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Bettye LaVette Is the Comeback Queen

Bettye LaVette recorded her first hit, "My Man — He's a Lovin' Man," at the age of 16. She toured with Ben E. King, Barbara Lynn and Otis Redding. And now she's being crowned the Comeback Queen for her recent albums, I've Got My Own Hell to Raise, which came out in 2005, and her recent The Scene of the Crime. LaVette recorded The Scene of the Crime at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala., with the Southern rock band Drive-By Truckers and the legendary session musician and songwriter Spooner Oldham. (He played on Wilson Pickett's "Mustang Sally" and Aretha Franklin's "I Never Loved a Man.")

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Other segments from the episode on December 17, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 17, 2007: Interview with Bettye Lavette; Obituary for Allan Berube.

Transcript

DATE December 17, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Soul singer Bettye LaVette on her life and career
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let me read you a couple of quotes about
my guest, the singer Bettye LaVette. A couple of years ago John Pareles wrote
in The New York Times, "At age 59, she is as eloquent as any soul singer
alive." In writing about her new CD in Entertainment Weekly, the reviewer
asked, quote, "Is there a more wrenching soul singer alive than Bettye
LaVette? If so, keep it to yourself because I'm too wrung out from this CD's
intensity to take anything more emotionally potent," unquote.

So if you've never heard of Bettye LaVette, you may be wondering why. There's
a good reason. After a promising start in the early 1960s, when she had a
couple of singles that became R&B hits, things just didn't work out for her.
The 1972 album she recorded for Atlantic that was supposed to be her
breakthrough wasn't released until 2000 when a French producer licensed it
from Atlantic and started her comeback. In 2005, Joe Henry produced an album
by her, and now Betty LaVette has a new album called "The Scene of the Crime."
Like her 1972 album, it was recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The bass
player from that 1972 album, David Hood, is featured on several tracks of the
new one. His son, Patterson Hood of the band the Drive-By Truckers, is
featured on guitar and co-produced the album. Let's start with a song from
the new CD "The Scene of the Crime." This song is called "They Call It Love."

000 – music, full: THEY CALL IT LOVE

Ms. BETTYE LaVETTE: (Singing) If we combine the things we both know of love
We'd still have an awful lot to learn
It's not the knowing but the trying that succeeds
That's my main concern

Whoa, they call it love
But I don't know
Is that what makes us want to
Hurt each other so?
I'd like to turn my back
But I don't know where I'd go
They call it love but I don't know

If I could just bring...

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: THAT'S BETTYE LAVETTE FROM HER NEW CD, "THE SCENE OF THE CRIME."

120
BETTYE LAVETTE, WELCOME TO FRESH AIR.

LET'S TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE STORY
BEHIND THIS NEW CD, "SCENE OF THE CRIME." YOU RECORDED IT AT THE FAME STUDIO
IN MUSCLE SHOALS, ALABAMA, AND YOU HAD RECORDED A 1972 ALBUM IN MUSCLE SHOALS
FOR ATLANTIC RECORDS THAT WAS NEVER RELEASED. IT'S BOTH A FAMOUS AND INFAMOUS
RECORDING BECAUSE OF THAT, AND WE'LL HEAR SOMETHING FROM THAT A LITTLE BIT
LATER IN THE SHOW. BUT DID THIS FEEL LIKE A REUNION TO YOU OR LIKE A RETURN
FOR YOU, THE END OF A CYCLE FOR YOU, GOING BACK TO MUSCLE SHOALS TO RECORD?

Ms. LaVETTE: No, it was closer to revenge than anything. I was the only one
who could still fit into a size six who had a voice this strong. I recorded
before at Muscle Shoals sound studios, and the crime that occurred actually
happened in the offices of Atlantic Records here in New York. The only thing
I did in Muscle Shoals was record the album that was never released. But I
never saw those people again. Of course, you know, they went on to play on
every hit record that came out for about 10 years running, and I never saw
them again or heard from them again or anything, so there was no reunion to be
had. You know, it was a very--it was kind of a completion of something to me.
It was kind of like, a-ha! I'm back and I'm still strong and you didn't kill
me. LAFFS

243
GROSS: HOW DID YOU CHOOSE THE SONGS ON THE NEW ALBUM?

Ms. LaVETTE: I just chose them because I liked them. I don't--I'm not a
real artsy kind of person. I mean, I don't put a lot of thought and a lot of
planning into it. I hear the song. If I think I sound good on it--which is
the only reason I listen to the songs. I listen to songs for me to sing, and
if I like it and think I can sing it, then I sing it. If I have a gig, I do
it on my show. If I have a recording session, I do it on the recording
session. But I've always chosen all of my own songs and that's because I know
what I want to sing.

318 – start here?
GROSS: NOW, WHAT KIND OF PLACES WERE YOU SINGING BEFORE STARTING YOUR
COMEBACK IN 2005?

Ms. LaVETTE: Well, it wasn't a lot of places. I was in Detroit, and I was
working in little bitty places for $50 a night, and people were drunk or busy
talking or dancing or whatever, and I was just around. But I wasn't doing any
traveling much at all. Just maybe, you know, the faithfuls in Europe who kept
having me back there, trying to keep me alive, just from a love affair that
start with me in 1965 over there. But I wasn't really working a lot at all.
It was more people paying house notes and car notes and whatever for me than
me being able to do anything.

