Dacia paid some well-deserved 50thirdand3rd.com respect to Aretha Franklin earlier this week which got me thinking about another big-voiced, soul diva worthy of our love; Ms Betty Harris.
Betty’s classic 1969 single There’s A Break In The Road is a typically powerful vocal performance which has a lot in common, tonally and lyrically with Aretha’s Think. With its scattergun drums, jagged guitars and screechy feedback, it’s also the funkiest thing Betty ever put on wax.
Ever modest, Betty said in a 2004 interview, “I never considered myself the best singer in the world, but I knew I had something that you call ‘it’. Whatever soul was, I had it. I knew that.”
‘It’ is on record in There’s A Break In The Road, as she dishes out a warning to the man who’s ditched her:
There’s a few things you don’t understand about life and the things you do
Same game you ran on me, somebody’s gonna run it on you
And there are newcomers gonna pull that heart, gonna wash away all of my tears
Well you need a new pair of windshield wipers ’cause you’re not seeing things too clear
You can hear that she’s hurting, but she’s angry and defiant now too. She’s ready to move on and she wants the guy to know.
The flipside of the single showcases another aspect of Betty’s raw vocal talents. All I Want Is You features a sultry, soulful vocal performance from the opposite end of a relationship. This time you can feel her desperately yearning for her man!
During the sixties, Betty Harris recorded a string of fine singles and earned herself the title ‘Soul Queen of New Orleans’. She toured with Otis Redding, Percy Sledge and The Drifters but grew disillusioned with a lack of commercial success which she blamed, in part, on the British Invasion – “The Beatles came in and all the air time went to them. I think a few more of my records would have made it if they had had the air time.”
Betty retired from music around 1970 to go to business school and raise a family, but the intensity of her vocals and the recorded legacy she left have seen her remain a favourite of those who know about soul and R&B and those, like me, who’ve been lucky enough to just stumble across her work.