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

“You’ll Wake Up Wiser Baby” was first recorded by Deon Jackson in 1969.

 Bettye hooked up with keyboardist Rudy Robinson in Detroit and they started Twentieth Century Artists – the TCA label – that was linked to Rudy’s New Moon Records.

 The only 45 on TCA was Bettye’s, which came out around 1971, before Rudy had started his Flip-O label. The official A-side was a close resemblance of The Association’s original 1968 pop hit Never My Love - a song that Emanuel Laskey had recently covered – that wasn’t really commercial enough to get airplay. Not long after, The 5th Dimension recorded ‘Never My Love’, which climbed Billboard’s chart towards the end of 1971. The B-side – Stormy – had been a top-ten smash for pop group the Classics IV in ‘68 and is the much better offering, with Bettye giving sensuous warmth to the lyrics.

Rudy is in the center.

 Bettye hooked back up with Ollie McLaughlin, who had an offer on the table to record an album’s worth of material for Atlantic. Initially, she covered two more songs, with Ollie having released Deon Jackson’s You’ll Wake Up Wiser Baby on Carla in August 1969. But it’s Bettye’s 1972 version that still sounds fresh and classy. The sessions were done in the GM studio on Nine Mile Road, with her cover of Neil Young’s Heart Of Gold - arranged by Rudy Robinson - being the official A-side.

 This latter song was always unlikely to get airplay on Soul radio stations and sure enough it went nowhere fast, despite being released nationally on Atlantic’s subsidiary ATCO.

 Next up was a reworked – and improved – version of Joe Simon’s 1970 chart-entry Your Time To Cry, which became the stellar Your Turn To Cry under the guidance of Brad Shapiro at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama.

 Unfortunately - criminally - this second ATCO 45 didn’t chart and parent company Atlantic put off releasing all the other recordings on a proposed album (Child Of The Seventies) that Brad Shapiro had put together. No reasons given.

 This was a massive blow to Bettye, who regarded these late-1972 recordings as some of the very best of her career. Thankfully they were released on a CD titled Souvenirs in 2000, thanks to the determination of French music aficionado Giles Petard.

 The ten previously unreleased songs cut during a few days in November ’72 include the great title track, plus the superb Fortune Teller, All The Black And White Children, My Love Is Showing and a smoldering version of Free’s The Stealer.

 The belated acclaim and rave reviews that greeted Souvenirs was decades after Bettye had gone through a rough spell on the West Coast, where, without any recent hits, she found it hard to secure bookings, ply her art and earn a decent living.

Bettye had two records on the Epic label in 1975.

 A couple of years went by before Bettye got a call, which led to her recording George McGregor’s wonderfully written Deep Soul classic Thank You For Loving Me for Columbia’s Epic label.

 Cut at the Superdisc studio on Nine Mile Road in Detroit (formerly the GM studio), the record deservedly put Bettye back in the national charts in 1975, albeit only in the lower part of the top 100. The lush string arrangement is typical of Dave Vanderpitte’s fine work and Bettye’s heartfelt delivery makes this one of her most polished recordings.

 The B-side is a floating mid-tempo Ronnie Dunbar song, which now makes the 45 quite an in-demand item, particularly in Europe. Collectors have to pay up to $100 to get their hands on a clean copy.

 Ronnie also wrote her following Epic label release, You’re A Man Of Words – I’m A Woman Of Action that was recorded on the same afternoon as the other Epic songs. When this slipped under the public’s radar and went nowhere, Bettye abandoned recording for a while and took a role performing in the then popular Broadway musical, Bubbling Brown Sugar.



Bettye LaVette Story

Graham Finch
by Lowell Boileau