Tales From the Tour Bus (2017) s02e08 Episode Script

Betty Davis

1 (ENGINE REVS) Well, we're down to our last stop.
Each week we've tried to shine a spotlight on the genius and the madness in the world of funk.
We've explored legends like George Clinton, James Brown, and Rick James.
And we featured a couple of funk's greatest characters: Bootsy Collins, and Morris Day.
We're gonna finish this season with a surprise, an explosive artist as dedicated to the funk as any of these guys, but she found more backlash and grief than lasting fame.
Could've been anything that she wanted Truly fine from her head down to her toes Instead she chose to be nothing So nothing flew from the East to the West Coast Rock music played loud and clear for her Rock music took her youth and left her very dry Tell 'em! Tell 'em, uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh! She's got a famous name and an unforgettable presence, but everyone just wanted to take her picture or talk about her ex-husband.
Betty Davis only wanted people to listen to her music and hear what she had to say.
Our final tale: funk's greatest secret and most painful truth.
(THEME MUSIC PLAYING) GEORGE CLINTON (ECHOING): Oh! I saw her perform live at The Bottom Line.
This is '73, and basically, people would be staring ahead, in mute shock.
They could not believe what they were seeing.
JUDGE: In 1973, Betty Davis was 28 years old and fresh off the release of her first full album.
Vernon Gibbs was a journalist on assignment that night for Penthouse Magazine.
It wasn't the music that they were shocked by, it was her performance.
I knew! Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh! GIBBS: It was the sexuality of her performance, the raw lyrics, and her vocal approach.
She came to the jungle from Milwaukee Steppin' high in her I.
Miller shoes GIBBS: She had kind of a screeching, metallic voice.
The music critics who were there could not deal with it.
She came to the jungle from Milwaukee Steppin' low in her I.
Miller shoes GIBBS: I mean, how dare somebody in 1973 get up on the stage and not sing like Aretha, right? But forget about the music, it was the short shorts, the thigh-high boots, the luscious lips, the big afro.
And then you're gonna spread your legs? You're gonna use the Mic like a penis? It was shock and awe.
That's the only way to describe it.
(APPLAUSE, CHEERS) I remember one man was so transfixed that he basically fell over during the performance and smashed the whole table full of glasses, and it went all over the place.
Betty was too much for that guy.
Her performance, it was so far ahead of its time that it was to a lot of people unacceptable.
JUDGE: At the time, Betty was probably best known for her last name, which she kept for the stage with the blessing of her ex-husband, jazz legend Miles Davis.
They were married in 1968 and divorced a year later.
Miles always liked those women who had that dancer thing, that kind of (INHALES) that you can't put your finger on.
You know, she was that kind of person.
JUDGE: Quincy Troupe was a working poet in the 1970s who became California's first poet laureate.
He knew Miles Davis from his time on the Upper Westside of Manhattan and eventually wrote his biography.
I would see him around the city.
I mean, he was going to the gym all the time and he was swimming.
He had stopped getting high.
He stopped snorting coke, he didn't drink any more.
I'm talking about Miles Davis.
I think she was the one that changed the way he was in a lot of ways, you know? And when I met him, for real, I remember one of my friends took me by his house.
He was sitting in a white terry cloth robe I'll never forget it in front of this table.
He had a big pile of cocaine in front of him like that, and he had a gun right over here.
So my friend's like, "Come on, Miles.
What's goin' on here, man?" Miles said, "Yeah, oh man, I'm sorry.
Who is that motherfucker with you?" - "This is Quincy.
" - "Who?" "Quincy, Quincy Troupe.
He's a writer.
" "Get that motherfucker out of here.
" He said, "Motherfucker, get out of here!" And he reached for the gun.
I said, "Oh shit!" (CHUCKLING) I backed out the door.
'Cause that's how he was, he had white stuff all in his You know, this is what he was doing at that time.
So he had to get healthy after Betty, you know? That was in that dark period.
JUDGE: If Miles entered a dark period a few years after the marriage, Betty eventually fell into a black hole.
She just vanished.
