Do you know of Betty Davis the funk-rock fusion queen of the early 70’s?
Once married to Miles, close friends of Jimi, hanging with Sly, Santana, Clapton and The Pointer Sisters? On hearing the name “Betty Davis” one conjures up the formidable 50’ actress of the silver screen Bette Davis. But be warned there is another force to be reckoned with who is all sass, legs, deep funk and bluesy soul.
She is Betty Mabry Davis.
Growing up the daughter of a steelworker
in North Carolina, her father influenced
her musical taste from an early age with
the great blues artists, like Robert Johnson,
Howlin Wolf, Chuck Berry,John Lee Hooker,
Big Mamma Thornton and Bessie Smith
to name a few. This strong influence is
reflected in her song
They Say I’m Different, where she plays homage to these great artists (from which we in turn pay homage to Betty for the name of our show!).
Notably and briefly Betty was married to Jazz legend Miles Davis becoming his muse and music confidant. She was responsible for bringing him into his psychedelic phase signified by the cult album Bitches Brew. It is said the album was originally called Witches Brew, but when Miles told Betty about it she retorted saying it should be Bitches Brew.. and the rest, they say, is history.
Betty was a mover and a shaker. She was 26 when she married Miles who was 41.
She was young, dynamic, all over the New York scene like you only could do in the 60s. She was good looking, socially gifted, a talented musician, singer, song writer, and producer, a model and club promoter. She made things happen. She was the connection THEY all wanted, the NEW they all dared to be. Her youth enabled her to embody the times simply because she lived in them. She had her head screwed on right and didn’t waste time by trying to escape it through drugs and sex. Instead her music became the reflection of how she saw life, creating characters and stories very different to her girl-next-door reality. Good friends with Jimi Hendrix whom she introduced to Miles, declaring to the Jazz master he needed to know what was going on around him or he’ll be left behind. Music was changing and he better git up with it! Miles didn’t treat his women well and Betty was too independent to be ruled by any man, so their marriage only lasted a year. But without the Betty influence in his life Miles may never have come to create such master pieces like Bitches Brew, and Filles de Kilimanjaro (of which Betty graces the cover).
She acted as a pivotal spoke in the wheel of change for so many. Respected by her peers but misunderstood by society Betty was way ahead of her time. The mistress of women's liberation, the inventor of FUSION, the lover to funk, rock, soul and jazz. Often hard edged, raw, explosive, crude… the 70’s weren’t apologising for anything and neither was Betty. If you couldn’t handle all of her then you’d best stay away. And sadly that is what happened. Only producing and recording 4 albums between 1973 and 1976. Her last album was only ever recorded and never released. The music industry found her music too hard hitting to market. Even black radio stations refused to play her tunes. Betty left the music scene in the late 70's never to write music again.
Betty's music began to resurface in the late 90's and in 2007 Seattle's independant record label Light in the Attic re-released her first two albums: Betty Davis and They Say I'm Different. They reissued her third album Nasty Gal and her un-released fourth album Crashin' from Passion which they re-titled Is It Love or Desire?
Betty, a recluse for the good part of 35 years lives quiely today in Pittsburg. In that time she has only given a hand full of interviews, prefering to respect the past by living in the present moment.
They Say She's Different is a sonic, visual feast for the senses. Driven by the music of Betty Davis we drop you deep in the early 70’s immersing you in those explosive, hard hitting times. Through the use of film, traditional dialogue, emotive light design, and live music we bring to life our version of a raw creative soul that is Betty and the times she lived.
This piece is about kinship and its loss, of choices, mistakes, and of death. This piece is about a society’s right to change attitudes towards women, music, sex, life. This piece is about being heard and having a good time despite it all!
Blurring the lines between a live music gig and theatrical experience They Say She’s Different will challenge the way you experience theatre. This will be edgy, this will be gritty, this will be loud and dirty. This will be fun and funky. Git your senses ready to jump on board the Betty train...this is the sound of music changing.
To read more about the the funk-rock diva herself click through to DAZED article