400
GROSS: SO PEOPLE WERE HELPING YOU WITH YOUR OWN BILLS?

Ms. LaVETTE: Oh, absolutely.

405
GROSS: WERE YOU ANGRY AT YOUR LACK OF RECOGNITION?

Ms. LaVETTE: Oh, for sure. It's not so much anger but hurt because it's,
you know, it's just being completely ignored. It's not like selling Fuller
brushes or something. It's you you're selling, so when they don't buy it,
they're saying `we don't like you.' So it's not my product. `We don't like
you.' So it was very hurtful, very, very painful. If it wasn't for the people
who were propping me up--and I had

437 people constantly asked me, `How were you
able to hold on?' It was people telling me, `Do not quit. Do not quit. I
will pay this. I will give you that. I will go over here.' Just people,
sometimes whole families, would give me stuff.

450
GROSS: WELL, I WANT TO PLAY ANOTHER SONG FROM YOUR NEW CD, AND THIS IS A
WILLIE NELSON SONG...

Ms. LaVETTE: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...called "Somebody Pick Up My Pieces." And I know a lot of Willie
Nelson songs. I didn't know this one. How did you come across this one?

Ms. LaVETTE: A friend in New Jersey is a guitarist, Lou...(unintelligible)...and he sung this song one night on his gig. I said, `If I record again, I'm recording that.'

515 GROSS: WELL, YOU REALLY PUT YOURSELF INTO THIS.

Ms. LaVETTE: I really--I like the song. I really, really like the song and
I am a Willie Nelson fan. I'm not a fan of very many people. Mostly I just
like to hear myself sing. But I like a few people, and Willie Nelson is one
of the few.

528
GROSS: WELL, LET'S HEAR--THIS IS THE WILLIE NELSON SONG "SOMEBODY PICK UP MY PIECES," SUNG BY BETTYE LAVETTE ON HER LATEST CD, "THE SCENE OF THE CRIME."

(Soundbite of "Somebody Pick Up My Pieces")

Ms. LaVETTE: (Singing) I want to be taken out of contention
I surrender my crown
Somebody pick up my pieces
I think I'm coming down

Well, I sure thought I had it
But, Lord, it looks like it had me
'Cause the thing I thought was heaven
Was just falling debris

I may not be crazy
But I sure got a hell of a start
Somebody come here and pick up my pieces
I think I'm falling apart

(End of soundbite)

710
GROSS: WOW, THAT REALLY--THAT SOUNDS GREAT. AND REALLY EMOTIONAL. THAT'S
BETTYE LAVETTE FROM HER NEW CD "THE SCENE OF THE CRIME," A WILLIE NELSON SONG.

CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT LIKE RECORDING THAT? DO YOU REMEMBER THE
EXPERIENCE OF DOING IT? DID IT FEEL VERY EMOTIONAL?

Ms. LaVETTE: Oh, yeah. Well, the song--I mean, the very first time that I
heard Lou sing it, it made me cry. I just loved the song immediately and
identified with it. Certainly I--here in this 46th year of this career, I
feel like I've been broken all apart and put back together and the whole bit,
so I identified with the song completely. But Patterson always
tells--Patterson Hood always tells everyone my first words when I came into
the studio after recording it, I said, `It's too slow and too low.' It was
just--so they said, `No, that's what made it so pitiful that it was so slow.'
My husband says it's the slowest song he's ever heard in his life.

802
GROSS: AND YOU ARE REALLY REACHING FOR THOSE LOW NOTES. BUT...

Ms. LaVETTE: Yeah.

GROSS: SO YOU THOUGHT IT WAS TOO LOW, BUT IT SOUNDS VERY EMOTIONAL BECAUSE
YOU DO HAVE TO REACH AND THERE'S--LIKE THAT KIND OF STRETCH BECOMES LIKE AN
EMOTIONAL STRETCH.

Ms. LaVETTE: Mm-hmm. Yep. Yep. It was--as I said, though, I love the
song. So it was good to do. It was good to sing.

828
GROSS: YEAH. NOW, AS YOU MENTIONED BEFORE, YOU GREW UP IN DETROIT. WHEN DID
YOU START SINGING?

Ms. LaVETTE: My parents sold corn liquor from the time they came from
Louisiana to Muskegon, Michigan, where I was born, until about maybe 1958, and
there was always a jukebox in our living room, as opposed to a couch and stuff
that were in most people's living rooms. And so I was privy to a whole gang
of songs so I sung as soon as I could talk. My mother said I've always talked
and sung like an adult. She said she used to talk baby talk to me to try to
make me sound like a baby. But I pretty much always sounded like James Brown.

911
GROSS: THAT'S REALLY FUNNY. SO WHAT WERE THE PARTIES LIKE WHEN YOUR PARENTS
SOLD THE CORN LIQUOR AND HAD THE JUKEBOX...