And there were a lot of rumors that she was dead because no one had heard from her in decades.
Betty was almost mythological amongst the kind of small, nascent community of people who were really fascinated and obsessed by her.
JUDGE: Oliver Wang is a professor of sociology at Cal State Long Beach with an impressive record collection.
I'm almost positive that the first time I discovered Betty Davis was really through this, her third album.
At the time, she was an unknown quantity to me.
I'm gonna run it down to y'all Tell 'em anything you wanna now It's kind of this really amazing artifact of a time machine to go back to listen to Betty when she was really at the height of her musical career.
I said, you said I was a bitch now Oh-ho, didn't ya, didn't ya? You said, I was a witch now The late '60s brought a lot of freedom for black people that hadn't been there before, and that was the end of official segregation.
But it's also the beginning of feminism, so there's a lot of women, young women who can express themselves in a way that wasn't really acceptable even three, four years before that.
JUDGE: Nelson George is a member of that small, nascent community obsessed with Betty, who made a film called Finding the Funk.
This wasn't, like, some traditional soul chick who just listened to Motown.
She listened to Marc Bolan, she listened to The Who, she listened to the Rolling Stones.
She was socially mobile, I guess, is the best way to put it.
I mean, this is a woman who dated Jimi Hendrix.
I was in, kind of, in awe of Betty, because every time we went somewhere, there was always somebody that knew Betty.
She knew people in the model industry.
She knew photographers, and a lot of musicians.
Of course, she knew Jimi Hendrix well.
JUDGE: Fred "Funki" Mills knew Betty Davis the performer as well as anybody.
He joined the band on keys for her first real tour.
So many places we played, people would throw drugs on the stage, you know, joints, cocaine, and whatever every night.
It was like a buffet for the guys in the band.
I know it's gonna sound strange, but I've never seen her touch a beer, never seen her touch liquor, and definitely never seen her touch any drugs.
Only thing Betty did was drink herbal tea and eat rice cakes.
(LAUGHING) She was the strangest person I've ever met, and she's born on the same day I'm born, July 26.
And so is Mick Jagger, so all three of us, you know.
JUDGE: Carlton Morales played guitar in the band and wound up later writing songs with Julian Lennon.
We just clicked as soon as we met.
She'd do stuff that was different.
We'd get somewhere, and everybody get out the car, and she's still in the car.
So I'd say, "Where's Betty?" So I go back and say, "What's up, Betty?" She said, "No one unlocked the door for me.
" (LAUGHING) So I said, "Okay, all right.
" So I unlocked the door, and then she'd get out.
JUDGE: Fred and Carlton both got into the band, because they were friendly with two other musicians working out of North Carolina, cousins Larry Johnson and Nickey Neal.
Their cousin was Betty Mabry.
Her maiden name is Mabry.
That's her family's name, that's her father's name.
Betty's daddy was in the Army, so they lived in Durham, in Durham, North Carolina.
And then, they left Durham and went to Pittsburgh.
We didn't see her frequently, just like holidays when she would come home for a visit to family.
Just the way she dressed, the way she carried herself, she just she drew a lot of attention.
JUDGE: The cousins would meet at Grandma's house in Reidsville, North Carolina.
My mother, his mother, Betty's mother, they all grew up in that house with the blues.
I mean blues from the '20s and the '30s, you know.
NEAL: Grandma would put on her little light, strobe light on, get a little bit of wine and have a sip, you know, and that's all.
All night long, she's singing.
Keep knockin' and you can't come in Keep knockin' and you can't come in Keep knockin' and you can't come in I guess you better let me be JUDGE: At the age of 16, Betty moved from Pittsburgh to New York City and quickly realized her dream of becoming a model.
It was an exciting time.
Everybody was young, vibrant, searching, loving life, partying.
As a matter of fact, I was a Wilhelmina model, thanks very much, in part, to Betty.
JUDGE: In 1973, Winona Williams was dating a guy named Shep Gordon, the manager of rock star Alice Cooper and Chef Wolfgang Puck, among many others.
She knew Betty before she ever started singing.
Betty's very spiritual.
