Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Disappeared Divas I: Backseat Birthday Betty

OK, let's take a break from the social media platforms that will surely serve as a Rosetta Stone when futurefolk are trying to wade through the pile of corpses to figure out how 90% of our species came to be extincted, and get into two days of posts concerning two ladies who were born one year and one day apart, and are perhaps the two most famous musicians of our era ever to remove themselves entirely -- as in without a trace -- from the music industry.
Let's be as direct as a Greg Errico kickdrum, cuz he's the drummer on a lot of Betty's stuff: there is no funkier music that will ever be made in any galaxy than that of Betty Davis. That's it. There will be music as funky, but there will never possibly be anything that exceeds the raw funk power of her completely insane catalog. Her songs are so funked up they make last week's George Clinton post seem like Mitch Miller Spins The Polka Hits.
I was thinking about the (classic) Ice Cube track off AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted called Once Upon a Time In the Projects, which when you think about it contains all the seeds of the Friday films in its 4 minutes of hilarity. Some of the most iconic tracks in hip-hop are built on Betty's beats; that one loops Shoo-B-Doop and Cop Him in a most headnodical fashion.
Let me break it down to you, OK? No Betty Davis? No Madonna. No Lady Gaga. No Nicki Minaj or whatever her name is. No (your preferred pop mistress of sexual provocation and innuendo here). Let's be even franker. No Betty Davis? No Electric Period for her onetime hubby, Miles.
Yes, she is all of that and a bag of Funk. When she married Miles Davis for that quick 13 months in 1969-70, she introduced him first to a guy she had known in downtown NYC since the mid-1960s, a cat called Hendrix... her song He Was a Big Freak details how she used to whip Jimi "with her turquoise chain," among other points of interest. It'd be an understatement to say that she was Miles' gateway into the Rock sounds with which he would then turn around and create yet another of his monumental, stylistically-defining moves. Jazz-rock fusion? Betty helped make it a thing.
She struggled so mightily to get the record suits of the 1970s to promote her, but she was met with a stiff arm and the admonishment that she'd have to tone her act down for mass consumption and lose the unbridled, Egyptian-sex-queen-in-outer-space persona she invented to animate her songs. She told them all to go fuck themselves with a carrot stick.
In walking away and outright disappearing from public life, she likely sacrificed millions of dollars and a career that would have made her a household name. But in holding the line, she managed to make several records that will forever be capable of melting the linoleum off a dance floor.
Her legend only grows more mysterious by the year. Recently someone found her and asked what she's been doing for the last 35 years since quitting music. She replied "Nothing much, really." I swear she is like a cross between Big Mama Thornton, Ann Peebles and Greta Garbo. In fact, her reclusiveness is matched only by the lady on whom I will post tomorrow. But one disappeared diva day at a time.
Miss Betty the OG Funkstress turns 71 today, can you believe that? There are millions of people who'd camp out to see her play if she ever returned, oh my. That is about as likely as Miley Cyrus doing a cover of the complete Nasty Gal album, but at least we have the original, uncut stuff she did to power the planet with Pure Funk Motion.
There isn't even any quality archival material that circulates of her onstage... the legend has it that many shows ended with the promoter trying to quell a riot whilst informing her that she would in no way be permitted to perform dancing like that and wearing barely that.
To honor this completely under-the-radar pioneer whom few remember but who has her funkaprints on so much music and style of our time, I am gonna share this comp CD I made of her stuff years and years ago, and that's been in my phone ever since. If you're unfamiliar I'd advise pulling it down and then immediately buying six copies of all her full albums. If you know her already, you know her already and are fully aware... her music is not what you'd call "forgettable".
Betty Davis
'70s Blues

01 They Say I'm Different
02 This Is It!
03 If I'm In Luck I Might Get Picked Up
04 Dedicated to the Press
05 Shoo-B-Doop and Cop Him
06 Is It Love Or Desire
07 Stars Starve You Know
08 You and I
09 Don't Call Her No Tramp
10 Anti Love Song
11 Game Is My Middle Name
12 Your Mama Wants Ya Back
13 Crashin' from Passion
14 '70s Blues
15 Steppin In Her I. Miller Shoes
16 He Was a Big Freak
17 F.U.N.K.
18 Your Man My Man
19 Gettin' Kicked Off, Havin' Fun
20 Git In There

Total time: 1:18:47

Seriously, if these tracks don't get you bumpin' I'd refer you to the nearest coroner, as you may in fact be already deceased. I'll return in 24 hours with an even stranger story, but let's of course take the opportunity to thank Betty Davis for staying true to herself back in the day and flipping off the industry vampires who would have turned her into Melissa Manchester. And, most important of all, to celebrate her having been born this day in 1945!--J.

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