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  Bettye Lavette: “We were doing a gig together with Randall Bramblett, and he was coming on before me. When I arrived, he was on the stage. I could hear him, but I couldn’t see him. I couldn’t understand the words, but I could hear the melody clearly, and I fell in love with the melodies just coming up the steps to the dressing room. I asked my road manager, if Randall would speak to me after we were finished working.” Randall Bramblett: “I opened for her at Ram’s Head in Annapolis, Maryland, several years ago and we exchanged CDs after the show. A few days later she called me to tell me she loved a song of mine, Where a Life Goes, and wanted to record it.” Bettye: “Joe Henry and I were getting ready to do another album, and I did two of the songs he sent me. One of them, Where a Life Goes, came out of the Worthy album” (on Cherry Red Records in 2015; Randall: “She later asked if she could do more. Eventually it became ALL my songs for a whole album.” Bettye: “I liked those songs and I was looking for someone to record them. Then (producer) Steve Jordan called me. We wanted to do another album together. He said ‘I’m the cheapest drummer I know, so I’ll hire myself, and we’ll make the record.’”


  The prolific composer/writer/musician Randall ( was born in Georgia in 1948, and since the early 70s he has worked with Gregg Allman, Elvin Bishop, Steve Winwood and many, many more. In the late 70s he also became a member of a Capricorn-recording group called Sea Level as a vocalist, saxophonist and keyboardist. If categorized, his music would mostly fall into southern rock with a strong country music leaning. At the University of North Carolina he studied religion and psychology.

  Randall: “I think the interests that I had in psychology and religion way back in college are still with me today. Questions about the nature of God and the mind of humans come up in many of my songs (God Was in the Water, Some Mean God, Where a Life Goes, Hard to be a Human, etc.). I think and write how we navigate this life, how we grow and heal from pain and addiction and how we find joy in the small experiences of each day.”

  Randall has written hundreds of songs and released so far incredibly way over dozen solo albums. “I’m just counting 12 that were released on labels. Some were just indie releases.” His songs are like short stories about innermost feelings, episodes of different stages of life, descriptions of waves of emotion. “I write in a journal each morning and sometimes ideas that come up make their way into songs, when I go down to my studio. Sometimes I just play with a phrase or title until it comes together like a puzzle. Sometimes I hear people talking or see a scene that develops into an idea that becomes a song.”


  Bettye’s new album simply titled LaVette! is her and Steve Jordan’s third collaboration after Things Have Changed in 2018 and Blackbirds two years later ( Steve was born in New York City in 1957. In the capacity of a musician (drummer) and songwriter this Grammy Award winner has worked, among others, with Wonderlove, the Blues Brothers, Eye Witness, X-Pensive Winos, John Mayer Trio, not to mention close musical ties with Keith Richards and Eric Clapton. As a producer he is known for his work with Robert Cray, Buddy Guy, B.B. King and more on the pop side with Bob Dylan, Neil Young, James Taylor etc., and these days he plays drums in the Rolling Stones.

  Bettye’s and Steve’s partnership has really been fruitful, to say the least. Steve: “She is a fantastic artist, and it’s a privilege to work with a fantastic artist. She is a legend, and I feel very fortunate to work with her.” In terms of recording tracks for this new CD, Electric Lady Studios ( in Greenwich Village in New York was the main location. “We cut the tracks in three days in September last year. Electric Lady Studios is a legendary studio that Jimi Hendrix established. Today Lee Foster is the managing director and co-owner.” Interestingly, they have also listed the Royal Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, where Boo Mitchell was involved in production. “We did an organ overdub. We had the legendary Reverend Charles Hodges from Hi Rhythm on organ on two songs.”

  The album will officially be released on June the 16th, and it comes out on the Jay-Vee Records label. Senior music fans remember Vee-Jay Records from the 1950s and ‘60s, and for them the first thought was that this must be a play on words. Steve: “Meegan Voss and myself are founders of the label, so ‘Jay’ comes from the name Jordan, and ‘Vee’ is for Voss. We also thought about that once we realised that Jay-Vee and Vee-Jay are similar in that way, but we loved it. We loved everybody on that label – Jimmy Reed, the Four Seasons…” Jay-Vee was established in 2004.

Steve Jordan and Meegan Voss.

  Meegan Voss is a singer/songwriter/guitarist, who emerged in Syracuse’s, N.Y., new wave rock scene in the late 70s, first in the Poptarts and then the Antoinettes. Steve and Meegan met, got married and formed a band called the Verbs, which since 2006 has released a few albums. For soul music fans Meegan’s name has become familiar as a writer and background vocalist on Solomon Burke’s album Like a Fire (in 2008).