She speaks in a very deep way, from a cellular level, as she would say.
Extremely beautiful woman.
Very, very sensual.
Definitely way ahead of her time.
I remember a photograph of her straddling a motorcycle, not very many clothes, but put on properly, with her head thrown back and her mouth partially opened, still denoted nothing but class.
This is one of my very first ads for Divas Only, and in the ad, I wrote in my own handwriting across the top, this is the turquoise dress that Betty D took.
JUDGE: Designer Gary Allen met Betty when he was a dancer on Soul Train.
She was just starting to transition from modeling to music.
I remember we went to a big opening.
I was actually with Betty Davis and Ava Cherry, if you know who Ava Cherry is, the background singer with David Bowie.
So the press went crazy.
Betty loved the dress so much, she didn't want to give it back.
(CHUCKLING) And so she sent me a letter certified in the mail, and she listed every single time that we've ever been together.
She charged me for cocktails, talking on the phone, cigarettes, singing background on the song.
She charged me for all these things, and it came to, like, a whopping, you know, five thousand something.
And then she said, "Deduct the dress from that.
" (LAUGHING) That was, like, the ultimate diva move.
Uh, what could you say? She's a diva.
There was a network of girls that had their pulse on everything that was going on in the city.
We experienced the Village scene with the Cafe Wha? where I actually met Jimi.
At that time, she adored Robert Palmer.
She also knew Eric Clapton there was something going on there.
Beautiful girl, you know, great men.
As a matter of fact, David Bowie, who was also a dear personal friend of mine, he sent a photograph to Betty, "With admiration, Love, David.
" She's supporting herself being a model, you know, and she's hanging with that scene.
She starting to think about making an in-road as a songwriter.
Somewhere in there, as the story goes, she sees Miles Davis in a club.
JUDGE: Greg Tate, founder of the Black Rock Coalition, began to unravel the mystery of Betty Davis while working for The Village Voice.
You know, it's funny because she didn't even really know who Miles was.
Miles was the epitome of a kind of cool.
A kind of like refined, Italian suit, Ferrari sports car elegance.
You know, he was a GQ guy.
But by '67, '68, the whole culture is changing and what's cool is totally being flipped.
And now it's no longer Italian suits and a white shirt and tie, It's paisley, and pastels, and psychedelic bell-bottoms, and big Afros and freakiness.
That's what's cool.
So he goes to a club one night and he sees this very tall, lean, sexy chick.
You know, high boots and a halter top, right? Big afro.
And he's like, "Wow, look at her," as Miles would do, and he sends over his man to go over and what celebrities do, they send a guy over, Blah would like to meet you, and blah, blah, blah, blah.
She just thought, this is some fly guy, she really liked his shoes, you know.
GEORGE: But she is intrigued.
I'm sure once he starts talking, she's like who's this guy with this voice? A little later, um, she follows him home.
So she gets to Miles's house and knocks on the door and Miles is there with Cicely Tyson.
And she said to Miles, "When you get rid of her, I'll be back.
" You know, and the rest is history.
Before long, they begin a relationship.
And, like, their relationship not only changes Miles, but changes American music, because she goes to Miles, "Hey, man, you know, you're a cool dude, "I like you, but your clothes are whack.
" And she takes the Italian suits, and takes all that great refined stuff and tosses it out.
And suddenly Miles is wearing bell-bottom flairs.
There's these famous glasses that he wore.
She helps reinvent his style, and in so doing, begins reinventing how he sounds.
'Cause then Miles does something completely radical under Betty's influence.
He buys a Wah-Wah pedal, which is something that guitar players are playing and Hendrix is using, a lot of other people.
He's gonna turn his trumpet into an electronic instrument.
This causes an uproar in the world of jazz that, still, people talk about.
He hires electric bass player, guitar players.
He's got this kid playing a massive drum kit.
He brings an entire new sound, and all of it is wedded to him being around Betty Davis.
That band makes his album called Bitches Brew.
It's like a big turning point in American music and in world music.
Because when Miles plugs in and embraces the electronic, there's a whole generation of musicians, they all follow Miles's lead.
