Bettye LaVette Biography
RETURN TO THE SCENE OF THE CRIME
(Bettye LaVette in Muscle Shoals AL - 35 Years Later)
The lounge in the Marriot Hotel is called Swampers after the nickname given The Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section by Leon Russell and made famous by Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama." Having a hotel as nice as the Marriot is a brand new development and is largely due to the area's reinvention as a retirement community and golf resort. New courses are being designed and built along the beautiful banks of the Tennessee River, which cuts through the middle of my home region, four towns in two counties in the northwest corner of Alabama known collectively as The Muscle Shoals Area. From the large windows of the Swamper's you get a panoramic view of Wilson Dam, once the largest in the world and the first in what became the TVA Dam Project which created beautiful Wilson Lake and first brought electricity to my home region during Roosevelt's days.
Besides the TVA dams, the other thing my hometown is famous for is it's musical heritage. Beginning with the birth of WC Handy, who was born in Florence before going on to fame and fortune as "The Father of the Blues" through Sam Phillips who was born just north of town and moved to Memphis where he discovered Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis (to name a few) and became the accredited architect of Rock and Roll to Rick Hall who co-founded Florence Alabama Recording Enterprises (FAME) which proved to be a ground zero for the movement known as Soul Music and the first of several recording studios that captured the sounds and grooves of this area and broadcasted them to the world.
Swampers is covered nearly wall to wall with photographs of the many recording greats who came to my sleepy hometown to make records back in the sixties and seventies. Other studios began to spring up, most notably Muscle Shoals Sound Studios (where my Father was a co-owner and session bassist). The Rolling Stones came to Muscle Shoals Sound to record "Brown Sugar" and "Wild Horses" on their way to Altamont. Aretha Franklin had famously recorded "I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)" at FAME Studios where Wilson Pickett cut "Mustang Sally" and Etta James recorded "Tell Mama." The hits just kept coming. "When A Man Loves A Woman", "I'm Your Puppet", "Sweet Soul Music" and The Staple Singers' immortal "I'll Take You There." At that point the floodgates opened and artists ranging from Paul Simon and Willie Nelson to Bob Seger and Rod Stewart all made the trip to Muscle Shoals.
It was from Swampers that I picked up Bettye LaVette and her husband Kevin to drive them to FAME Studios for introductions and a little planning on the eve of the recording of this album. I hadn't expected to see them that evening and my ringer was turned off so they had sat there at the bar for a little while before I got there to pick them up. Tired from their trip down from New Jersey and no doubt having a cocktail or two surrounded by black and white photos celebrating a musical legacy that she was a part of. It was surely duly noted that there was no photograph of Bettye LaVette on the wall of Swampers and with the addition of a couple more cocktails there just might be hell to pay.
1972 was in every way a landmark year for Muscle Shoals' music history. The three or four biggest studios were churning out hit after hit earning the community a place in the record books and the tag line proclaiming it "The Hit Recording Capitol of the World". No idle boast, there were indeed more gold records per capita being made there than anyplace on earth. It was (and still is) an ultra-conservative Bible-Belt community and most of the populace was (thankfully) oblivious to all of this. It was a dry county, meaning that to buy a beer you drove to the