the simply delicious betty everett
Betty Everett’s final public appearance was captured on the Doo Wop 51 DVD when she sang ‘Let It Be Me’ with Jerry Butler. That night she looked a little frail but most of her fans never saw her perform at all, Betty had reservations about TV and concert appearances. In an interview with Chicago record producer Calvin Carter and Jerry Butler in October 1972, they exchanged opinions about Everett’s frailties. “There’s one thing about her…” explained Calvin “… she’s a great singer but she isn’t an entertainer in her heart. She doesn’t want to be an entertainer, it’s just a way of living. She doesn’t push anybody and if somebody pushes for her she’ll maybe disappoint ‘em. Like if she had a television show lined up, she wouldn’t show up.” “But I get caught up in that too,” said Jerry. “Not for the same reasons,” says Calvin. “With Betty it’s just one of those unreal things that kinda happen.” Jerry explains “There are some people who are just gifted and through that gift they make it. But she’s kinda shy, she doesn’t like crowds. Now I love to sing, but as from the standpoint of being the super-performer that was never where my head was at. I sang because I thoroughly enjoyed singing and because of that I never did any dancing or jumping around - and as opposed to becoming a negative thing, the public turned it into a kind of plus. The whole Iceman trip”. Carter put Jerry and Betty together in duet at Vee-Jay in July 1964 when he produced their hit album Delicious Together but by then Betty had been making records for 7 years.
Betty Everett was born in Greenwood, Mississippi on 23 November 1939. Her earliest incursion into music came at Travers Rest Baptist Church where she began singing and playing piano at the age of nine. Betty continued in gospel until 1957 when she moved with her family to Chicago. She began singing at the Hideaway Club where she came to the attention of a talent scout for a small label called Cobra. Cobra was owned by Elias Toscano and had issued 20 or so R&B and Blues singles by Otis Rush, Harold Burrage, Sunnyland Slim and Magic Sam etc with limited success. She cut a handful of sides with the likes of Willie Dixon and Ike Turner but the three singles Cobra released made no commercial impact and Everett moved over to CJ Records, one of three small labels owned by Carl Jones. Her first CJ side ‘Please Come Back’ was cut with the Daylighters, who were also on the label but like the two quality ballads that followed ‘Happy I Long To Be’ and ‘Days Gone Down’ it couldn’t arouse any public interest. By now Betty was becoming a little disillusioned and wanted to record some gospel sides but the label declined. Everett didn’t have a contract with them and when she met Leo Austell, he became her manager and cut four tracks on her for his new label Renee. Produced by Monk Higgins ‘Your Love Is Important To Me/ I’ll Be There’ were the most soulful sides Betty had cut so far. In the UK, Sue Records later issued this single with ‘I’ve Got My Claim On You’ as the flipside. When George Leaner launched his One-derful label in 1962 he reissued all four tracks and they became hits in Chicago. Inspired by local success Austell shopped Betty around to the larger labels in town and Calvin Carter signed her to Vee-Jay.
