Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!

Copyright ©2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

Z: The British Rock Songbook." Think Led Zeppelin with a whole lot of soul. Bettye LaVette, welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!

BETTYE LAVETTE: Thank you, I'm so happy to be with you.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

: So let's establish something, you've been singing for a long time. Am I right about this? You started...

LAVETTE: Forty-eight years.

: Forty-eight years?

LAVETTE: Yup.

: So you started when you were very young, back in the '60s, right?

LAVETTE: Yes, I was 16.

: You were 16 when you released your first record?

LAVETTE: Uh-huh, 1962.

: Now, you've always been sort of drawn to soul and the blues. Were you born to sing the blues, Bettye LaVette?

LAVETTE: Well, I'm not a blues singer; I'm a rhythm and blues singer. And there is a distinction. But I pretty much sing just the way I talk. It really wasn't a great leap. They just added some music to what I was already saying.

MO ROCCA: Can I ask do blues singers have no rhythm?

: Because they're not singing rhythm and blues.

LAVETTE: You know, that is quite often so. I really believe that I am a better dancer than B.B. King.

: There you are.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: Have you ever danced with him? Do you know?

LAVETTE: No, I have not had that pleasure.

: Hey, let's talk a little bit about your singing, which is extraordinary. You're known, among many other things, for - well, for your soulful moaning. Actually, we have a sample. This is Bettye LaVette on her recent record.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

: Now that is some pretty good moaning. I mean, is that something you had to learn or does that come natural to you?

LAVETTE: I think the entire thing comes natural to me. I don't know that I'm - really, but I have not considered just the moaning part.

: Really? You mean you never thought of that specifically.

LAVETTE: No, I never thought about that.

: I need to do my scales before I sing, and I need to moan a bit to warm up the moaning.

LAVETTE: There you go. But moaning really is very good vocal exercising. And I do have to kind of get some kind of buoyancy to my voice before I go on. And just (humming) is very good for warming up the vocal chords.

CHARLIE PIERCE: It sounds like you ate something really delicious.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PIERCE: Like if you eat like - I don't know if you eat pudding, but if you have pudding and it's really good where you just start moaning.

: See, I moan and it sounds like I'm about to vomit. That's why I'm not a soul singer.

ROXANNE ROBERTS: Do you think it's...

: Plus, I'm always like...

ROBERTS: No, wait, wait, wait, do you think it's really moaning? I think it's kind of just kind of like a mm. I mean I won't call that a moan per se.

PIERCE: It's like a mm.

: What do you call it?

LAVETTE: This is the first time I've actually ever discussed the moaning.

: I understand. Well that's...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: Now, I want to talk to you about your new record because one of the reasons that you're here with us is because our very own Carl Kasell helped host the Kennedy Center Honors. He was the announcer there backstage.

LAVETTE: Mm-hmm.

: And he heard you. This was just recently. They were honoring The Who, Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey were there.

LAVETTE: Mm-hmm.

: And you came out and you did a version of their song, "Love Reign Over Me," which apparently melted the Kennedy Center to the ground.

ROCCA: Crazy great.

PIERCE: Yes, crazy...

ROCCA: It was amazing.

: But your new - I guess inspired by this, your new CD is all British invasion covers.

LAVETTE: Yes, my husband, Kevin Kiley, after the great success of "Reign Over Me," he said why don't you do a whole album like that. And I said, well if you'll listen to them all and find some for me, I'll consider it. And he found about 500 songs and I chose 12 of them.

: So yeah, I mean some of the songs are "All My Love," a Led Zeppelin song, Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed," "Wish you were Here" by Pink Floyd. Had you not heard these songs before?

LAVETTE: I had heard seven of them.

: Of the 500 British invasion songs, you had only heard seven of them?

LAVETTE: You know, when these songs were released, there was black radio and there was white radio and rarely did the twain meet.

: Right.

LAVETTE: You know, so all of these British artists, the inspiration for these songs were from black music, but nobody on white radio played them.

: So now that you've heard them, what do you think of this Led Zeppelin? Do you think they're going to amount to anything?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LAVETTE: I'm just glad that I have my name in their conversation now...

: There you go. It's very exciting.

LAVETTE: ...after all this time.

: One of the things that's funny though is Robert Plant, the former lead singer of Led Zeppelin, now wants you to open for him, right?

LAVETTE: Yes. We'll be going out in July.

: That's fantastic.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

: Now you did this remarkable record of covers of British invasion songs. Do you know what's next? Are you going to do like, I don't know, Miley Cyrus songs? I mean, as you say...

LAVETTE: I have no idea, honey. This little mess just started working for me. There's nothing even jumping forward.

: I understand. Okay. Things are happening. Enjoy it while it happens. One last question, we ask this, Bettye, of all the musicians on our show, so we'll ask you. What would you say is the sexiest musical instrument?

LAVETTE: Probably the saxophone because they ran Adolphe Sax out of town because women were flocking to see him purse his lips to embrace the saxophone.

: What is this now? You're talking about Adolphe Sax himself?

LAVETTE: Adolphe Sax, who invented the saxophone, yes.

: You're telling me that Adolphe Sax was run out of town because he was seen to be...

LAVETTE: From, you know, when he was up here for his concerts, they didn't want young women to go - they were falling in love with him everywhere.

: It was too lurid and...

