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

Karen Records
Almost was released in May 1968. Jerry Lee Lewis recorded Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) in 1967, but it was Kenny Rogers who had national success with it in ‘68.

 Bettye got back into the studio in the spring of 1968, this time with producer Ollie McLaughlin, owner of a few Detroit labels that he’d named after his daughters: Carla had enjoyed huge success with Deon Jackson’s Love Makes The World Go Round in 1965 while The Capitols had a smash on Karen in 1966 with Cool Jerk.

 Ollie had developed a good relationship with Atlantic and the New York giant distributed or leased many of his records, the first success being Barbara Lewis’s smash Hello Stranger back in 1963.

Bettye’s first Karen 45 climbed Detroit’s WCHB survey in June

 Bettye’s maiden Karen disc was the pseudo-philosophical Almost that Jimmy Delphs had recorded in 1967 – it first appeared on the flip of his Carla record I’ve Been Fooled Before. Ollie had Bettye dub on the splendid Dale Warren arranged track and the 45 made a brief appearance on local WCHB’s chart in May ’68 – but didn’t sell outside the city. The instrumental of Love Makes The World Go Round was stuck on the B-side.

 Bettye’s next recording was a Popcorn Wylie and Tony Hester tune titled Get Away that Sonny Sanders arranged. However, local DJs flipped the disc and the B-side – What Condition My Condition Is In - became quite a hit in Detroit during the first months of 1969 - a prelude to the year’s Summer of Love.

Woke up this morning with the sundown shining in
found my mind in a brown paper bag within
Tripped on a cloud, fell eight miles high
tore my mind on a jagged sky
Hey, I dropped in to see what condition my condition was in

 Written by Mickey Newbury, the lyrics reflect the hallucinogenic effects of LSD, then a popular recreational drug. The song had set Kenny Rogers (then lead singer with First Edition) on his road to music fame in 1968 - reaching number 5 on Billboard’s pop chart. It was typical of Bettye’s penchant for taking songs that weren’t in the typical R’n’B mold, and making them her own, something she continued to do throughout her career. In this case it helped that Ollie McLaughlin had seen her perform at clubs and had confidence in her ability to do that.

This WCHB chart is dated February 2nd 1969.

 The local popularity of What Condition got Bettye top billing in the 20 Grand’s plush Driftwood Lounge - Detroit’s premier nightspot - in mid-January of 1969, appearing along with label-mates The Capitols. In May ‘69, Bettye had her tenth record out; a cover of Stevie Wonder’s 1967 Tamla tune Hey Love that brought her some more local success. There was yet another cover on the official A-side – a Dale Warren arranged version of The Beatles’ chart topper With A Little Help From My Friends.

 Neil Armstrong’s historic walk on the moon on July 20th 1969 caused a global wave of galactic interest and songwriters Ruth Burton, and Hazel, Sylvia and Melvin Moy latched onto the theme with (You Send Me A) Ticket To The Moon. It was given a storming arrangement by Dale Warren and should have sold by the truckload. The nice wah-wah guitar work was Dennis Coffey in his ‘Cloud Nine’ mode:

 “Dennis Coffey, Ray Monette and Bob Babbitt – that was the band that Ollie mostly used,” Bettye recalled.

 Nevertheless, the disc bombed and is now quite hard to find – copies usually sell for about $100. Perhaps it was Bettye’s funky and up-tempo remake of Let Me Down Easy on the A-side that didn’t help sales. We’ll never know. But it certainly marked the end of her contract with Ollie McLaughlin… for the time being. By the end of ‘69 she had signed with Silver Fox Records in Tennessee.

Bettye between Dale Warren and Ollie McLaughlin at Tera Shirma Studio



Bettye LaVette Story

Graham Finch
by Lowell Boileau