A Long-Lost Holy Grail of Funk Was Just Discovered

Unreleased jams from Betty and Miles Davis, incoming

June 29, 2016 9:00 am

“If Betty [Davis] were singing today, she would be something like Madonna, something like Prince, only as a woman.”

That’s Miles Davis talking about his ex-wife Betty — a rock and funk legend in her own right whose 1970s albums Nasty Gal and They Say I’m Different showcased a flamboyant but sensual singer (just notice those album titles) with an influence still heard today in the work of everyone from Erykah Badu to Talib Kweli.

But the music Miles and Betty supposedly made together? There was a rumor of some sessions the couple did together in New York with an all-star cast (including Herbie Hancock and members of Jimi Hendrix’s band) that was always hinted at, but never proven …

Until now.

Just announced, Betty Davis: The Columbia Years, 1968-1969 profiles a series of mythical demos Betty and Miles recorded together at NYC’s 52nd St. Studios.

No surprise, the tracks are a heady mix of jazz, psychedelia and rock, including several Betty originals and two covers (Cream and Creedence Clearwater Revival). The sessions also served as the inspiration for Miles Davis’s genre-bending 1970 masterpiece Bitches Brew, which he recorded right after he and Betty had split.

At the time of the 52nd St. sessions, the former Betty Mabry had released a few singles and written “Uptown (to Harlem)” for the Chambers Brothers, and all before she turned 20. She was also working as a model in New York and had befriended the likes of Marc Bolan and Hendrix (there were later rumors of an affair, which may have ended her marriage to Miles). She also, hilariously, turned down the likes of Eric Clapton as a producer. “Too banal,” she said.

While Miles Davis was already a legend when they met, it was Betty who shaped his future, introducing him to new sounds like Hendrix’s psychedelic guitar jams and the funk stylings of Sly Stone.

Now, the bad news about his unearthed treasure? Both the deluxe “Solid Gold Edition” LP and 3LP bundles — the preferred, decade-appropriate way to hear this unearthed masterpiece — are sold out, and the black vinyl is backordered.

Single-disc and 3-CD bundles are still available now, but you probably shouldn’t waffle on ‘em too long, considering this kind of thing only comes along, oh, once every four decades or so.

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