They're either on Bitches Brew or they listen to Bitches Brew, and they want to follow.
And Betty Davis is the one who names the album Bitches Brew.
Originally, it was gonna be called Witches Brew, but she says, "Nah, nah, it's Bitches Brew, my man.
" He loved that.
I hate to say this, but Miles loved the word bitch.
And whether that's good or not, you know, Miles loved the word bitch.
I heard him say it so many times: to women, to all kind of people.
"Bitch, bring your ass over here.
" I said, Miles, you can't say that.
"Fuck you.
Shit, I can say what I want.
Bitch!" Through Miles, her influence on music is profound.
If that was all Betty Davis did, that'd be pretty good, but Betty was not just a muse.
She was an artist in her own right.
She was a live wire.
Miles, he wanted her to be his wife, you know what I mean? He wanted to control her, but she's uncontrollable.
JUDGE: A few years after the divorce, Betty tracked down her cousins to help her launch a new career.
Betty asked me would I come to California and help her put together a band.
I thought she was kidding, you know, just country boys, you know.
And sure enough, a few weeks later, Sunshine Records called, and that's where it began, right there.
JUDGE: She made the first album in three weeks using her connections from her time with Miles.
She gets an incredible band.
She gets Neal Schon, who ends up, later, being in Journey, Gregg Errico, who's a drummer in Sly's band.
She gets Graham, Larry Graham from Sly's band and Graham Central Station, and some of the best young players in the Bay Area.
JUDGE: The first track on the album was a song called, "If I'm in Luck I Might Get Picked Up.
" - I said I'm wigglin' my fanny - Oh, oh, man! - I'm raunchy dancin' - Get down! - I'm a doin' it, doin' it - Get down, hey This is my night out That song is crazy.
And her attitude is like, "Yeah, I'm fucking niggas.
I'm fucking anybody, I'm with whoever I want.
" I mean, like, no one's making those records at that time.
No women are making those records, absolutely not.
She was giving women the right to be as nasty as men.
She invited me to come down to one of the first shows that she did.
When she walked out on stage, my mouth dropped.
(CHEERING, WHISTLING) I mean, Sasha Fierce? Ha! No, Betty Fierce.
This woman had on fishnet stockings and boots with fur, and when she started singing F - (CHEERING, WHISTLING) - U N K Funk The raunchiness that she was belting out in this deep gravely voice, I was just taken aback.
This is not Betty.
(LAUGHING): This is not Betty.
There's two Bettys.
I mean, they're not in conflict with each other, but they are opposite.
The stage Betty is very sensuous and sexy and dominant, and she's a Leo commanding your attention.
And the private Betty is just that, private.
She doesn't drink, she doesn't smoke, she doesn't do drugs, and she's celibate.
Uh, hmm, well I definitely don't think that her relationship with Clapton was one of celibacy.
I mean, really don't care (LAUGHING): you know, but I know that she was definitely physically involved with Eric.
Now, with Robert Palmer, I can't imagine her not being.
If she didn't want to be, she could have called me.
(LAUGHING): You know, I would I would've, uh, filled in for her.
JUDGE: In 1974, Betty released her follow-up album, They Say I'm Different.
A few months after that, we just start touring.
We played on shows with John McLaughlin, and Joe Cocker, the Ohio Players, you know, LaBelle.
Kiss came to see us.
They wanted us to be the opening act for their tour.
Betty come out there in this skimpy outfit, and we did our show.
I don't think they were ready for that.
MORALES: They told Betty, no, we couldn't open up for them because we'd have stole the show.
JUDGE: They recorded a third album in 1975 called Nasty Gal.
They way we'd learned songs with Betty was - (HUMMING) - she would hum or sing a little bit into a tape player, a cassette player.
And it'd always be the part that she wanted you to play.
She knew exactly what she wanted.
JUDGE: She also wasn't above asking her ex for help.
She told me, "Ask Miles to give you some chords for a song.
" And I spoke to him on the phone.
"How you doin', Carlos?" I said, you know my name? Ha! Uh, what does she want, man? So I said, "Miles, we need some chords for this song.
