Friday, April 29, 2011

Old Stuff Friday - The Soul Corner - Bettye LaVette

Bettye LaVette's story is too long to do justice to here, but, after being signed and ignored by Motown as a young singer, then snapped up by the great Jerry Wexler and Atlantic Records only to again be dumped without ever releasing an album, the Detroit native toiled in obscurity for decades.

Then in 2005, Joe Henry produced a remarkable collection of songs (I've Got My Own Hell to Raise) all written by females, perfectly suited for Ms. LaVette, and she got her first widespread recognition. Here's a live solo performance of one of that record's stand out tracks "I Do Not Want What I Have Not Got" (Sinead O'Connor), bare, brave and bold:

That album was followed by another terrific CD, Scene of the Crime, where Bettye was backed by the Drive By Truckers and produced by lead Trucker Patterson Hood. The Truckers gave her a greasy Muscle Shoals style of rocking soul that fit her tough and powerful voice well. And with those 2 releases, Bettye, by then in her '60s, suddenly had herself a successful career, with wildly great press, many TV performances and near constant touring.

Bettye doesn't just sing a song, she takes it hostage, redefines it, transform it from her own hardscrabble life experience and drains every last bit of emotion out of its lyrics and melody.

She's an American treasure and a testimony to never ever giving up your talent or dreams.

If you aren't familiar with her, do yourself a favor and pick up I've Got My Own Hell To Raise, easily one of my favorite CDs of the past 10 years. Here's "Joy" from that record (penned by Lucinda Williams) which then leads into "Let Me Down Easy" one of her earliest releases from 1965:

Bettye LaVette web page:


ian pryke said...

With all due respect to Joe Henry & the first of three magnificent cd's on ANTI, her 'comeback' [if one can call it that, when, to so many of her fans & friends she had never been away], was "A WOMAN LIKE ME". [2002]
W.C. Handy Award winner. Produced by Dennis Walker, & certainly this disc was the key in the door to her current greatly deserved success.

Jim Desmond said...

You of course are correct. In my bloggish aim at brevity, I overlooked that one. I'm a huge Joe Henry fan and it is that record that hooked me. But A Woman Like Me is a gem too.
She's a marvel, and her live performances in Portland OR the last 5-6 yrs have been spectacular.
Thanks for reading and keeping us straight.