LAVETTE: Yeah. And then, gosh, I used to be madly in love with Grover Washington when we worked in the same band. And I just think he was one of the sexiest saxophone players I ever knew.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: Wow. That's very convincing.

ROBERTS: You know what, Bettye, I got to say, you had a lot of fun, didn't you?

: You certainly do.

LAVETTE: Absolutely. The only thing that show business owes me at this point is money.

: Right.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

LAVETTE: That's the only thing it owes me.

: Other than that, you got paid.

LAVETTE: Yes, absolutely. I've done things that people have dreamed of with people that they dreamed about.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: Wait a minute. I'm sorry, hold on.

ROCCA: I love that.

: Hold on. Stop, stop, stop. You said I've done things that people have dreamed of with people that they have dreamed about.

LAVETTE: Mm-hmm.

ROCCA: That calls for a moan.

: It really does.

LAVETTE: Mmm-hmm.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

: Well, we are delighted to have you, Bettye. We've asked you here this time to play a game we're calling?

KASELL: Gosh, I don't remember any of the Disney princesses doing that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: You may have heard that Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York was caught recently asking for a massive bribe to introduce an undercover journalist to her former husband Prince Andrew. It turns out that is not the only colorful thing that Sarah Ferguson has done in her long public career. Since you are a Queen of Rhythm and Blues, we figured we'd ask you about the Duchess of Ruckus.

LAVETTE: Okey dokey.

: Get two right, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl's voice on their home answering machine. Carl, who is Bettye LaVette playing for?

KASELL: Bettye is playing for Rachel Kastelic of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

: Ready to go?

LAVETTE: Yes, sir.

: Here we go, here's your first question. Sarah was known for her non- princessy ways. On one of her first visits with the queen, her future mother- in-law, she committed a faux pas when she did what? A, she referred to the British monarch as Liz. B, she accidentally kicked one of the queen's corgi dogs. Or C, she reached over during dinner and stole one of Prince Philip's potatoes with her fork?

LAVETTE: I think it was the fork thing.

: You think it was the fork thing?

LAVETTE: I think she wanted to call her Liz, but I think it was the fork thing.

: You think it was the fork thing. Given her future career, that's a reasonable guess. But I'm afraid in this case what happened was she accidentally kicked one of the corgis.

LAVETTE: Oh, okay.

: She says, quote, "You would have thought the little yapper was bound for the royal kennel in the sky."

LAVETTE: Oh, I'm loving it.

: That's okay. You still got two more chances here. You get these ones right, you'll still win. Now, for a long time, Sarah was very close with Princess Diana, who was another outsider who had married into the royal household.

Together, their silly pranks irritated the press and other royals, most notably when they were photographed on one occasion doing what? A, poking people's behinds with their umbrellas at Ascot, the races; B, putting shaving cream onto the hand of a sleeping Prince Edward and then tickling his nose; Or C, making bunny ears behind visiting dignitaries at an official state function?

LAVETTE: Oh, my God. I just hate to see either one of them doing any of those things.

: Yeah.

LAVETTE: Bunny ears.

: Bunny ears, like walked up behind and make the bunny ears.

(SOUNDBITE OF HUMMING)

: Our panelists are moaning in disapproval of that choice.

LAVETTE: Well then why didn't they give me some kind of clue.

ROBERTS: Well, mm.

LAVETTE: You sound like the Pips.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: They're doing this choreographed dance as they do it. It's very exciting to watch.

LAVETTE: Okay, you know what, I can't imagine these women poking people with the thing but I'll go with that because it's so absolutely absurd.

: It's true though. You got it.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

: Well done. Yeah, the Ascot, as you may know, is one of the most fancy events of the aristocratic social season. And they were there poking people's bottoms with their umbrella. It caused quite the scandal.

PIERCE: Hitting them right in the ascot.

: Exactly. The last question, if you get this, you win it all. Fergie and Di did in fact have a falling out before Di's death. What did Sarah do to so enrage Princess Diana? A, Fergie said that she got a bad case of warts from borrowing Diana's shoes. B, Fergie had shown up at Wimbledon wearing exactly the same hat, which Diana had first. Or C, Fergie said, quote, "Thank God Diana's sons got her looks but their grandmother's brains."

LAVETTE: Oh, that's just terrible.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LAVETTE: Okay, I'll just go with the shoes. But that's just like the other thing. That's just so awful.

: You're going to go with the warty shoes. You're right, that's what happened.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

: She says Fergie published an autobiography in which she told the story of how she got these warts from Diana's shoes. Diana was so upset that she cut her off entirely socially.

LAVETTE: It seems like with these broads, you just have to go for what the worst thing is.

: I know. Just go right to that. Carl, how did Bettye LaVette do on our show?

KASELL: Well, Bettye had two correct answers, Peter, and that's enough to win for Rachel Kastelic.

: Well done. Congratulations, Bettye.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

LAVETTE: I feel brilliant.

: You are brilliant, and you're beautiful and you're great and we loved having you. Congratulations. The new record, it's fantastic. It'll be fun to see you out there with Robert Plant. That'll be great. You show...

LAVETTE: Oh, thank you.

: You show him how it's done now.

LAVETTE: Thank you.

: Bettye LaVette is a soul, blues, rock and funk legend. Her new album is called, "Interpretations: The British Songbook." It is out now. Go get it. Bettye LaVette, thank you so much for joining us.

LAVETTE: Thank you, baby, for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

: Bye-bye.

LAVETTE: Bye-bye.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!
Support comes from: