Bay Area music producer Greg Errico knows something about artist buzz. He used to drum for a band called Sly and the Family Stone. But he can't believe the hum he's hearing now about an artist he produced decades ago: the mysterious funk queen and rocker Betty Mabry Davis.
"She never had big commercial success. We did this 35 years ago. And she's been a recluse for large parts of that," he says. But at a recent National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences function, he adds, veteran musicians were buzzing about her as if she were a brand-new sensation.
"I've got a half-dozen interview requests," he says. "We've got the Sly and the Family Stone reissues that just came out. But there's about a notch more interest in Betty."
This month, the Afroed beauty, circa '73, graces the cover of hipster music journal Wax Poetics magazine, and today, indie label Light in the Attic Records re-releases lovingly packaged versions of her first two albums, "Betty Davis" and "They Say I'm Different," both cut in San Francisco in the early '70s.
The woman once known mainly for being the former Mrs. Miles Davis is belatedly being acknowledged as one of the most influential artists of the funk era. Carlos Santana, Joi, Talib Kweli and Ice Cube have declared their fandom. Her sway over Macy Gray, Erykah Badu and Amy Winehouse is clear.
On the cover of her 1973 debut, she tilts coquettishly and flashes a million-dollar smile. Her thigh-high silver space boots seem to go on forever. But when her music begins -- written and arranged by her during a time when few black women were given such artistic license -- she shreds any idea that she is just another pretty face.
In the course of a single verse, she teases, pouts, snarls, taunts and rages. "It's like she's here in the room with you right now and she's basically caressing you and slapping you," says Chris Estey of Light in the Attic. "She is really confronting you with her womanhood, with her desires, with her complications, with ideas."
"All you lady haters don't be cruel to me," she sings on the opener, "If I'm in Luck I Might Get Picked Up." "Oh, don't you crush my velvet, don't you ruffle my feathers neither! Said I'm crazy, I'm wild. I said I'm nasty." ...
Labels: betty davis, funk, wax poetics
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