For lovers of ultra-wicked funkiness, the name Betty Davis is an aphrodisiac of uncommon potency; a few years back her string of ’70s underground classics found deserving reissue by Light in the Attic, and now out of nowhere the label has just released her very enlightening late ’60s sessions. Cut prior to and during her brief marriage to trumpeter Miles Davis, The Columbia Years 1968-1969 illuminates a formative but highly productive period in the career of a considerable talent who remains too seldom heard.
Before getting hitched she was Betty Mabry; Miles nuts know it’s her picture on the cover of ’68’s Filles de Kilimanjaro and that the album’s closing track “Mademoiselle Mabry” is named after her. However, it’s important to note that she wasn’t discovered by Davis, having cut a pop single for Frank Sinatra arranger Don Costa’s DCP International label in ’64 as her song “Uptown” was covered by The Chambers Brothers on Time Has Come Today in ’67.
As related in John Ballon’s liner notes for this set, it was through her involvement in a group of trendsetting women known as the “Cosmic” or “Electric Ladies” that Miles came under her sway, with the impact of the younger on the older extending to the musical. This may seem questionable to casual observers given the hugeness of Miles’ legend, but the situation is borne out by the facts.
Mabry and her cohorts’ passion for the “avant-garde pop music” (in Miles’ description) of Hendrix, Sly Stone, and Santana opened the trumpeter’s eyes as he sat on the cusp of his electric period, with this connection having been previously articulated in Davis’ autobiography; the uncovering of these (astoundingly never bootlegged) vault recordings gives his statement even deeper credence.