Ms. LaVETTE: Well, they weren't really parties. I meant, you know--there
was no gambling or prostitution or any of that. People would just come and
dance and drink for a while. My mother--you know, Louisiana is strictly
alcohol and food, so my mother always had the food going. My father had the
corn liquor going, and they would stand me sometimes on top of the jukebox and
I could sing along with the songs. Blues songs.

935
GROSS: WERE THEY SONGS WITH MEANINGS THAT YOU COULDN'T QUITE COMPREHEND YET?

Ms. LaVETTE: Oh, I didn't know anything about them at all. I meant, I was
18 months old, I think...

GROSS: Wow.

Ms. LaVETTE: ...when I first started singing. I first started talking at
about that point. But there were people--because it was segregation still, so
if you came to a little town like Muskegon and you were black, you couldn't
drop by a restaurant or a bar anytime you wanted to so they came to my house.
So I had The Five Blind Boys and The Pilgrim Travelers and The Soul Stirrers
and all those people at my house.

1010
GROSS: WOW. NOW, A LOT OF SOUL SINGERS GOT STARTED SINGING GOSPEL IN CHURCH,
BUT I BELIEVE YOU WERE RAISED CATHOLIC AND DIDN'T HAVE GOSPEL IN YOUR CHURCH.

Ms. LaVETTE: Yeah, and I just told you that the people were drunk so they
were never prepared to go to church on Sunday.

GROSS: They were never in church.

Ms. LaVETTE: Yeah, it's just like the people in Louisiana. They go to Mass.
They get drunk. And they cook.

1030
GROSS: SO WHAT WERE--YOU MENTIONED SOME OF THE MUSICIANS WHO USED TO COME TO
YOUR HOUSE TO EAT AND DRINK. WHAT WERE SOME OF THE OTHER MUSIC YOU WERE
EXPOSED TO EARLY ON?

Ms. LaVETTE: Well, it was, you know, the gospel music because they
would--when they would get drunk, they would sing...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. LaVETTE: ...there at the house, the groups that came. But I don't
remember, because it was more conservative. There weren't a lot of people who
sung secular music, who sung blues music or whatever that came to my house.
Because there was always this drunk prayer-type thing going. So we didn't
have like--you know, there were no Sarah Vaughans or those kind of people, but
of course they were on the jukebox and we listened to them. But the people
who actually came to the house were chiefly gospel singers.

1116
GROSS: IF YOU'RE JUST JOINING US, MY GUEST IS BETTYE LAVETTE, AND HER LATEST
CD IS CALLED "THE SCENE OF THE CRIME." NOW I'D LIKE TO GO BACK TO 1962. I
BELIEVE THIS IS THE YEAR YOU STARTED RECORDING?

Ms. LaVETTE: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: AND YOU HAD--I BELIEVE IT WAS YOUR FIRST RECORD THAT BECAME A HIT ON
THE R&B CHART?

Ms. LaVETTE: Right.

GROSS: "My Man, He's a Lovin' Man." That was like your first 45, right?

Ms. LaVETTE: Right.

GROSS: OK. So how did--you were, what, 17 when you made this?

Ms. LaVETTE: Sixteen. (Unintelligible).

GROSS: SIXTEEN. HOW DID YOU GET TO RECORD SO YOUNG?

Ms. LaVETTE: It was--in Detroit that wasn't a difficult thing to do. Maybe
getting on the Atlantic record label right away was something phenomenal, but
in Detroit every third person either sung, produced or wrote or had a record
company so it wasn't difficult at all in Detroit in 1962 to record.

GROSS: Who...

Ms. LaVETTE: All you had to do was show up.

1205
GROSS: WHO ASKED YOU TO DO IT?

Ms. LaVETTE: A young man whose name was Timmy Shaw, who was a local artist,
a regional artist more or less. None of his records had ever been really big.
And it wasn't a thing where he wanted me to sing. He was trying to cajole me
into something else, but he said, `I can make you a star, you know.'

GROSS: Oh.

Ms. LaVETTE: So he introduced me to his manager and producer, Johnnie Mae
Matthews, who was one of the first female producers probably in the world and
certainly the only black one. And she was producing him and she had everybody
that Barry Gordy had at one time, but she was just such a crooked woman, she
lost them all.

1250
GROSS: SO, YOU GOT THE R&B HIT. DID HE GET YOU? THE GUY WHO WAS USING THIS
AS A...

Ms. LaVETTE: Well, I became a national artist so that took me out of town.

GROSS: Yeah, right. OK, so you escaped his clutches.

Ms. LaVETTE: Yes.

1302
GROSS: SO LET'S HEAR IT. THIS IS LIKE YOUR FIRST HIT, AN R&B HIT, FROM 1962,
AND THIS IS BETTYE LAVETTE

(Soundbite of "My Man, He's a Lovin' Man")

Ms. LaVETTE: (Singing) My man,
You know he's pretty all right.
My man, he always treats me right
He never runs...(unintelligible)...and leaves me alone
Knows that his place is right here at home
My man, he's a lovin' man

People will talk until they break up your homes
Then they'll try to tell you...

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's "My Man, He's a Lovin' Man," Bettye LaVette, recorded in 1962.

1350 [music still under]
BETTY, IT SOUNDS SO LOW TECH. DESCRIBE WHAT THE RECORDING SESSION WAS LIKE.

