Bettye LaVette - Biography

Bettye LaVette is an American soul singer-songwriter. After beginning her recording career at sixteen, she has spent most of the following decades achieving cult success, especially in the UK’s Northern Soul scene.


Betty Haskin was born January 29th, 1946 in Muskegon Michigan. At the age of six, she and her family moved to Detroit, where her father sold moonshine and hosted traveling musicians. It was in her living room, where the family had a jukebox, that Haskins began singing soul, country and blues tunes. Borrowing her stage surname, “LaVett” from a friend, Betty entered the studio where she cut "My Man - He's a Lovin' Man" for Johnnie Mae Matthews’s Lu Pine label in 1962. Atlantic stepped in to distribute the single and place the young singer on a tour with Clyde McPhatter, Ben E. King, Barbara Lynn and Otis Redding. After 1963's "You'll Never Change” b/w “Here I Am" flopped, Lavette (who added an “e” to her stage surname) returned to Lu Pine for "Witchcraft in the Air” b/w “You Killed the Love." After that, she spent a stint as a vocalist in the Don Gardner & Dee Dee Ford Revue, she recorded "(Happiness Will Cost You) One Thin Dime” in 1964, although it was unreleased, as were its follow-ups, 1965’s "Cry Me a River” and "She Don’t Love You like I Love You.”


After those false starts, she jumped from label to label, beginning with "I Feel Good (All Over)” b/w “Only Your Love Can Save Me" on Calla. 1965’s "Let Me down Easy / What I Don't Know (Won't Hurt Me)" was her last single to chart in the R&B Top 20 and led to a stint with The James Brown Revue. In 1966, she released "I'm Just a Fool for You” b/w “Stand up like a Man" and moved to Big Wheel where she released just one single, "I'm Holding On” b/w “Tears in Vain." In 1968, she moved to Karen where she released "Almost” b/w “Love Makes the World Go Round" and "Get Away” b/w “What Condition My Condition Is In." After 1969’s "A Little Help From My Friends” b/w “Hey Love" she signed with Silver Fox where she cut “He Made a Woman Out of Me” b/w “Nearer to You" and "Let Me Down Easy” b/w “Ticket to the Moon" backed by The Dixie Flyers. In 1970, Silver Fox released "Do Your Duty” b/w “Love's made a Fool Out of Me, "Easier to Say (Than Do)" and "Games People Play” b/w “My Train's Comin' In.” Two duets with Hank Ballard, "Hello, Sunshine” and "Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go” weren’t released, nor were her recordings that year of "I'm In Love” and "We Got To Slip Around.” After moving to SSS International the same year, she released "Piece of My Heart” b/w “At the Mercy of a Man.” In 1971, she started her own label, TCA, and released "Never My Love” b/w “Stormy."


After years on independent labels, LaVette returned to Atlantic in 1972, who signed her to Atco and released "You'll Wake Up Wiser” b/w “Heart of Gold." She recorded an album, tentatively titled Child of the Seventies at Muscle Shoals but after the single flopped, the album was shelved. The only release from the sessions the label released was "Your Turn to Cry” b/w “Soul Tambourine" in 1973. After that, she turned her focus to performance, as part of a long running Broadway show, Bubbling Brown Sugar. She returned to major label recording in 1975, when Epic released "Behind Closed Doors” b/w “You're a Man of Words, I'm a Woman of Action" and "Thank You for Loving Me” b/w “You Made a Believer Out of Me.” After 1978’s "Feelings" and "Shoestring" went unreleased, she moved to West End, who released "Doin' the Best That I Can," which was a surprise club hit in 1979. 


When LaVette returned in 1982, at Motown, she had rechristened herself “Bettye” and released "You Seen One You Seen 'Em all” b/w “Right in the Middle (Of Falling in Love)” and "I Can't Stop” b/w “Either Way We Lose." That year, twenty after she began recording, she released her debut full-length, Tell Me a Lie (1982 Motown). Despite positive criticism, the gritty soul was completely out-of-step with the synthesized R&B popular at the time and the album and singles were commercial failures. LaVette continued to perform in the US and Europe, occasionally releasing singles like 1984’s "Trance Dance Pt.1” b/w “Trance Dance Pt. 2" on Streetking and 1990’s "Surrender” b/w “Time Won't Change This Love" on Motorcity. She released her second album, Not Gonna Happen Twice (1991 Motorcity).


After one further single, 1997’s "Damn Your Eyes” b/w “Out Cold," Gilles Petard obtained the Atlantic’s master recordings of the unreleased Child of the Seventies, and released them as Souvenirs (2000 Art and Soul). The resurgence in interest led to the Munich label releasing Let Me down Easy - In Concert (2001 Munich). That album, in turn, led to LaVette signing with Bluese Express, who released A Woman like me (2003 Blues Express).


In 2005, Andy Kaulkin signed LaVette to Anti records and paired her with Joe Henry, resulting in I've Got My Own Hell to Raise (2005-Anti). The following year, Child of the Seventies (2006-Rhino Handmade) was rereleased with bonus tracks, as was Take another Little Piece of My Heart (2005-Varèse Sarabande), a collection of the Silver Fox singles and other material recorded between 1969 and 1970.


LaVette returned to the studio with Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers and released The Scene of the Crime (2007 Anti-). A 2008 performance at the Kennedy Center Honors concert was followed by a 2009 performance at the Barack Obama Inaugural Concert. In April she shared the stage with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr at Radio City Music Hall for the David Lynch Foundation's "Change Begins Within" benefit concert promoting teaching transcendental meditation to children in inner city schools. Do Your Duty (2009 Sundazed) collected Silver Fox and SSS International recordings. Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook was released in 2010, followed by Thankful N' Thoughful in 2012.



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