Betty Davis is the highly acclaimed self-titled debut album by Betty Davis, released through Just Sunshine Records (an upstart label) in 1973. The album was produced by Greg Errico and features contributions from a number of noted musicians such as Neal Schon, Merl Saunders, Sylvester, Larry Graham, Pete Sears, and The Pointer Sisters.
While it underperformed commercially at the time of its release, it is now regarded as a heavily influential classic. In 2007, the album was re-issued on CD and vinyl by the Light in the Attic label.
Before the album's release, Davis was best known as the second wife of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, and also as the featured model on the front cover of the jazz legend's 1968 album Filles de Kilimanjaro. The song "Mademoiselle Mabry" off Filles... is dedicated to Davis (whose maiden-name is Mabry) and was recorded around the time of their marriage in September 1968. Unbeknownst to most, the then-23-year-old Davis was herself a professional model and also a performer of soul and funk music, having written for the Chambers Brothers and put out a single on Don Costa's DCP imprint. Davis was a known face in emerging musical circles who had a strong stylistic and musical influence on her former husband (she personally introduced him to Jimi Hendrix) during their short marriage which ended after just a year.
In the early 70s, after a stint of modeling in the UK, a 28-year-old Davis moved to Los Angeles in order to record with Santana but soon changed her focus and with help from Greg Errico (of Sly & The Family Stone), assembled a rich list of veteran Bay Area musicians to record her own material. These included Neal Schon (of Santana), Larry Graham and several other members of Graham Central Station, as well as Sylvester and The Pointer Sisters (who performed backing vocals). The resulting album was recorded between 1972 and 1973 and, while primarily a funk-soul album, was stylistically eclectic, reflecting the wide array of musicians who played on the record.
The songs,all written by Davis herself, are mostly built around funk grooves, driving percussion and heavy guitars. Davis' vocal stylings are expressive and boisterous (as on "If I'm In Luck I Might Get Picked Up"), but also playful and sensual (as on "Anti Love Song"). On the former she boldly sings "I'm wigglin' my fanny, I'm raunchy dancing, I'm-a-doing it doing it" while on the latter, Davis' irreverent approach towards love songs is evident as she states in a half-sung, half-growled manner:
No I don't wanna love you...
cause I know you could make me suffer
I know you could drive me mad
I know you'd just take me in a circle
when it got real
I know you'd disappear
Describing a three-way affair, "Your Man My Man" contains lyrics such as:
He's your man, my man
it's all the same 'cause you need him
you please him when he's there
"Steppin' In Her I. Miller Shoes", tells the story of a talented young woman who comes to the 'jungle' with big dreams, only to end up a tragic victim of the entertainment industry. The up-tempo song features hard rock guitars and backing vocals by The Pointer Sisters. In a 2007 interview Davis revealed that the song was based on the life of Devon Wilson, a one-time girlfriend of Jimi Hendrix with whom Davis had been close friends. Wilson is also the subject of "Angel" by Hendrix. With their hard-funk/rock-fused sounds, few of the songs catered to radio play; perhaps the closest is "In The Meantime" featuring prominent organ and the most restrained and straightfoward performance on the album.
Despite performing to enthusiastic crowds and receiving acclaim from her fellow musicians, Davis was criticised by many mainstream publications and outlets for her suggestive lyrical content and open sexual attitude. The album's lead single "If I'm In Luck I Might Get Picked Up", was shunned by most popular radio stations, including those catering to black audiences, which hurt the album's momentum considerably. Davis gained notoriety through her rowdy and spontaneous live shows, which featured the artist, in a selection of colourful and often revealing outfits, playfully interacting with her audience.
Due to its initial lack of success, with time the album became an obscure collectors' item until 2007 when specialist label Light in the Attic picked it up for a re-release. Retrospective reviews of the album proclaim it a groundbreaking effort, noting that content-wise it was ahead of its time, and challenged the accepted image of a female funk and soul singer. Popmatters called Betty Davis "funk like no other. Its closest musical relation is Sly Stone's early '70s molasses" and praising her performance on the album as "a slow cooker of unbridled lust that teases and passes each beat, and flicks and licks each chord." The magazine noted Davis' "frequent reversing of gender roles and expectations to demonstrate control and strength" Likewise, Allmusic call it "an outstanding funk record, driven by her [Davis'] aggressive, no-nonsense songs". In his 1990 biography Miles Davis said of his former wife's musical legacy:
If Betty were singing today she'd be something like Madonna, something like Prince, only as a woman. She was the beginning of all that when she was singing as Betty Davis.
Liner notes from the 2007 re-issue of the album also include the following statement by Carlos Santana:
She was the first Madonna, but Madonna is more like Marie Osmond compared to Betty Davis. Betty was a real ferocious Black Panther woman. You couldn't tame Betty Davis.
All songs written by Betty Davis Original LP configuration:
- "If I'm In Luck I Might Get Picked Up" – 5:00
- "Walkin' Up The Road" – 2:55
- "Anti Love Song" – 4:32
- "Your Man My Man" – 3:39
- "Ooh Yeah" – 3:09
- "Steppin' In Her I. Miller Shoes" – 3:15
- "Game Is My Middle Name" – 5:12
- "In The Meantime" – 2:44
The CD reissue includes three previously unreleased bonus tracks, all from the same album sessions.
Betty Davis - Lead and Backing Vocals
Larry Graham, Doug Rauch - Bass
Gregg Errico, Willie Sparks - Drums
Neal Schon, Doug Rodrigues - Guitar
Pete Sears - Piano
Richard Kermode - Piano, Clavinet
Merl Saunders - Electric Piano, Clavinet
Hershall Kennedy - Organ, Clavinet, Backing Vocals
Victor Pantoja - Congas
Mic Gillette - Trombone
Greg Adams - Trumpet
Skip Mesquite - Saxophone
Jules Broussard - Baritone Saxophone
The Pointer Sisters, Sylvester, Patryce Banks, Kathi McDonald, Annie Sampson, Willy Sparks - Backing Vocals
- "Come Take Me" – 3:56
- "You Won't See Me In The Morning" – 3:50
- "I Will Take That Ride" – 4:43