Ms. LaVETTE: Well, it took about an hour. It cost about 100, maybe dollars.
A hundred and maybe $20. And that was mostly in drinks for the musicians.
The guitar player, I can't even think of Leroy's last name right now, but he
was only about--he was younger than me, and they actually snuck him out of his
bedroom window to come to the recording session.

GROSS: That's great.

Ms. LaVETTE: He's a really big local artist somewhere in Canada now. But I
haven't heard from him in the last five years since all of this has started to
happen. But the other musicians, Timmy, the guy who had started the thing,
played piano, and Johnnie Mae and Timmy and her husband sung background,
whatever background was sung, but it was just--I mean, it was just the most
amazing thing in the world. It was just amazing. I was making a record. It
was amazing.

And then when they played it on the radio five days later--because you could
just press it up and walk right into the radio station and say, `You play
this,' and slip somebody $50 or $10 or whatever it was. And so when I heard
it on the radio five days later, I just ran down the street screaming. I
mean, nobody else in my eighth grade class had a record.

GROSS: Wow. Eighth grade?

Ms. LaVETTE: Well, I was about--I should have been about in the ninth grade,
I guess, ninth or 10th grade.

GROSS: So...

Ms. LaVETTE: But I wasn't. I was recording.

1520
GROSS: WHAT CHANGED IN YOUR LIFE IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE RECORD STARTED GETTING
AIRPLAY?

Ms. LaVETTE: Nobody in my family had ever been anywhere or done anything or
had anything, and I was going someplace, they paid me, and I was doing
something. That was completely different from anything that had ever happened
in my family. No one had ever had any education, any money, had never
traveled, nothing. And all those people who were on that red and black label
that I had seen so many years on the jukebox in my house and that I'd danced
so much after school to, I was on the road with them in like a matter of days.

1550 GROSS: LIKE WHO?

Ms. LaVETTE: Clyde McPhatter, Ben E. King...

GROSS: The Drifters?

Ms. LaVETTE: No, it was later before I worked with the Drifters. But Otis
Redding. We were all--you know, because you tended to--companies tended to
send a whole group of their artists around then, so all those people were on
either Atlantic or one of their subsidiaries. And I guess Otis Redding and I,
we were the brokest people there. He had the same little shoes and suit every
night, and I had my two little gowns that I had. But everybody else, you
know, I mean, Ben E. King had gotten big with The Drifters, Clyde McPhatter
had gotten big with The Drifters. Clarence "Frogman" Henry who, it was his
very first big record, but it was bigger than mine and Otis'. And Barbara
Lynn, it was her first big record, but she had been singing for a while. But
I think the brokest people probably were me and Otis. And so that caused us
to spend a lot of time together because we weren't the big stars.

GROSS: What was he like? What was it like to know him?

Ms. LaVETTE: He was the most wonderful person in the world, and when people
say that, they're talking about the Otis Redding they know now. I don't know
what he would be like now or I don't know or what he would be like as a
legend, but then he was just a broke guy from Georgia who I didn't find very
sophisticated and who loved me very much. But I was from Detroit, and blacks
at the time felt that if they were born and raised in the North were a little
bit better than blacks who were born and raised in the South. So he just
chased me around a lot, and I really kind of thought of him as just maybe one
of the other guys who liked me. Had I known he was going to be Otis Redding,
I probably would have acted a little better.

GROSS: What did you think of his singing then?

Ms. LaVETTE: Oh, I just thought he was one of the greatest singers I've ever
heard in my life and still do. All the things that I thought about him that I
thought would make him a great suitor, when he was on that stage, he looked
different. He was just a totally different person on the stage.

GROSS: Bettye LaVette will be back in the second half of the show. Her new
CD is called "The Scene of the Crime." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with soul singer Bettye
LaVette. Her new CD, "The Scene of the Crime," is nominated for a Grammy in
the category Best Contemporary Blues Album. She started recording as a
teenager, and her single "My Man, He's a Lovin' Man" was an R&B hit in 1962.
She toured with performers like Ben E. King and Otis Redding, but her career
never took off until she started her comeback in this decade. When we left
off, we were talking about her early recordings.

I want to play another record that you recorded in 1962 and this is called
"You'll Never Change." And you know, I mentioned how low tech "My Man, He's a
Lovin' Man" sounded. This sounds like much better recorded and...

Ms. LaVETTE: Well, that was what you did then. The things that are given
these artists today is just incredible to me. You had to earn a bigger band.
You had to earn violins. You had to earn a huge band of your own. You didn't
just have those things, and very few people sold like a billion records on
their first try. But even if you did, you had to get one more and then they
would make an album on you, you know? So all of it--I mean, by the time you
did, "You'll Never Change," and I had, oh, maybe six pieces and The Falcons
were singing background on it, I was, whoo, I was coming up and then we got to
the next one, I got my little strings, child, I was a red apple.

GROSS: Well, let's hear this 1962 track, "You'll Never Change." This is
Bettye LaVette.

(Soundbite of "You'll Never Change")

Ms. LaVETTE: (Singing) Don't promise me nothing
If you can't stick to your word

Backup Singers: (Singing) Ah, stick to your word
Shoop-e-doop-e-doop
Shoop-e-doop, ah!

