brothers and Sly and the Family Stone. In 1968 she married Davis, but the marriage lasted just one year, breaking up, it was rumored, because she was having an affair with Hendrix (which she has always denied). In his autobiography, Davis credits Betty for opening his ears to the new possibilities inherent in the music of Sly and Jimi, and she inspired his music from Filles De Kilimanjaro (Mademoiselle Mabry is a tribute to Betty, obviously) to Bitches Brew (the title again alleged to reference Mlle. Mabry, albeit by then in a less flattering light).
After her divorce from Miles, Betty recorded two albums in the early 70s with crack backing musicians like Larry Graham, Merl Saunders (Grateful Dead, Bonnie Raitt), Neal Schon (Santana/Journey) and members of Graham Central Station, Tower of Power, even the young Pointer Sisters singing back-up. Davis was the original “nasty gal” creating the blueprint for suggestive “outrageousness” well-trod by today’s female chart toppers. One of her songs, the sexually forthright If I’m In Luck I Might Get Picked Up was so controversial that the NAACP condemned her.
Then she recorded another great record of hard funk in 1975 called Nasty Gal, but sadly, she never really caught on. There’s no good reason for it, but luckily her reputation has risen again in recent years due to reprints of her albums by Seattle-based label, A Light in the Attic Records, who recently released her recorded in 1976 but shelved ever since album, Is It Love or Desire.
(When I met my future wife, she had a Betty Davis CD in her car stereo. As a man who puts “good taste in music” approximately third on the list of what makes a woman attractive, I can assure you I was impressed).