The first Vee-Jay single ‘Prince Of Players’ missed the mark but Carter had picked up a song from the Brill Building in New York written by Clint Ballard Jr. called ‘You’re No Good’ which he had intended for Dee Clark. Dee Dee Warwick had already cut this song on Jubilee but found no chart success. Between them Calvin & Betty produced a masterpiece and ‘You’re No Good’ became her first national hit, scoring #5 on Cash Box singles, #51 on Billboards R&B chart plus good Hot 100 sales too. They really hit the mark with her follow up too ‘It’s In His Kiss (The Shoop Shoop Song)’ became Everett’s only million-seller when in February 1964 it went to #8 R&B, #1 Cash Box and #6 on the Hot 100. This came as an utter surprise to Betty, who thought that Rudy Clark’s lyrics were rather ridiculous. In an attempt to cash in on Betty’s VJ success Dottie Records reissued two of her best Cobra sides ‘I’ll Weep No More/ Tell Me Darling’ with the same results as before. Betty, Calvin and VJ were really on a roll and next time out they cut ‘I Can’t Hear You No More’ written by Goffin & King again with great results but inexplicably this record only made low chart positions. These three singles would later be widely covered making hits for other singers ‘You’re No Good’ (The Swinging Blue Jeans, Linda Ronstadt), ‘It’s In His Kiss’ (Cher and Ramona King) ‘I Can’t Hear You’ (Lulu, Dusty Springfield) among them. Another good single that passed almost unnoticed was ‘It Hurts To Be In Love’, which fell on deaf ears. Carter who wrote and produced for both Betty and Jerry Butler recalled “Jerry had been spending a lot of time in the Bahamas - and he came back and said to me - Calvin, there’s a number that all the brass bands in all the joints in the Bahamas are playing. We could have a smash on it! So I asked him what it was, and he said ‘Let It Be Me’. So we went out and cut it with Jerry & Betty, and here’s something, Jerry sacrificed a lot on that album Delicious Together for Betty. You see Jerry and Betty’s keys weren’t compatible – he had to bend over backwards and it was his idea that we made the album. What was really funny about it was that Jerry had been around for maybe six or seven years…” “And never got any award. Nothing!” said Jerry “It almost ruined my career too, ‘cos everywhere I went to play they all said ‘Hey, where’s Betty?’ But she was a great singer, she could make a lyric jump up and down. The way she reads a lyric she’s the closest thing to Dinah Washington I ever heard. A natural. She’d take hold of any kind of jive lyric and make it live… and if she got hold of a good lyric! She was really neat – she’d chew gum and sing which is really a trick in itself. She was great…still is, but she began having problems management-wise.”
Delicious Together was recorded in July 1964 and went on to become a huge international success for the team spawning 3 singles, one of which (as predicted by Jerry) ‘Let It Be Me’ became a big hit (#5 R&B, #5 H100) originally recorded by the Everly Brothers four years earlier and down the years has become a standard with recordings numbering in the hundreds. Meanwhile back on her solo career Carter found another superb song for Everett ‘Getting Mighty Crowded’ that despite being another great recording found only middling success on the US charts but went into the Top 30 in the UK when Fontana released it in January ’65 with ‘It’s In His Kiss’ on the flipside. Later in 1980 Elvis Costello cut a cover of this one. Jerry & Betty went back into the studios in October ’64 with Carter and the Impressions arranger Johnny Pate, who had done the charts for Delicious Together and cut their next single the classic Charlie Chaplin song ‘Smile’ that went to #42 R&B in December ’64. After just two years at Vee-Jay Betty won a BMP Pop Award and a BMI R&B Award but ‘Smile’ was the last of her singles to chart for the following 5 years. In the first months of 1965 Betty made a successful tour of the UK and also made a brief appearance on the ‘Ready Steady Go’ TV show. Back at home ‘The Real Thing’ an Ashford/ Simpson/ Armstead song that was later recorded by the Chiffons and others sold pretty well and things might have been very different had VJ had not got tangled up with lawsuits with Capitol (over the Beatles) and the Four Seasons that eventually put them out of business in 1966. Betty managed two more good singles with Carter ‘Too Hot To Hold’ and ‘The Shoe Won’t Fit’ both strong Ashford/ Simpson/ Armstead songs with fine commercial credentials that should have earned her more chart points before she jumped ship and joined Pate and the Impressions at ABC in mid 1966.