Ms. LaVETTE: (Singing) Don't blame me for something
That you claim that you have heard

Backup Singers: (Singing) Claim you have heard

Ms. LaVETTE: (Singing) Don't leave me alone
While you run around in the streets
It's a pity and a shame,
Baby, you'll never change

Backup Singers: (Singing) Oh, no, you will never change

Ms. LaVETTE: (Singing) What woman wants a man
If he never wants to make romance

Backup Singers: (Singing) Never make romance

Ms. LaVETTE: (Singing) What do I need with a man
If I only get to see him by chance

Backup Singers: (Singing) Oh, see him by chance

Ms. LaVETTE: (Singing) These long, lonely nights
Are about to drive me insane
It's a pity and a shame,
Baby, you'll never change

Backup Singers: (Singing) Oh, no, you will never change

Ms. LaVETTE: (Singing) It was so nice...

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's Bettye LaVette from 1962, singing "You'll Never Change." And
Bettye LaVette has a new CD, which is called "The Scene of the Crime."

Now I have to say, you know, this song that we just heard was not an R&B hit,
but I think it's like--it's so good. Like, why is it...

Ms. LaVETTE: What? "You'll Never Change."

GROSS: Yeah. Why is it that this didn't top the charts and...

Ms. LaVETTE: It was 1963.

GROSS: ...the other one did?

Ms. LaVETTE: It was 1963. I don't know. I have no idea. Most of the
things that did not work, I guess, the only thing I can really, in retrospect,
attribute them to was that the companies didn't like them and they didn't feel
that they were strong enough to put their money behind. I don't know anything
else to say.

GROSS: So they didn't promote them?

Ms. LaVETTE: They never gave me any explanation.

GROSS: Uh-huh. So they didn't promote it, is that what you're saying?

Ms. LaVETTE: Right.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Ms. LaVETTE: Right.

GROSS: What were your expectations for this record that we just heard?

Ms. LaVETTE: Oh, I thought I was going to be a huge star. I mean I--really,
I mean, the first one had done so well, I thought this one will be the one
that will get me on "The Ed Sullivan Show."

GROSS: You know, how did you manage to sing like you do, grow up in Detroit
and not get snapped up by Motown Records?

Ms. LaVETTE: When I started singing, Barry Gordy wanted to be with Atlantic.
Motown was just a little local company.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. LaVETTE: You know, so that isn't even where I was trying to go. I was
trying to go to New York. That's where everybody was trying to go. That was
why Mary Wells left Motown or Marv Johnson. We were all trying to go to New
York. Barry Gordy was trying to go to New York, you know, so it wasn't
anything to be with Motown when I first started singing. And when they did
start to get big, I was in New York and with a big company in New York, so it
really--it was years before I wanted to be with Motown because they kept
getting bigger and bigger and bigger and doing better and better and I was
doing worse and worse. And since I knew everyone there, then I wanted to be
there. And I did eventually sign with them briefly.

GROSS: This is in 1982.

Ms. LaVETTE: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: So who did you know at Motown?

Ms. LaVETTE: I didn't know anyone there then except...

GROSS: No, I mean in the '60s.

Ms. LaVETTE: Oh, everybody. I mean everybody that was over there. That was
segregation. There was a time, you know, when all blacks really did know each
other. I mean, they really did because there were just--everywhere--if you
went out to dinner, you were at the same place that Reverend Franklin was at,
that all the number men were at, that all the business owners were at. If
they were black, they were where you were. So I know everybody that did
anything at Motown, from the people who swept the floors to whoever the
biggest star was. I seen everybody there, either drunk or naked or broke or
all three at the same time.

GROSS: Early in your career, when you were in your 20s, your early 20w, I
think, one of your managers was killed...

Ms. LaVETTE: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...and another one disappeared.

Ms. LaVETTE: Well, my first manager is the one that was killed, eventually
died from the wound. Mary Wells' husband shot him. He was Eddie Floyd's
uncle, and Eddie was one of The Falcons, and Robert West owned The Falcons.
And he was my very first manager.

And then it was a few years later that the next--he was the record company
owner of...(unintelligible)...Records who disappeared.

GROSS: Wow.

Ms. LaVETTE: Yeah.

GROSS: What a set of circumstances to be starting your career in.

Ms. LaVETTE: Yeah. And it--for every five years there's an interesting
story.

GROSS: And how did it feel to you to be managed by people who were connected
like that?

Ms. LaVETTE: You wanted to be with them because they had all the
connections. That's who you wanted to be with, but that was no big deal.

GROSS: Now, I think it was in late '60s and early '70s that you were managed
by someone named Jim Lewis, who wanted you to learn jazz standards.

Ms. LaVETTE: That was in--he got me at about 1967 or so, maybe '65.

GROSS: This was after the guy who disappeared?

Ms. LaVETTE: Yes.

GROSS: Right.

Ms. LaVETTE: And I came back to Detroit, and Jim Lewis was the assistant to
the president of the musicians' union so he pretty much called all the shots
musically in Detroit. So I had the opportunity to work with everyone who was
working there whether they wanted to work with me or not. And Jim...