Pre-production for the album. Photo courtesy of Kevin Kiley.


  Kevin Kiley, Bettye’s husband and manager, told about a pre-production incident for this album. Kevin: “Bettye got Covid a few days before having to go in the studio. It couldn’t be re-scheduled, due to everyone’s busy schedules, so they set up a zoom in everyone’s booth and Bettye sang live with them from home to help set up the grooves and then re-cut her vocals a few weeks later. So even though she was singing to tracks, she was singing to tracks that she had set up. It was quite something!”

  Bettye: “All the guys had me on camera in the laps. I sang and they built tracks around that song.” Steve: “We worked with Bettye in pre-production, Leon Pendarvis (keys), Larry Campbell (guitars) and myself (drums). We worked at Bettye’s house. I came up with different types of feels that we want for each tune, and we do the basic arrangements there, and then we fine-tune the arrangements in the studio with the full band with Pino Palladino (bass) and Chris Bruce (guitar). After that Bettye agrees with what we’re doing and then we record it.”

  Bettye: “These musicians are just some of the most brilliant musicians in the world. The tracking band pretty much laid down the arrangements after Steve, Leon and Larry had put down the basics. Then everybody else just decides what they want to play in it, add to it. Like the guest stars, Steve Winwoodand Jon Batiste , had to listen to what was going on and see what can I add to this. We don’t have any parts particularly for anyone. And Dave O’Donnell is the most brilliant engineer that I have worked with. He gets the most incredible vocal sound out of my voice.”


  LaVette! offers eleven Randall’s songs, which he had cut for his solo albums between 1992 and 2020. As expected, Bettye’s unique interpretations differ notably from those originals. Bettye creates such strong atmosphere of drama that you can actually picture the scene of that particular episode or co-feel that particular emotion.

  The opening song, See Through Me, is in style close to country rock, which proceeds at a running pace. Bettye: “I fall in love with the melodies and then pray that the stories make sense. Randall is one the best writers that I’ve heard in thirty years. Everyone asks me did I write the songs or did he write them for me, and neither is true. He did write them for me, but he didn’t know he was writing them for me. We have so much in common. He is almost as old as I am. He’s had seventeen albums, and none of them has sold. If I could write – and I can’t – these are the songs that I would write. This is exactly what I would say. He must have another fifteen songs that I would like to do.”

  On this track, besides Larry Campbell shining on guitar, Pedrito Martinez is on percussion, and the co-writer on this tune, as well as on Sooner or Later and Hard to Be a Human , is Davis Causey. Randall: “Davis is one of my best long-time friends since 1969 and music partners. We wrote hundreds of songs together and played in my band and Sea Level together of over 50 years. He was an accomplished guitar player too, who had a beautiful and original tone and technique. He passed away this year.”


  On a fast and stormy rocker named Don’t Get Me Started one of the guest stars, Steve Winwood, plays Hammond B3. In an almost aggressive musical setting like this, it’s easy for Bettye to show extra determination in her performance. Bettye: “I love all these tunes for various reasons. It hasn’t been easy for me to sing other people’s songs and be in other people’s productions, no matter who the producer was. Steve Jordan is the first producer I’ve had who explains exactly how to feel about the tune. These songs are exactly what I want to say, so it’s almost like I wrote and produced these songs myself. My songs have to make sense, because I have to be able to look my audience in the eye and tell the truth.”

  Lazy (and I Know it) is a downtempo, soul-searching song featuring Christopher Bruce’s “distant desert” guitar solo in the middle. Bettye: “I’ve worked ever since I was sixteen years old. I’ve never had a day job. I found this song very funny, though. I do think that if you’re in show business and have any modicum of success, you live a pretty charmed life. While I’m not lazy, I am extremely spoiled. I took it that way.”

  The slow-to-mid-tempo Sooner or Later flows easily and grows towards the end, and this track features Ray Parker Jr. on guitar and Rev. Charles Hodges on Hammond B3. Anthony Hamilton is co-singing with Bettye, although his part is quite marginal. Bettye: “I’m not that particular about anybody singing with me anyway, but, if you can sing, I can tolerate you (laughing). He’s an excellent singer, but I didn’t necessarily want a duet.”

In the studio. Photo courtesy of Kevin Kiley.


  The slowly chugging, bluesy number titled Plan B was picked up for the first single off the album. Christopher Bruce plays the guitar solo. Betty: “It reminded me of Guitar Slim. I love that song so much. I just think it is so cool. When I heard the lyrics - ‘danglin’ by a string, mumbling a prayer, mojo busted and I don’t have a spare’ – I said ‘I hope this song is good, because I love that line.’”

