There was a time, back in the nineties, when US music legends would appear at London's 100 Club on a regular basis. Not any more. So it was a great privilege to see one of New Orleans' finest, Betty Harris,
put on a show last night that was a real delight. Betty's recording career effectively began and ended in the sixties, with some classic soul and New Orleans styled material produced by, first, Bert Berns, and then Allen Toussaint. Her one hour set featured ten numbers, including many of her best known songs, and the good sized crowd showed how much they enjoyed her efforts.
Betty was backed by three female singers, two of them clearly still in their teens. They were led by Dayna Snell, from Connecticut, who mentors and helps young people in her home town. Dressed in a long black dress, Betty kicked off with Mean Man, a Toussaint produced number from 1968 recorded for Sansu, and followed up with one of her more dramatic songs Twelve Red Roses. Betty confessed that she was singing some of these numbers live for the first time but you wouldn't know it, as this was an assured and well rehearsed set. She followed up with two more Sansu songs, I Don't Want To Hear It and Trouble With My Lover, before moving on to her classic 1963 version of Cry To Me, which was produced by Bert Berns and recorded for Jubilee. Betty let Dayna's young protege Aliyah take centre stage for the next number and the young singer did an excellent job on Can't Last Much Longer. Then it was back to Betty with the up tempo Bad Luck, featuring an excellent organ solo from the backing band Disposable Breaks (who did a great job throughout). Another classic followed with the slow and soulful Nearer To You, from 1967 and yet another with Betty's version of Lee Dorsey's Ride Your Pony, featuring some enthusiastic support from the backing trio. They left the stage at this point but returned for an encore featuring There's A Break In The Road, which Betty recorded for SSS International in 1969.
Altogether this was a highly enjoyable set which was much appreciated. Betty may be in her 78th year, but she can still hold an audience, even if her voice isn't quite what it was. I've seen Betty quite a few times over the years, including the Ponderosa Stomp (twice), the Porretta Soul Festival and, most memorably, at the Old Point Bar in Algiers, across the river in New Orleans where she did a full set. On some of these occasions she had very little time on stage but this time she was able to express herself and rolled back the years with a great selection of her original sixties material.