GROSS: Now you--go ahead.

Ms. LaVETTE: Jim always wanted me to try out these--you know, all of these
standards with legitimate jazz musicians, so if they were working in the city
and he was doing the gigs, he was running it, you know, `she's going to be
your singer this week.' It was almost like working for the mafia. `She's
going to be your singer this week.' And they of course--I didn't know how to
handle those songs. "Lover Man" and all of that, but because he made me learn
them, I was able to get gigs of all sorts. I was able to tap dance on
Broadway with Cab Calloway because of what Jim made me learn. So I thought
nothing about...

GROSS: This was in "Bubbling Brown Sugar"? Uh-huh.

Ms. LaVETTE: Yeah. My manager thought nothing about the records that
were--he said, `Not only can't you sing, none of your little friends can
sing.' And when he said my "little friends," he meant Marvin Gaye and The
Mandellas. He said `none of your little friends can sing,' and he said,
`Until you all learn these songs, you want be real singers. You won't be real
stars.'

And they were all trying to learn them too because that was the way we were
raised. We were trying to come to Carnegie Hall or come to some big center or
go to Las Vegas. And you weren't going to get there with the little stuff
that we were recording, and that was the way he always thought of it. He
thought, `Well, if I got a really big record then that would be one thing, but
until then, learn these real songs.'

GROSS: My guest is Bettye LaVette. Her new CD is called "The Scene of the
Crime." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guest is soul singer Bettye LaVette. Her new CD, "The Scene of the
Crime," is nominated for a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album.

In 1969 you did a series of recordings that was supposed to be released on an
album but never was.

Ms. LaVETTE: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Were they ever released at until it was recently compiled on an album?

Ms. LaVETTE: It was released in album form in England on Charly Records, but
never in America.

GROSS: OK. And in America, when it was recently reissued it was called "Take
Another Little Piece of My Heart."

Ms. LaVETTE: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: In '72 you recorded an album that was never released until 2005...

Ms. LaVETTE: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...and this is a, you know, a kind of famous album now...

Ms. LaVETTE: It's more infamous than famous.

GROSS: More infamous, thank you, yeah. It was supposed to be released by
Atlantic Records. It was recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, but it was never
released. It just lay in the Atlantic vault until a French producer licensed
it from Atlantic and released it in 2000. It was initially supposed to be
called "Child of the Seventies." What were you expecting the outcome of this
album to be?

Ms. LaVETTE: Oh, I really thought that that--I had everything, all the
components that I thought would work. I recorded it in Muscle Shoals, where
all the hits were coming from. I had Wilson Pickett's producer, Brad Shapiro.
It was on an Atlantic label. I just--it had everything that was supposed to
happen. And then it didn't. So all the thoughts right after that were
suicidal.

GROSS: What did they tell you when they didn't release it?

Ms. LaVETTE: They said, `Send the tickets back. We've decided not to go
forward with the project.' Those were their exact words.

GROSS: But you had...

Ms. LaVETTE: I don't even know who it was that called me.

GROSS: But you had already finished recording it, hadn't you?

Ms. LaVETTE: It was--I had the plane tickets to go on the road to promote
it.

GROSS: Oh, I see. I see.

Ms. LaVETTE: They had already done everything.

GROSS: Oh, wow. Well, this is good stuff. We should hear a track of it. I
was thinking we could hear "Your Turn to Cry." You want to say anything about
the song or why it was chosen?

Ms. LaVETTE: Oh, I just chose it here again because I liked it. But it
was--I thought that it sounded, up to that date, better than anything I'd ever
recorded, and I was just completely confused as to why I said--I kept
comparing it to everything else that was out. And everything was just
beginning to go stereo too, so when all the new stereo albums started coming
out, then it really didn't sound very good to me. And I kept trying to see
myself why they wouldn't do it. And then over the years I completely
convinced myself that they just--it wasn't good.

GROSS: You were convinced that it wasn't good?

Ms. LaVETTE: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: OK. Let's disprove that and play "Your Turn to Cry," and this is from
the 1972 Atlantic album that was never released until it was licensed by a
French producer in 2000, and the French release is called "Souvenirs." The
subsequent American release of the album is called "Child of the Seventies."

(Soundbite of "Your Turn to Cry")

Ms. LaVETTE: (Singing) I gave you all of my love
But you treated me like a fool
Even gave up right for wrong
Trying, trying to get along with you

When I wanted to hold you close
You were always too tired
Or you had someplace to go
Listen, man

Backup Singers: (Singing) Walking out that door

Ms. LaVETTE: (Singing) Walking out that door

Backup Singers: (Singing) Telling you goodbye

Ms. LaVETTE: (Singing) Telling you goodbye
I can't take it no more
It's your time to cry
Oh, it's your time to cry

Oh, I tried staying with you
Because of our...

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's Bettye LaVette recorded in 1972, and the album that this song
was recorded for has been subsequently released just a few years ago under the
name "Child of the '70S."

Ms. LaVETTE: See, you and your audience are going to be as confused as I am.

GROSS: Well, it must have been confusing to have things change on you like
that.

