Bettye LaVette – Little Sparrow
Bettye LaVette (born Betty Haskins, January 29, 1946) is an American soul singer-songwriter who made her first record at sixteen, but achieved only intermittent fame until 2005, with her album I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise. Her eclectic musical style combines elements of soul, blues, rock and roll, funk, gospel, and country music.
Life and career
LaVette was born in Muskegon, Michigan, and raised in Detroit. Unlike many of her contemporaries, she did not begin singing in the church, but in her parents’ living room, singing R&B and country and western music. She was signed by Johnnie Mae Matthews, a local record producer. In 1962, aged sixteen, she recorded a single, “My Man—He’s a Lovin’ Man”, with Matthews, which became a Top Ten R&B hit after Atlantic Records bought distribution rights. This led to a tour with rhythm and blues musicians Clyde McPhatter, Ben E. King, Barbara Lynn, and then-newcomer Otis Redding. She next hit the charts with “Let Me Down Easy” on Calla Records in 1965. This led to a brief stint with The James Brown Revue. After recording several 45–rpm singles for local Detroit labels, in 1969 LaVette signed to the Silver Fox label. She cut a handful of tracks, including two Top 40 R&B hits: “He Made A Woman Out Of Me” and “Do Your Duty”. The Memphis studio musicians on these recordings have since become known as The Dixie Flyers. In 1972, she signed once again with Atlantic/Atco. She was sent to Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama to record what was to be her first full length album. Titled Child of the Seventies, it was produced by Brad Shapiro and featured the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, now known as The Swampers, but Atco chose not to issue the album.
The mid 1970s saw a brief stint and two 45s with Epic, and in 1978 she released the disco smash on West End Records “Doin’ The Best That I Can”. In 1982, she was signed by her hometown label, Motown, and sent to Nashville to record. The resulting LP (her first album actually issued), titled Tell Me A Lie, was produced by Steve Buckingham. The first single, “Right In The Middle (Of Falling In Love)” hit the R&B Top 40. She briefly gave up recording for a six–year run in the Broadway smash Bubbling Brown Sugar, appearing alongside Honi Coles and Cab Calloway.
After LaVette had played her own personal mono recordings of Child of the Seventies for Gilles Petard, a French soul music collector, he sought the master recordings at Atlantic, whose personnel had previously thought they had been lost in a fire some years back. In 1999, he finally discovered the masters and then licensed the album from Atlantic and released it in 2000 as Souvenirs on his Art and Soul label. At the same time, Let Me Down Easy — Live In Concert was issued by the Dutch Munich label. Both albums sparked a renewed interest in LaVette and in 2003, A Woman Like Me (produced by Dennis Walker) was released. The CD won the 2004 W. C. Handy Award for “Comeback Blues Album of the Year”. In an interview, LaVette identified A Woman Like Me as the first album in the second phase of her career and said her 2012 autobiography was named after the album.
After being signed to The Rosebud Agency for live bookings, Rosebud president Mike Kappus brought her to the attention of Anti- Records president, Andy Kaulkin. Upon seeing LaVette perform, Kaulkin signed her to a three–record deal. For the first project, he paired her with Joe Henry, and suggested an album of songs written entirely by women. The resulting CD, I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise, was on many critics’ “Best of 2005” lists. The title is taken from the lyrics of Fiona Apple’s 1996 hit “Sleep to Dream”, which is covered on the album. (Other notable songwriters on the album were Aimee Mann, Sinéad O’Connor, Lucinda Williams, Joan Armatrading, and Dolly Parton.) The album was released by ANTI- Records and produced by Joe Henry.
In 2006, capitalizing on the success of I’ve Got My Own Hell To Raise and the reviews of her live shows, Child of the Seventies was reissued by Rhino Handmade with some previously unreleased tracks. The album was met with critical acclaim. Varèse Sarabande then issued Take Another Little Piece Of My Heart, a CD containing all of the songs that she cut for Silver Fox and SSS International in 1969 and 1970. The CD included three unreleased tracks as well as two duets with Hank Ballard.
In 2006, she received a “Pioneer Award” from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation.