" "Oh, man.
Okay, do an F minor and this and that," and he's telling me all this stuff I couldn't believe it! You know, I just couldn't believe I was talking to Miles Davis on the phone.
God.
JUDGE: Even with the influence and encouragement of Miles, Betty could not get her career off the ground.
That female aggression, that sort of unabashed sexuality, it was just something that, at the time, didn't exist.
She never was on Soul Train, right? There was almost no airplay for her records.
But the thing you have to remember is, there's a huge battle going on in the early '70s over black images.
So things like Coffy, and Foxy Brown, there was a lot, a lot of pushback from the civil rights establishment about are these images negative, are they holding black people back? Betty Davis was kind of lumped in as part of that wave of black expression that the mainstream black world was not accepting of.
JUDGE: She signed with a new record company and went back into the studio to start a fourth album.
We did it at a studio in Bogalusa, Louisiana, and it's just swamp country.
MORALES: You'd look around and you'd see alligators walking across the street.
I'm saying, where are we, in the prehistoric days or something? Man, I was scared to go to sleep in that place.
NEAL: It was a paper factory that was there, and the whole city just smelled terrible.
JOHNSON: Yeah, man, it was just shwoo.
You're talking about a stench that you never want to smell ever in your life.
JUDGE: In this blue-collar town along the Mississippi Delta, Betty made her last stand.
We had a disagreement about the songs, and there was a lot of friction in the studio.
And she wasn't feeling too good about that.
Everybody wanted Betty to do this kind of music, do that kind of music, sing this kind of way, and that wasn't Betty.
If she couldn't do her thing the way she wanted to do it, it won't get done.
Betty would not sell herself out to anybody.
That's why she called it Jim Crow.
Back in the '50s and '60s, we called it the Jim Crow era, because blacks grew up under that kind of suppression.
You know, she had her vision, and she stuck to that vision.
She stuck to it until she wasn't able to do it no more.
JUDGE: When Betty left the studio the last time, she never looked back.
Nobody could reach her.
Didn't have her phone number, didn't have anything.
It was a strange situation.
And it was just like, Wham! Lights out.
You know, when you're in it, you think it'll never end.
So much is said about America, you know, as a country and all of its greatness, and yet so many of our artists have not been appreciated in this country.
Hendrix had to go to England.
Betty had to go to Japan.
JUDGE: In the 1980s, the queen of funk turned up in Tokyo with a new band, but only for a few gigs.
The nervous breakdown came after she came back.
I think she sort of lost herself and her confidence in what she was doing.
Basically she disappears from public view.
By the '80s into the '90s, it was hard to find people who had the records.
She was like a cult figure.
When she wasn't around, everyone thought she had had died.
She just seemed to be coming a little unhinged, doing sort of irrational thins like throwing things in the pool, and, you know, saying people were out to get her.
I didn't quite know what that meant, but she believed it.
And her mother brought her back and put her in the hospital.
I'm just a child Trying to be a woman She was in a psych ward.
I know that they gave her psychotropic drugs, and her mother was allowing them to do this to her.
I mean what do you do? She should have been a star.
She had charisma, she had attitude, she had everything.
Betty ended up being a political statement for some people, the statement of women's liberation.
Even though people were talking about women being liberated, they weren't expecting it to be that liberated.
I don't think Betty was trying to make a point.
I don't think she was trying to make a statement.
I just think that's who she was.
JUDGE: After her treatment for mental health, Betty Davis returned to her family home in Pittsburgh, where she leads a quiet life today.
Somebody did actually say that she had the breakdown because she was no longer Mrs.
Miles Davis.
(SCOFFS) You have got to be kidding me.
Whatever anybody might think, you know, we think that she loved life.
I'd be free I'd be free I'd be free Oh, then I could be me Takes courage, you know.
Um, there's a very thin line between madness and genius.
(THEME MUSIC PLAYING) Skiddle-dee-dee It's about that funk thing I got a boom-boom in my ear Hey Need more, need more, need more I need a little more So that I can hear Oh! (ENGINE REVS)