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Interview with


Bettye LaVette

Bettye LaVette is a soul survivor who's finally getting her due. Her latest record "I've Got My Own Hell To Raise" has been garnering praise wherever you go and the demand for her live show has grown accordingly. She was recently voted "Best Female Blues Singer" in Blues Critic's Annual Blues Awards.

Born as Betty Haskin in Muskegon, Michigan in 1946 she grew up in Detroit. After an auspicious debut for Atlantic Records at the wee age of 16 with a Top 10 R & B single called "My Man- He's A Loving Man", things got a little rough for the chanteuse. For starters there was no follow up hit. Her second single "You Never Change" didn't chart and surprisingly the young Ms. LaVette wanted rid of Atlantic. "It was pretty stupid at the time. Right before I left they wanted to have Burt Bacharach produce a record for me but I didn't know who that was so I left." LaVette moved to Lupine for her third single, "Witchcraft in the Air". Followed by "One Thin Dime" for Scepter. But it wasn't until 1965 when she scored another Top 20 R & B hit with one of her signature songs, "Let Me Down Easy" for Calla. LaVette continued to bounce from label to label. Big Wheel for "I'm Holding On then to Karen for "Hey Love."

She scored a couple hits with Silver Fox ("He Made a Woman Out of Me," "Do Your Duty"), plus misses for SSS International ("Take Another Piece of My Heart") and her own TCA imprint ("Never My Love"). In 1972 she headed back to Atlantic's Atco label for her first full length record, "Child Of The 70s". It turned out to be a heartbreaking experience for Ms. LaVette as the label decided to shelf the record after the initial single "Your Turn To Cry" stiffed. After joining the touring company of the Broadway musical Bubbling Brown Sugar, LaVette briefly signed to West End for a disco effort, 1978's "Doin' The Best I Can", which produced a club hit with the title track. In 1982 she released a record for Motown with the single "Right in the Middle (Of Falling in Love)" making #35 and the album #48 on R & B charts but she was barely a blip on the radar for the next decade plus. A live recording released in Holland was released and got her some attention before she finally got a chance to release her second LP called "A Woman Like Me". Critics flocked to praise the blues-based album but sales didn't necessarily coincide until recently. Now that "Hell To Raise" has proved to be her breakthrough her ...She took some time in her busy schedule to chat with Blues Critic after being told of her Award ....

The Interview

BC = Blues Critic

Bettye = Bettye LaVette

BC = Well, things sure seem to be picking up for you these days, yes?

Bettye = Yes dear they are. But at my age I can't be doing this. At 60 I have no desire to travel everywhere screaming and flailing my arms in high heels! (laughs)

Bettye LaVette Woman Like Me.jpg

BC = In 2003 you dropped "A Woman Like Me", which was a more tradtional blues or Soul/Blues record but your new record "I've Got My Own Hell To Raise" is hard to categorize. Do you consider it blues or soul?

Bettye: Well, you know I'm a Rhythm & Blues singer. I don't think in terms of genres. My voice is R & B like all the black singers I grew up listening to. I think there's genres of singers but not songs. No matter wha tI sing it's gonna come out R & B because that's what I sound like. If I sing "Ave Maria" it'll come out R & B. I just choose songs and they come out sounding like me! I'm not going to do something I can't see myself doing.

BC = Ray Charles used to call concept albums "jivey". When Anti Records approached you with the idea of you recording a whole record of songs by other women singers what did you think?

Bettye = I didn't think it was a great idea at all! Joe Henry wanted me to do it and whatever producer I'm with I try to work with them but I was skeptical. They had to promise me something else to get me to do it.

BC: Like promoting it?

Bettye = Well, yeah, you can't just break a record on hope. A lot of people put a lot into "A Woman Like Me" but the label really didn't push it. The owner spent all this money and he didn't seem to care if he got it back! It's a hobby for him. But Anti promised to get it out there and they have.

BC: Who choose the songs and how many were there?

Bettye = I did. I choose songs I like and people brought songs to me. 100 songs but I only choose songs I can see myself doing. If I can't see myself singing it I won't do it. My husband (Kevin) has everything ever recorded! And he wants me to hear 'em all. I have to hide from him! (laughs)

Bettye LaVette I've Got My Own Hell To Raise.jpg

BC = What's with the album cover? It doesn't even look like you. Was that your idea?