Ms. LaVETTE: Well, it's confusing now because I'm having to--most of it had
been forgotten, and now I'm having to recall everything that happened just as
if it was happening now, or if it happened just recently...

GROSS: Well, the other--yeah, go ahead.

Ms. LaVETTE: And all of this happened 30 and 40 years ago so to just
remember it all is just daunting.

GROSS: Well, the other funny thing is is that now you're being praised for
the stuff that nobody wanted to even release...

Ms. LaVETTE: Yeah.

GROSS: ...you know, 35 years ago.

Ms. LaVETTE: Yep.

GROSS: That must be kind of confusing.

Ms. LaVETTE: Well, it's--you know, to have all of this energy happening to
you at 61 years old is, it's consuming, you know. It's taking virtually
everything--every bit of energy that I have and everything that I've ever
learned, but I'm glad that I have a lot of energy left and that I learned so
dog-gone much because it's all coming in handy now.

GROSS: Well, your new CD is called "The Scene of the Crime." And the crime
that you're referring to in "The Scene of the Crime." is the fact that after
recording this album, it was never released. It just sat...

Ms. LaVETTE: Right.

GROSS: ...in the Atlantic vault until 2000.

Ms. LaVETTE: They didn't even know they had it.

GROSS: They didn't even know they had it?

Ms. LaVETTE: They didn't even know they had it. They thought that it had
been lost in a fire.

GROSS: Ah.

Ms. LaVETTE: And Gilles Petard came to New York and asked them could he
search for it physically and he did.

GROSS: He's the French producer who actually released it in 2007?

Ms. LaVETTE: Yes, yes, yes, who has been friends with me for almost 30
years. The first 15 or 20 years that we knew each other was strictly through
correspondence. It was a long time before I met him. He got me a gig in
Paris and I finally got a chance to meet him.

GROSS: So he actually had to physically search through the archives of
Atlantic to find it?

Ms. LaVETTE: I had a reel-to-reel copy of it. A friend at a studio here in
New York stereoized my mono reel-to-reel version of it and I let Gilles Petard
hear it. He said, `I've got to find this. It's got to come out. It's just
got to come out.' And it did.

GROSS: One of the things you ended up doing in the '70s was a Broadway revue
that also had a road show called "Bubbling Brown Sugar," and it was a revue
of, what, like, blues and rhythm and blues songs?

Ms. LaVETTE: Well, let's go back here now.

GROSS: Yeah.

Ms. LaVETTE: "Bubbling Brown Sugar" was a Tony Award-winning Broadway play
and it starred Honi Coles, Avon Long, who was a huge vaudeville star in the
'20s and '30s and Mable Lee who was in several black motion pictures, and then
in the touring company there was Honi Coles and Vivian Reed, whom I replaced,
and then I went on to do several productions of the show with various people,
but I got a chance to do one with Cab Calloway.

And because those people were in the show and because there were so few young
people who tap danced, it was one of the only times since the late '50s that
all of these people had been able to work, and Cab Calloway and Honi Coles
called everybody they knew to come and audition for the shows. So I got a
chance to meet just a gang of people, like the real Bill Bailey, who was Pearl
Bailey's brother, who was a great tap dancer in the '20s and '30s and '40s and
just people I had heard of all my life and got a chance to work with them.
And I'm probably the only person from my group who knows how to tap dance.

GROSS: They taught you how to do it?

Ms. LaVETTE: I had to learn how to do it and dance in a chorus line and wear
a white tuxedo and a top hat and silver tap shoes. It was great.

GROSS: Was that fun? Did you feel like yourself doing it?

Ms. LaVETTE: It was--I enjoyed it more than anything I've ever done in show
business or ever will do again.

GROSS: Wow.

Ms. LaVETTE: It was the way I'd always imagined show business. Because I
started so young, I never had the opportunity to see a show other than in
movies, and "Bubbling Brown Sugar" looked like the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers
type things. Everybody in beautiful gowns and tuxedos and dancing and
twirling me over the top of their heads. So it was extremely exciting.

GROSS: Now, I want to hear something about your husband. Because from what
I've read, it sounds like your husband, Kevin Kiley, is, like, knows a whole
about music and has a huge...

Ms. LaVETTE: Sure knows more about it than I do.

GROSS: ...and has a huge record collection.

Ms. LaVETTE: Yes.

GROSS: So I'm curious how you met. Was it through him finding like your
recordings or something?

Ms. LaVETTE: Well, he had known me because of my recordings and was a fan.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. LaVETTE: And he had the audacity to send me an e-mail asking me not to
record with a certain producer. Now, mind you, I had not had a record in a
hundred years, and here's this strange guy from New Jersey who's going to send
me an e-mail and say, `Don't let this guy record you because he's not good.' I
said, `Who the hell are you, and why are you telling me that?'

But it just turns out that I got a better deal, and my husband is, as well as
being a record collector and dealer, he also deals in depression glass and was
doing a lot of glass shows at the time so he contacted me later on and told me
he was going to Detroit to do a glass show and wanted to meet me and apologize
for being so forward. That's a lie, he said.

GROSS: That's a pretty forward way of apologizing.

Ms. LaVETTE: Yeah, yeah. But that was--really had a happy--I mean, he just,
he knows more about black music than I would ever know, really. He knows
everybody black who has ever stepped up to a microphone.

