Betty was a strong big voiced singer who cut a few 45s on the West Coast in the 60s. While her first disc, a sub Ike & Tina Turner duet with Ray (Ray who?), was rather disappointing, her second, no doubt cut at the same session, for Rendezvous was much better. Someday you’ll need my love has a rather fine doo wop feel and structure, and Betty swoops and soars over the catchy melody. No detached cool vocal this – rather it has considerable passion and power.
Her Phi-Dan 45 is one that the Phil Spector fans love due to it’s label – even though the producer was actually Leon Russell. And I must admit to a liking for this sort of music, especially when the vocal is as fierce as it is on Act Naturally. Check out Betty’s screams and the way she makes her voice grainier and harsher at key points in the song. Really good singing this.
But her masterpiece must be what appears to be her final single. Ain’t Gonna Do You No Good is rightly considered a deep soul classic. Betty’s voice is a much more mature instrument here, but thankfully she has lost none of her fire. Instead the phrasing is better paced and she has greater control of her range. Love the way she growls those deep notes out in the verses. Soul music seems to suit her better than R & B/doo wop and despite a big production, including some background singers Betty is certainly able to stamp her personality on the “hard done to” lyric. I guess this Mojo label was an early version of Calvin Arnold’s more famous Georgia based concern when he based in LA.
Turn your love lights on / You’re too much ~ RENDEZVOUS 189 (1960)
(as BETTY & RAY)
Someday you'll need my love / Take my heart ~ RENDEZVOUS 190 (1960)
Act naturally / Soul ~ PHI-DAN 5001 (1965)
Ain't gonna do you no good / Gone with the wind (is my love) ~ MOJO 102 (1968)
1. "Act Naturally" was included on the UK LP "Rare Masters Vol 2" part of the "Wall Of Sound" 6 LP set. This album also contained a previously unissued Betty Willis track. Sadly her version of "If I had a hammer" is as bad as all the others.
2. ""Take My Heart" is on the Ace UK CD "Birth Of Soul Vol 4" (CDKEND 275).
3. My good friend Greg Burgess writes to say that Betty featured as the lead vocalist on "Revolution" by Rachel & The Revolvers (Dot 16392) from the early 60s. Producer Brian Wilson needed a session singer and Betty was available. Greg adds "Betty's younger borther was Alonzo Willis, a former doo wop singer and songwriter of a number of Philles label cuts including one for the Alleycats on ~108 and her younger sister was Carolyn Willis of the Honeycone."
Thanks to Matt Futerman for the extra info and as always to Greg Burgess for the great detective work.