Bettye = Yeah I know my son thinks it's cool but makes me think of a very old fat woman standing in the dark! (laughs) But they wanted me to look all full of wisdom and in pain.

BC = Looking back now. How did having a Top 10 hit at age sixteen affect you?

Bettye = (laughs) Like any sixteen year old I did lots of stupid stuff. It was amazing having a big record on my first try. It was like getting a chance to play on your favorite baseball team

BC: Did it surprise you there was no followup hits right away?

Bettye = Of course it did! I thought I was gonna be a big star just like all my friends. (laughs) But I didn't listen I was acting foolish. Leaving Atlantic Records was foolish! That was before Arteha (Franklin) signed with them. They wanted me to stay and do a record with a producer named Burt Bacharach but the word 'producer' didn't mean anything to me at the time. So Jerry Wexler gave a release from my contract and I learned the hard way!

BC = Did you think you'd grow up to be a singer?

Bettye - Oh no way. I didn't think that would happen to me. I really didn't I was more realistic like I should become a doctor or lawyer but not a singer. It wasn't believable. I didn't think of myself in those terms.


BC = Seems like you bounced from label to label after Atlantic?

Bettye = Yes anyone that would record me. I did a lot of records for people but I never seemed to get that one big break. Believe me I'd rather be like Natalie Cole or Barbara Streisand today (laughs) but my career took a different path.

BC = I understand that the material recorded for "Souvenirs", which came out a few years back was from the sessions for the unreleased "Child Of The 70s"

Bettye = Yeah the one I did for Atlantic (Atco) in 1972 was finally released thirty years too late!

BC = That must've been frustrating to pour yourself into a whole album and then to have it shelved at the last minute.

Bettye = I was crushed! Absolutely crushed! I crawled under my kitchen table with a jug for days and didn't move. It was like having a miscarriage! I thought it was going to be the salvation of my career. Believe it or not it still hurts today! It really felt like a miscarriage. The first single didn't go over that well and then they decided not to go forward with it. That's their exact words, "Bettye we've decided not to go forward on this".

BC = You had a discofied hit in 1978 ("Doing The Best I Can") but there isn't much recorded material following the 1982 Motown album "Tell Me A Lie". What were you doing for the next decade and a half?

Bettye LaVette Bettye LaVette Bettye LaVette Child Of The Seventies

Bettye = Oh honey just working my show. I've always worked. I would play for five people I'd put on a show for five thousand. Doing what I've been doing 44 years now. A lot of people don't know that my show has a lot of variety. I'm an entertainer. I'm probably the only tap dancing R & B singer you know! I sing some jazz tunes it's not all Soul & blues. But I'm too old to be doing this 19-year old show! (Laughs) I have to stay healthy so I work out and drink water so I have to got to the bathroom 96 times a day!

BC = Did you know the live record "Let Me Down Easy: Live In Concert" was going to be released in 2000?

Bettye = Oh yes the concert was contrived just for the record. A friend of mine from France, Giles, got together with Ben at Munich and they had me fly there and record the show. He has always remembered my song "Let Me Down Easy". The live album was released the same time as "Souvenirs". But I'm kinda disappointed in it.

BC = Really? How come it's gotten great reviews.

Bettye = For my singing but the band's performance wasn't really up to par. I wish it could have been better.

BC = I imagine you're happy with "Hell To Raise"

Bettye = I'm so grateful to all the people who've helped me. there's a lot of people who wanted this to succeed and it has.

BC = Is there any particular pet project you'd like to do that you haven't?

Bettye = Absolutely. The same thing Natalie Cole did. Same thing Rod Stewart just did. I want to sing classics. Of course in my own style. It don't matter what song I sing it's gonna sound like me. I'm a soul singer whether I sing an aria or Rhythm & Blues.



(C) 2018. All written material found on this website is the property of Blues Critic and may only be used with permission and full accreditation (either "Blues Critic" or "Dylann DeAnna of Blues Critic") and link to this website.