I’ve been a fan of ‘70s funk priestess Betty Davis since a friend played me her sophomore long-player, 1974’s They Say I’m Different, in the mid-‘90s. I was hooked by the second track, “He Was a Big Freak,” which made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Back then, it wasn’t easy to find copies of her three albums, and I once settled for a mud-covered edition (at least I hope it was mud) of her final LP, Nasty Gal (1975), figuring it might be years before I came across another copy. It would be another decade-plus before Light in the Attic Records began reissuing Betty’s out-of-print platters (as well as albums of unreleased material), though Nasty Gal has yet to be re-released on vinyl. LITA is about to remedy that situation—but more on that in a moment.
Born Betty Mabry, she changed her last name when she married jazz titan Miles Davis. Though they weren’t together long, Betty had a massive influence on Miles, encouraging him to update his look and sound, leading to the monumental double album of jazz-rock fusion, Bitches Brew (1970).
Betty’s albums are uncompromising works, full of raw, steamy funk. In addition to penning her own tunes during a time when it still uncommon for female artists to perform their own material, she also produced and arranged her records. Songs like the aforementioned “He Was a Big Freak” were sexually frank and presented a woman firmly in charge. Her live act was a funk force to be reckoned with. As P-Funk illustrator Ronald “Stozo the Clown” Edwards tells it:
Betty’s show was burlesque funk. [She was] sexy, bold, provocative, groovy and just down right fine…Long beautiful mesmerizing legs, funky space clothes, and silver leather psychedelic boots that were made for funkin’. Her voice, along with her backup singers and band, roared at you like a pack of lions. (from the reissue notes for They Say I’m Different)
“I just can’t seem to keep my tongue in my mouth.”
“Riviera ‘76” was a music festival held in Le Castellet, France, during late July 1976. The event took place on a racetrack overlooking the French Riviera. Betty and her group played on July 25th, dedicating the concert to Miles Davis (Betty and Miles had recently collaborated on the tender Nasty Gal ballad “You and I”). Thankfully, someone in the audience had the good sense to tape it, as in addition to being a stellar show, there aren’t many existing Betty Davis bootlegs out there. It’s also one of the final gigs—perhaps even the last—Betty ever played with her longstanding road band.
Keep reading after the jump…