Though the Impressions were flying high at ABC in the mid ‘60s, Johnny Pate and Al Smith could not produce any hits for Betty at that time. After her first single ‘In Your Arms’ flopped Everett cut a reworking of Mary Wells ‘Bye Bye Baby’ which was met with similar indifference. Why Pate didn’t connect her to his partner Curtis Mayfield, whose songs were providing hits for many others at that time remains a mystery but when ‘Love Comes Tumbling Down/ People Around Me’ and ‘I Cant Say/ My Baby Is Loving My Best Friend’ both failed Everett took a sabbatical. After a break from recording of nearly 3 years Betty was back with a bang when her debut single for Uni ‘There’ll Come A Time’ went to #2 R&B and #26 on the Hot 100. Once again she seemed to have found the magic formula with producer Archie Lee Hill and arranger Tom Tom Washington. This track became the title of her new album, which also sold well taking her to #44 on R&B Albums in May 1969. Of her other five Uni singles ‘I Can’t Say No To You’, ‘It’s Been A Long Time’ and ‘Unlucky Girl’ all sold well enough to chart R&B and Uni issued a second album Starring Betty Everett. In 1971 she moved over to the Fantasy label and her first single there put her back on the charts with the upbeat Dee Erving song ‘I Got To Tell Somebody’ that hit R&B at #22 in December ’70. Both Fantasy albums Love Rhymes and Happy Endings were cut in Berkley, California with a number of different producers including Johnny Watson, David Axel, Willie Mitchell and ex Mar-Key Charles Chalmers. Also Calvin Carter was back on the scene getting things rolling with his production of ‘I Got To Tell Somebody’ with arrangements by Donny Hathaway. Due to his success with their first single Fantasy engaged Carter to produce a couple of sessions in 1974, again with Hathaway arranging, these created ‘Ain’t Nothing Gonna Change Me’ (which hit R&B at #32 in April ’71), ‘I’m A Woman/ Prove It’ and ‘Black Girl’ (used in the Blaxploitation movie of the same name) both of which didn’t chart. Two more singles ‘Danger’ and ‘Sweet Dan’ did take low and middling positions though. The Happy Endings album was produced by Gene and Billy Page in December 1974 with an all star studio band including Ray Parker Jr, Johnny ‘Wah Wah’ Watson, Joe Sample and with Jerry Butler on background vocals. Of the 10 tracks, Gene & Billy wrote five and two of the other highlights fell to Stevie Wonder and Brian Wilson. This fine album takes its time to impress but the subtle production and beautiful vocalizing make Betty’s final album a classic. Billy Page’s superb ‘Happy Endings’ was a few years too early but no less prophetic.
After another three year gap Everett cut a couple of Chicago singles for Sound Stage Seven in 1977. She linked up with producer Archie Russell and arranger Tom Washington to create ‘Secrets/ Prophecy’ and ‘Hey Lucinda/ My Love To Lean On’ but they took her nowhere. The following year she cut ‘True Love (You Took My Heart)/ You Can Do It’ with old pals Carter and Pate at United Artists that did better going to #78 R&B in September 1978 and remains her last chart entry. Betty tried again on a couple of small Chicago record labels before finally throwing in the towel in 1980.
Simply one of the finest female soul voices of all time and equally good on uptempo tracks or ballads Betty Everett was unique, her albums You’re No Good, It’s In His Kiss, and Best of… compilations all sold well, though you’ll only find There’ll Come A Time listed in the Top R&B albums Book (listings began in 1965 and her VJ albums were issued before that). When Betty had become successful at VJ many of her early recordings were repackaged starting with releases like Betty Everett & Ketty Lester (Grand Prix) Betty Everett and the Impressions (Custom) and The Impressions with Jerry Butler and Betty Everett (Design). Most of Everett’s music has been transferred to CD, there were a few compilations named after her million selling ‘Shoop Shoop Song’ and the VJ tracks are probably most extensively covered by UK Charly. Varese and Uni issued There’ll Come A Time with a couple of added singles and Fantasy issued a compilation of 17 tracks while UK Southbound put the two Fantasy albums on one CD. There are Best Of… and Very Best of… compilations and Collectables have issued It’s In His Kiss a 25 VJ tracker and Moon River/ Delicious Together on one disc. But most of the early stuff hasn’t yet made it and one good CD could round up all her Cobra, CJ and Onder-ful work (with perhaps a few unissued sides for good measure). However Betty’s unissued tracks that are unlikely to see the light of day include – Cobra - ‘I Want You’, Vee-Jay - ‘Yes I Will’ with Jerry, ‘I Can’t Say’, ‘Where Are You’, ABC - ‘Crying In The Chapel’, ‘Made Up My Mind’ and ‘Where Did He Go’.
Betty Everett had quite a few ups and downs along the way and found more success than many of her contemporaries but considering her great talents she deserved much more international recognition. After 23 years in the music business she retired to Beloit, Wisconsin and her first love gospel music. She sang and played at the Church of the New Covenant and the Fountain of Life and also worked for the R&B Foundation. 10 years after her retirement in 1990 and much to her surprise she was given a BMP Pop award. Betty died at her home on 19 August ‘01 aged just 61. (peter burns)
Betty Everett Discography compiled by Peter Burns