GROSS: So was he right about not doing the album with the producer who he
didn't want you to work with?

Ms. LaVETTE: Totally. Totally.

GROSS: And is that why you didn't work with that producer, or was it...

Ms. LaVETTE: No!

GROSS: Oh, OK.

Ms. LaVETTE: I was going to work with him regardless. I didn't have any
other deal and Kevin didn't have a deal for me. So no, I was going to do
that, but just this Bettye LaVette luck stepped in and I got Dennis Walker,
who...

GROSS: Oh, yeah.

Ms. LaVETTE: ...was a Grammy Award winner for the Robert Gray stuff and the
album that I did with him garnered me a W.C. Handy Award.

GROSS: OK.

Ms. LaVETTE: Yep.

GROSS: Well I want to, you know, congratulate you on the success that you're
having now and...

Ms. LaVETTE: Oh, thank you, baby.

GROSS: Yeah, a long time coming, very well deserved, and...

Ms. LaVETTE: Absolutely.

GROSS: Thank you again, Bettye LaVette, for being with us.

Ms. LaVETTE: Thank you, Terry, for having me.

GROSS: Bettye LaVette's new CD, "The Scene of the Crime," has received a
Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album. Here's another track
from it called "I Guess We Shouldn't Talk about That Now."

(Soundbite of "I Guess We Shouldn't Talk about That Now")

Ms. LaVETTE: (Singing) Maybe we ought to think this through
Maybe we ought to tell the truth
This is the point of no return
I don't belong to you
But I guess we shouldn't talk about that now

Maybe we ought to close the door
Shut out all the world that's been before...

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Coming up, we remember historian Allan Berube, the author of a history
of gays and lesbians in the military during World War II. He died last week.
This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: A 1990 interview with historian and writer Allan
Berube, who died at age 61
TERRY GROSS, host:

We're going to remember the historian Allan Berube, the author of "Coming Out
under Fire," which is considered by many to be the definitive history of gays
and lesbians in the military during World War II. Berube died last week of
complications from stomach ulcers. He was 61.

"Coming Out under Fire" was published in 1990 and was often referred to in the
subsequent political debate about gays in the military. He was awarded a
MacArthur fellowship in 1996, the so-called "genius award." In his book Berube
wrote that over 18 million men and women were screened by draft boards during
the war; only four to six thousand were rejected for homosexuality. Berube
said the homosexuals who made it through the screening process found
themselves fighting two wars, one for American democracy and freedom, the
other for their own survival as homosexuals within the military organization.
Here's an excerpt of our 1990 interview.

OK, looking back at World War II and the role and the condition of gays and
lesbians in the war...

Mr. ALLAN BERUBE: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...what effect do you think their participation in the military, and
the military's reaction to them, had on the future gay rights movement? Any?

Mr. BERUBE: Yeah, I think it was in that relationship, in that conflict were
sown some of the seeds of the later gay rights movement. There's another
irony of this story. Those who were discharged--there were at least 9,000, or
to 10,000 during the war--because of the new GI rights bill, there were
already avenues for appealing those discharges available to them at the end of
the war. So many of them began talking about their situation as one that was
unjust. The psychiatrists were talking about the treatment of homosexuals as
a form of grave injustice.

The GI bill gave a language of rights. People had rights as veterans, so they
would talk about their rights being violated. They were treated as if they
were a group of people that was all the same, that if you were a homosexual
then you belonged to this group and you were going to be treated as a group.
And right after the war was when the talk of homosexuals being a persecuted
minority, the use of the word "minority" really begins being used in some
magazines, in other publications right after the war. So that language of
rights--justice, minority, persecution, and appeals, redress of
grievances--really grows out in part from the military experience.

And it was the first gay male veterans organization--the first gay
organization in the United States that was a large membership organization was
a group of gay veterans in New York City called the Veterans Benevolent
Association, which was formed right after World War II.

GROSS: Have you ever been in the military yourself?

Mr. BERUBE: No, I haven't.

GROSS: Tell me why researching the military has become so important to you.

Mr. BERUBE: It's really funny. During the war in Vietnam, I was a
conscientious objector, and now I'm seen as kind of an expert on military
policy. It's a very strange turn of events. I'm realizing that the military
plays a very important role in shaping society and in bringing about social
change, either for the net positive or the negative. They really had a major
role to play in integrating the armed forces. You know, when the armed forces
were integrated racially in the early 1950s, that was ahead of many other
organizations in the United States. The military was the first to bring about
mandatory AIDS testing. It's a real pioneer in many ways for the better or
the worse.

It's also a place where many people who are poor and working class have their
lives and even sexuality shaped by the military, and that's very interesting
to me, to look at that part of the way social change comes about. And I think
it's a real neglected part of social history, too.

GROSS: Allan Berube, recorded in 1990 after the publication of his book
"Coming Out under Fire." He died last week at the age of 61.

You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site, freshair.npr.org.

Tomorrow we'll remember the saxophonist Frank Morgan. He died Friday of colon
cancer at the age of 72. We'll close with a duet he recorded with pianist
Kenny Barron.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of music)
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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