These Motown recordings were made in Nashville in 1982.
By the time Bettye got with Motown, the corporation had relocated to California; unrecognizable from when she had started out recording in Detroit twenty years earlier. Back then it was Robert West who artists wanted to sign up with, a man with much more clout and better connections than Berry Gordy.
It didn’t take long for that situation to change and during Bettye’s Calla period in the mid-60s, Motown had already become a hit-making phenomenon - not only in the USA’s R & B charts, but also crossing over into pop ones around the globe.
This lucrative transition was considered pretentious by some, including Bettye: “We never though of Motown as crossover, we thought on them as white. We though of them trying to put on airs and trying to be white.”
But Berry Gordy’s continuous string of chart-toppers had Bettye’s minders in New York very curious in 1965:
“I’ll never forget, they called me in – whoever who owned Cameo Parkway and Calla; all these big Mafia gangsters – called me in and wanted to know what I knew about this guy Berry Gordy. I said, ‘Well, you know, he’s just a guy in Detroit who makes records and whatever.’ They were serious, because those records were beginning to catch on more and more. And they wanted to know about him because they wanted to stop him in his tracks.”
Bettye had met Motown producer Steve Buckingham in 1981 and cut (a different version) of Tell Me A Lie that was never released. The record deal disintegrated and was forgotten about.
Fast forward to 1982 - four years after Bettye’s Disco hit. Steve contacted Bettye to tell her that Motown’s prime asset Diana Ross was set to leave and the company needed a replacement. Would she willing to fill Ms Ross’s high-heels? Yes.
Bettye then went to Motown’s Nashville studio and cut an album’s worth of material, including covers of some famous Gladys Knight hits – I Heard It Through The Grapevine and If I Were Your Woman – plus original tracks like Right In The Middle Of Falling In Love.
This latter song was released as a 45 and rightly sold well, reaching 35 in the US national charts in March ’82. In England, the song was put on the B-side of You Seen One You Seen ‘Em All - issued with a picture sleeve. Her follow-up, Either Way We Lose, didn’t fare so well. Most of the Tell Me a Lie album lacked Bettye’s distinctive full-throttle delivery; the idea being she was supposed to mimic Diana Ross. Her instructions were to pull her vocal punches and not get too funky. It didn’t quite work.
Bettye recalls Motown didn’t really promote the album and so nothing much happened: “It was played nowhere, but Playboy gave me a brilliant review.”
There was gap of twenty years between these discs - 1984 and 2004. Bettye knew nothing about the latter “Laughter Ever After” single.
Motown producer Steve Buckingham teamed up with Streetking Records and had Bettye sing over a track tiled Trance Dance that became a 12” single. This didn’t make much headway after its release in 1984.
In a sideways step that led back to the stage, Bettye teamed up with the cast of Crack Steppin - Kellie Evans, Don Albert and Sandra Feva - in 1984 and sang lead on a frantic gospel song titled Have You Tried Jesus. Part of the repertoire for a theatre production, it was released on the Detroit label Get Down - bizarrely merged with a funky tune called The Rhythm And The Blues that doesn’t include Bettye at all. After nine months of rehearsals, the musical only ran for two weeks in Detroit before folding.
In 1990, Bettye did some recordings for Ian Levine’s Motorcity venture - such as a rehash of Danger Heartbreak Dead Ahead - but these always seemed doomed to failure.
In 2004, Ian Levine sold - or probably leased – to UK musician Andy King one of Bettye’s Motorcity recordings and a pop-cum-grunge remix of Laughter Ever After appeared on the London-based Acid Jazz label. Bettye knew zilch about it.
The same goes for a blank-label 45 with dance-floor tune Right Out Of Time b/w Good Luck that mysteriously materialized in 2006.
Bettye LaVette Story
by Graham Finch DESIGN, GRAPHICS & HOSTING
by Lowell Boileau