Her 2007 album, The Scene of the Crime, was mostly recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, with alt-rockers Drive-By Truckers. The Scene of the Crime was nominated for a Grammy Award for “Best Contemporary Blues Album” and landed on numerous “Best of 2007” lists. LaVette talked about her experiences at Muscle Shoals Sound and FAME in an interview conducted by Edd Hurt in September 2007. Drive-By Truckers’ frontman, Patterson Hood, produced the album together with LaVette. The album also features one song co-written by LaVette and Patterson Hood.
In 2008, she received a Blues Music Award for “Best Contemporary Female Blues Singer”. Also in 2008, Reel Music re-issued on CD her Motown LP, Tell Me A Lie. The album contained the original cover design that was not used when the LP was released.
In December 2008 at the Kennedy Center Honors, LaVette delivered a rendition of 1973’s “Love, Reign o’er Me” in tribute to Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Who, who were among the year’s honorees. The performance was widely considered one of the event’s highlights.
On January 18, 2009, she performed a duet at the We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial on Sam Cooke’s 1964 song “A Change Is Gonna Come” with Jon Bon Jovi. In April 2009, she shared the stage with Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr at Radio City Music Hall for the David Lynch Foundation’s “Change Begins Within” benefit concert promoting teaching Transcendental Meditation to children in inner city schools. In 2009 Sundazed released on CD the album Do Your Duty, which consisted of her eleven solo tracks cut for Silver Fox and SSS International. In June 2009 a six song EP, Change Is Gonna Come Sessions, was released as a download only.
In 2010, LaVette released Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, which included unique arrangements and performances of classic songs by artists including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, and Pink Floyd. Included is the complete, un-edited version of her Kennedy Center Honors performance of The Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me.” The CD was critically acclaimed and nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album. She has appeared on National Public Radio’s Mountain Stage, World Cafe, All Things Considered and Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!. She has appeared in a Mississippi Public Broadcasting series, Blues Divas, and is in a film of the same name, both produced by Robert Mugge. She has also appeared on Late Night with David Letterman, Conan, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Austin City Limits, The Today Show, Good Morning America, and The Artist’s Den. LaVette also joined the 9th, 10th and 11th annual Independent Music Awards judging panel to assist independent musicians’ careers.
LaVette contributed a cover of “Most of the Time” for the album Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International. On December 31, 2012, LaVette appeared in the UK on BBC Two’s Jools Holland Annual Hootenanny. In 2013 and 2014, LaVette was nominated for a Blues Music Award in the ‘Contemporary Blues Female Artist’ category.
LaVette is married to Kevin Kiley, a recorded music and antiques dealer who is also a singer and musician. They live in West Orange, New Jersey.
Tell Me a Lie – Motown (1982) (LP only) (CD version released on Reel Music, May 2008)
Not Gonna Happen Twice – Motor City (1990) (Import CD)
Nearer to You: The SSS Recordings – Charly (1990) (Import CD)
The Very Best of the Motor City Recordings – Motor City (1996) (CD)
Bluesoul Belles the Complete Calla Recordings – West Side (1999) (Import CD), EMI INT’L (2005) (Import CD)
Souvenirs – (Original previously unreleased Atco LP from 1973), Art & Soul (2000) (Import CD)
Bettye LaVette: Let Me Down Easy In Concert – Munich (2000) (Import CD)
