Bettye LaVette Story
Thanks to
Graham Finch
Artwork and Website Design
Thanks to
Lowell Boileau

Bettye LaVette at the Chit Chat Lounge
This gig at the Chit Chart was in February 1967

 During 1967 and 1968 – before she had signed up with another recording company - Bettye continued gigging at clubs, most often Phelps Lounge in Detroit. This popular nightspot on Oakland Avenue was very convenient - just a handful of blocks from where she lived in the two-story timber-framed family home on the corner of Trowbridge.

 Eddie Phelps had bought the jazz oriented Bizertte Bar and extended it to make a 450-person capacity nightclub in the very early 60s. It was a place Bettye had always wanted to go into - she had passed its tantalizingly polished metal doors on the way to school each day.

 Eddie Phelps had married into money and made even more by running numbers at Chrysler, where he worked on the assembly line. After quitting, he made sure each weekend’s bill boasted a top-name R’n’B act, with Joe Hunter’s Band usually providing the backing.

 Around 1964, keyboardist Earl Van Dyke gradually took over from Joe and when Johnny Nash appeared there in August that year, he and other members of the renowned Funk Brothers were - unusually - credited in the advert that appeared on the entertainments page of the Michigan Chronicle.

Phelps Lounge Detroit
This March 1968 gig featured The Rivieras, who had cut a record for Diamond Jim Riley back in 1966.The photo is the bar inside Phelps Lounge.

 In March ‘68, Bettye appeared at Phelps with The Rivieras and was back again in May as part of a review organized by Jimmy Ruffin – then in the charts with his Motown recording Gonna Give Her All The Love I’ve Got.

 By this time Bettye had hooked up with producer Ollie McLaughlin and had just recorded a song called Almost.

 As you can see below, the May concert included locals Jimmy Delphs - who would have been singing Don’t Sign The Paper Baby and Louis Curry, known in Detroit for his regional hit A Toast To You the year before. Carl Carlton’s Competition Ain’t Nothing had just taken off and The Parliaments’ latest 45 was a Revilot label single titled Look At What I Almost Missed.

Jimmy Ruffin advert for Phelps Lounge Detroit
This May 1968 concert heralded the start of the Parliaments’ cosmic style – diapers and sunglasses.

 George Clinton’s group had created something of a musical landmark with the teasingly funky I Wanna Testify in the summer of ’67 and quickly reentered Billboard’s chart with the similarly groovy All Your Goodies Are Gone. Yet despite the futuristic vibes of those hits, the five singers still sported conventional processed hairdos and pressed suits that had been de rigueur for so long. Bettye recalls how their style changed during the course of that 10-day run at Phelps:
 “They put on their suits and George Clinton said ‘I’m gonna take it all the way’. He had a process with waves and he put his head under the water, so it would come out. And he put on this diaper with this big pin, and when they came out on stage everybody screamed - they thought it was a joke. But then the next night he wanted to be more bizarre; he wanted the next one to wear sunglasses. Every night it got more and more bizarre. By the time it was over, they were what you see now, or pretty much what you see now.”



Bettye LaVette Story

Graham Finch
by Lowell Boileau