BREAK IN THE ROAD by Betty Harris.
Well what a song this is. Where to begin? Start with the drums: this song has some of the insanest Animal drums I've heard. They're so free, but completely tight and funky. I always thought it was Ziggy Modeliste, because it's well known that the backing band on this record became The Meters (well known, I say, because among funk fans this tune is basically the President). I just read, though, that it's actually James Black (another famous New Orleans drummer) on the kit. Anyway, that's just the drums.
The production, it's some of the raunchiest production you'll ever hear. There's so much random feedback all over, like the band is trying to bust out your speakers.
And then there's the vocal by Betty Harris. She just kills it. It's so tough, so nasty. For a song that clocks in at under three minutes, there are a career's worth of highlights. She's just so on top of the beat. My favorite vocal bit is at 2:20 where she just casually lets the backup singers finish the chorus up, then goes right back into it.
I originally got this on a Betty Harris comp called the "The Lost Soul Queen." Lost, because this was the last track she recorded before disappearing from the music scene thirty years ago. But just a couple years ago, she turned up in Connecticut, and it's kind of a cool story. I'll put an excerpt in the extended entry:
And a Break in the Road is exactly where Betty Harris found herself. Each Toussaint session involved weeks of waiting in a New Orleans hotel room until Toussaint decided he was ready to cut her vocals. None of her labels paid royalties. A plan to tour Europe with Otis Redding and come under his manager's umbrella was scrapped when Redding was killed in a plane crash in 1967.
"Otis had passed. Bert had passed. Babe had passed. I looked at this business and said maybe this isn't what God wanted me to do," Harris says. "I came out of high school with such high hopes, and as much as I loved singing, I just did not find things in the world the way I thought it was. I had to find me."
Harris concerned herself with raising her two children. She went by her married name and dropped completely out of music. Living in Florida, she kept her vocal chords in shape in church and at community functions. She moved to Hartford eight years ago, seeking better educational opportunities for her daughter Christina. She started giving vocal lessons at the Artists Collective.
Right around that time, Nashville entertainment attorney Fred Wilhelms negotiated a settlement with one of Harris' old labels. The artists would finally see some of the royalties they were owed. But when he tried to find Harris, he came up empty.
Four years ago, Christina moved away to college and Harris got her a computer. One day, Christina called: "Mom, you're famous."
Hopefully I haven't overegged it by pushing this tune so hard, but I really think you'll love it if you don't already.
Photo: Crack in the Sidewalk, 2006.