At the age of nineteen, Betty Jean Champion moved from rural Louisiana to California, to pursue her dream of making it as a singer and songwriter. On her twentieth birthday she signed with Money Records, and her breakthrough came with Make Me Yours in 1967.
After the Money deal expired Bettye went to Capitol Records, who teamed her with Wayne Shuler. ‘They gave Bettye to me because I was the only person who really knew R and B. I had always wanted to cut an R and B version of Hank Cochran’s Don’t Touch Me, and Bettye was tailor-made for it.’
Wayne always recorded Bettye with a black audience in mind, and despite the high proportion of country songs these are definitely soul records, though like nothing else from the time. Bettye never sings with the desolation of O.V. Wright, the hurt of Percy Sledge, or the sheer pain of the final Linda Jones records. There’s a southern feel to these Swann-Shuler recordings, but they also have a light, almost poppy quality to them. Sometimes they sound like the missing link between Muscle Shoals and Motown.
Wayne’s selection of songs for Bettye’s Capitol sessions never puts a foot wrong. Whether a fifties’ pop standard like Little Things Mean A Lot or a recent soul smash like Tell It Like It Is — Wayne consistently produced records with Bettye that have so much personality and life you completely forget that you’re listening to someone else’s songs. Perhaps the most obvious example is Stand By Your Man, which sheds any trace of submissiveness, coming across instead as a plea for tolerance and patience with the man you love, and a declaration that his faults and weaknesses don’t mean that you have to be weak too. No other performance of this song manages to make it a song about self-empowerment in the way that Bettye’s does.
Wayne Shuler was a good old white boy, and Bettye a black girl, both of them from Louisiana, but the records they made together are neither black nor white; they’re just soul records, great soul records.