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Soul singer Bettye LaVette and the Drive-By Truckers recorded The Scene of the Crime in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where one of the most significant things in LaVette's 47-year singing career happened. In 1972, she recorded Child of the Seventies for Atlantic Records, but instead of it being the breakthrough record she hoped it would be, the record got shelved, and she was heartbroken. Rhino eventually released the album in 2005, the same year Anti released I've Got My Own Hell to Raise, a phenomenal record that helped a lot more people discover LaVette's potent and gritty vocals. We spoke with LaVette from her home in New Jersey about working with the Drive-By Truckers.
Westword: With Scene of the Crime, after deciding the songs that you wanted to, what was the process of making those songs your own?
Bettye LaVette: Well, that's probably one of the easiest things to do because I'm my own, and I don't sound like anybody else. I couldn't very well sound like George Jones. I actually had no choice but to sound like me to make them my own. I think that maybe when you're younger you might make a deliberate effort to sound like other people, but at this point, when I sing, it is my own, whatever it is. I'm too old for it to be anybody else's.
And then as far as the arrangements go, how did you go about getting the particular vibe of the tunes?
That was where the Truckers came in. We don't do the same kind of music; I wasn't going to do the kind of music they do. They were gracious enough to listen to what I was singing, because if you listen to me sing, I can do all of my songs a cappella. And if you listen to me sing, you'll see exactly which way I want you to go musically. Of course, they didn't just listen to me and pull it all together, but they got their direction from the way that I was singing the song. It was completely different than what they normally play, so they really made a lot of adjustments for me. But as I said, I'm old, and I wasn't willing to make any adjustments. So I was just grateful that they were willing to adjust for me, and they did.