  One of the highlights for this listener a peaceful and beautiful ballad called Concrete Mind. Bettye: “I think it’s cleverly written and so true to so many people. How often people just get fixed in a thought and you can’t make them move, no matter what. I think it’s just a great song.” On this delicate, almost ethereal track Monte Craft is on vibes, and the song is co-written by Mike Hines. Randall: “Mike Hines played guitar in my band from about 2004 to 2008. We wrote only that one song together. He’s a great guitar player, too.”

  Another gem for mood music lovers is a country-tinged, down-tempo song called In the Meantime, and here we can enjoy John Mayer’s guitar solo. Bettye: “I’m glad that at this point I can sing anything. It’s a great country song, but here again it was very pertinent to me.”


  That’s where peaceful waters stop flowing and Bettye starts riding on a hurried beat. On Mess about It she also mentions her native Detroit. Bettye: “Randall said that ‘anything you want to change and it works well with the song, go on and do it.’ Then at one point, when we were discussing the songs, he asked ‘do all the songs necessarily have to be about you?’. I said ‘yes’ (laughing). I rejected a lot of things that – while they weren’t in his original lyric – it made the songs more pertinent to me and my life, as the reference to Detroit.” On the track, Ray parker Jr. is once more on rhythm guitar and Jon Batiste excels on a jazzy acoustic piano solo. Bettye: “It is like straight from James Brown’s playbook.”

  Running at an express train pace, the sharp and intense Hard to Be a Human is the current single release. Bettye: “You don’t want to salsa with me on that? (laughing). I absolutely love the arrangement. The rhythms are just incredible. I’ve had earlier up-tempo tunes, but it’s better to have these kinds of fantastic rhythms.” In the horn section Clifton Anderson plays trombone, Kevin Batchelor trumpet and the man behind the baritone sax solo is James Carter.

  The atmosphere changes again for the last two tracks on the set. Not Gonna Waste My Love is an intimate and sorrowful ballad with weeping instruments. According to Kevin Kiley, originally this was Randall’s unreleased demo from the late 1980s, so now it sees the light of the day in Bettye’s interpretation. Bettye: “This is a great melody and the lyrics are really sound and solid. It’s kind of work for me, because there’s still that section of people who think I cover songs as opposed to reinterpret them. With these songs – seeming so new to so many people – I think it’s going to be very helpful to me. Randall is just a fantastic writer, and he’s kind of ‘matter of fact’ in his writing.”


  The closing song, It’s Alright, is a poignant and hypnotic country ballad with a touch of soul. To add to the impressive list of guests on this set, Tawatha Agee and Cindy Mizelle are on background vocals. Steve: “Everybody was a fan of Bettye’s, so it was not difficult to get them to say ‘yes.’ It was just the matter of timing.” This 7-minute-long song grows into a finale, where Bettye actually takes us to church. Bettye: “That’s exactly what I intended to do. I’ve always gone by the door of the church, but never gone in. That was what this song allowed me to do. How can I resist the lyric ‘maybe you’ll find me, when I’m all broken down, a carload of dreams on my way out of town.’ I rarely record anything over two times, but we had to record that over, because I couldn’t stop crying. I had to leave it alone for a couple of days. It just broke my heart.”

  In recent years Bettye has come up with interesting and exciting projects, and LaVette! is no exception. Randall: “I probably like Hard to Be a Human, Concrete Mind and In The Meantime best, but actually any of them could be my favs from day to day. I’m so impressed and honoured that Bettye connected with so many of my songs. She had the nerve to make a whole album of my songs. Who does that? I’m also thrilled that Steve Jordan and all the fantastic players did such a beautiful job with arrangements and solos and parts. Ironic that Steve Winwood ended up playing on one of my songs too since I played on so many of his over the years.”

  Steve: “My personal three favourites are Lazy (and I Know it), Mess About It and Hard to Be a Human. It was an honour to record Bettye and great to have her on our label. It was Meegan’s idea to sign Bettye. We couldn’t have made the record without the great distributor, MRI Entertainment, which is run by Missi Callazzo and Robert John. We have a wonderful team on our label. Everybody is working hard to get this record for everybody throughout the world, because we feel that it’s an important record and we want the world to enjoy it. We had so much fun making it, and we would like everybody to have a chance to enjoy it.”

  Bettye: “I’m very grateful for this. I want everybody to listen closely, because whatever is not there in my voice is in the lyrics, whatever is not there in the lyrics is here and there in my voice. I want everybody to listen and see how human these tunes really, really are. I hope everybody enjoys them.

(Interviews conducted on June the 5th and 6th, 2023; acknowledgements to Bettye LaVette, Kevin Kiley, Steve Jordan and Randall Bramblett).

© Heikki Suosalo

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