Happy Birthday, Betty (not Bette) Davis

I started this yesterday, on her birthday, but didn’t get it posted on time. It’s unlikely Ms. Davis reads this anyways.

I heard some crazy music during the 20 (very) odd hours it took for the quixotic hop to the 2003 FTAA summit in Miami. I can’t remember where we were when I first heard it, since the US pretty much looks exactly the same from the interstate, give or take a Waffle House.

Suddenly, I heard a howl so funky, you could almost smell it, or maybe we were down South and driving past hog lagoons. You could hear Larry Graham’s distinctive slap-bass chugging along, as you can on a good percentage of music from that era. It’s like Lionel Hampton on vibes or Phil Collins at Live Aid. What set it apart from other quality funk of the era was that this banshee, powered by soul food was wailing, “He was a big fer-reeaak…I used to beat him with a turquoise chain…”

When I heard her voice, I knew what people who use the term “uppity” meant. This lady sounded as in control of mind, body, and spirit, as anyone could be. It knocked the wind out of me.

I asked who she was, when I regained my composure and Sandinista was playing, and was told “Bettie Davis”, and I said “the actress?” Like when a dearly departed friend played Beck for me in the early 90’s, and I asked “Jeff Beck?”

I got the skeleton outline from one of my comrades: She was a model, married to Miles Davis, introduced him to Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone, changing jazz as it stood, convinced Miles to change the album name from Witches’ Brew to Bitches’ Brew, and released a handful of albums, despite having an unbelievable backup band, were never commercially successful. It was amazing that the obscuritarian nerd in me hadn’t heard this amazing lady until I was 30.

Ms. Davis and her music must seemĀ  to be even more of threat, in an era of bland pop music and even blander pop stars.

Her music has been re-released, and there are some damn good articles about this Oya in a designer miniskirt.

She also lived in Pittsburgh and has returned. bettie.jpg