Betty Davis, They Say I’m Different

Hua Hsu

By Hua Hsu

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

By 1969 Betty Davis'marriage to Miles was in shambles. There were rumors of an affair with Hendrix; there remains chatter about jealousy and abuse. Perhaps this is what necessarily happens when two effervescent souls meet, and neither relents. She returned to making music, penning songs for the Chambers Brothers and the Commodores. Briefly decamping to England, Davis befriended Marc Bolan, who encouraged her to record her own songs. She returned to the Bay Area and assembled a band consisting of past and future members of Sly and the Family Stone, Graham Central Station, Journey, Tower of Power and the Pointer Sisters.

The world wasn’t ready for a one-woman Funkadelic in the ‘70s. Are you?

The result was Betty Davis, released in 1973 on the modest Just Sunshine label. A trio of Bettys strapped in silver, thigh-high moon boots adorns the cover. A savage riff powered “If I'm in Luck I Might Get Picked Up,” a raspy, raunchy mission statement of sorts. Slinking along with Larry Graham's bass-line, Davis sounded like nothing else around — it was erotic without seeming trashy, skillfully executed but flippant toward the proper life.

She moved further to the left the following year, with the aptly titled They Say I'm Different. Davis was already courting controversy — a Detroit radio station had faced an NAACP boycott upon adding “If I'm in Luck…” to its playlist, and religious groups protested her concerts. The cover of They Say didn't do much to stem this, as Betty adopted a Ziggy Stardust-like cosmic gladiator pose. One only wonders what sort of prey she bagged, given songs like “He Was a Big Freak” — sexually suggestive in an off-kilter, Velvet Underground-ish way — and the swaggering “Shoo-B-Doop and Cop Him” (later sampled by Ice Cube). The gurgling funk-rock workout of “Don't Call Her No Tramp” was pretty self-explanatory. The next year she released the risqué Nasty Gal. None of the albums sold very well and over the decades she sank into obscurity, rescued occasionally by Miles fanatics or funk historians. After all, nobody was ready for a black rock star or a one-woman Funkadelic. Are you?