Let Me Down Easy in Concert – Munich (2001)
A Woman Like Me – Blues Express (2003) (CD)
Vanthology: A Tribute to Van Morrison (Various Artists) – Evidence (2003) (CD)
Track: “Real Real Gone”
I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise – ANTI- (2005) (CD), DBK Works (LP)
Get in the Groove – Live (Various Artists) – Norton (2005) (CD)
Tracks: “Night Time Is the Right Time”, “Tailfeather Finale”
The Complete Cala, Port and Roulette Recordings with Carol Fran (2005) (Stateside Records)
Take Another Little Piece Of My Heart: The Classic Late ’60s Memphis Recordings with The Dixie Flyers – Varese Sarabande (2006) (CD)
Child of the Seventies: The Complete Atlantic/Atco Recordings – Rhino Handmade (2006) (CD)
Do Your Duty: The Complete Silver Fox/SSS Recordings – Sundazed (2006) (LP)
What’s Going On – The Dirty Dozen Brass Band – Shoutfactory (2006) (CD)
Track: “What’s Happening Brother”
Song of America – Various Artists – Thirty Tigers (2007) (CD)
Track: “Streets of Philadelphia”
The Scene of the Crime – ANTI- (2007) (CD) (LP)
Do Your Duty: The Complete Silver Fox/SSS Recordings – Sundazed (2009) (CD)
A Change is Gonna Come Sessions – Anti- (2009) (Digital download only EP)
Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook – ANTI- (2010) (CD)
Thankful N’ Thoughtful – ANTI- (2012) (CD) (LP)
“My Man—He’s a Lovin’ Man”/”Shut Your Mouth” – Atlantic 2160 (1962) (No. 7 R&B)
“You’ll Never Change”/”Here I Am” – Atlantic 2198 (1963)
“Witchcraft in the Air”/”You Killed the Love” – LuPine 123 (1963)
“(Happiness Will Cost You) One Thin Dime” – Scepter (1964) (unreleased)
“Let Me Down Easy”/”What I Don’t Know (Won’t Hurt Me)” Calla 102 (1965) (No. 20 R&B)
“I Feel Good All Over”/”Only Your Love Can Save Me” – Calla 104 (1965)
“Cry Me a River” – Calla (1965) (unreleased)
“She Don’t Love You Like I Love You” – Calla (1965) (unreleased)
“I’m Just a Fool for You”/”Stand Up Like a Man” – Calla 106 (1966)
“I’m Holding On”/”Tears in Vain” – Big Wheel (1969, 1966)
“Almost”/”Love Makes the World Go Round” – Karen 1540 (1968)
“Get Away”/”What Condition My Condition Is In” – Karen 1544 (1968)
“A Little Help from My Friends”/”Hey Love” – Karen 1545 (1969)
“Let Me Down Easy”/”Ticket to the Moon” – Karen 1548 (1969)
“He Made a Woman Out of Me”/”Nearer to You” – Silver Fox 17 (1969) (No. 25 R&B)
“Do Your Duty”/Love’s Made a Fool Out of Me” – Silver Fox 21 (1970) (No. 38 R&B)
“Games People Play”/”My Train’s Comin’ In” – Silver Fox 24 (1970)
“Piece of My Heart”/”At the Mercy of a Man” – SSS International 839 (1970)
“He Made a Woman Out of Me”/”My Train’s Coming In” – SSS Int’l 933 (1970)
“Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go” (with Hank Ballard) – SSS International 946 (c. 1970)
“Hello, Sunshine” (with Hank Ballard) – SSS International (c. 1970) (unreleased)
“I’m in Love” – Silver Fox (1970) (unreleased)
“We Got to Slip Around” – SSS International (c. 1970) (unreleased)
“Easier to Say (Than Do)” – SSS International (c. 1970) (unreleased)
“Never My Love”/”Stormy” – TCA 001 (1971)
“Heart of Gold”/”You’ll Wake Up Wiser” – Atco 6891 (1972)
“Your Turn to Cry”/”Soul Tambourine” – Atco 6913 (1973)
“Thank You for Loving Me”/”You Made a Believer Out of Me” – Epic 50143 (1975) (No. 94 R&B)
“Behind Closed Doors”/”You’re a Man of Words, I’m a Woman of Action” – Epic 50177 (1975)
“Feelings” – (1978) (unreleased)
“Shoestring” – (1978) (unreleased)
“Doin’ the Best I Can Pt. 1″/”Doin’ the Best I Can Pt. 2” – West End 1213 (1978)
“Right in the Middle (Of Falling in Love)”/”You’ve Seen One You’ve Seen ’em All” – Motown 1532 (1982) (No. 35 R&B)
“I Can’t Stop”/”Either Way We Lose” – Motown 1614 (1982)
“Trance Dance Pt. 1″/”Trance Dance Pt. 2” – Street King (1984)
“Not Gonna Happen Twice” – Motor City (1990) (UK only)
“Damn Your Eyes”/”Out Cold” – Bar None (1997) (Cassette only)
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