A Good Kind Of Trouble
"Trouble With My Lover" (Allen Toussaint)
Betty Harris, Sansu, 1968
By the time she hooked up with Allen Toussaint to record for his new Sansu label in the mid- 1960’s, Betty Harris had made a handful of sides for Jubilee, scoring a substantial hit with her heartfelt cover of “Cry To Me” in 1963. Along with Irma Thomas, she is one of the few women Toussaint wrote for and worked with during the decade. The classic sides he made with Thomas earlier were, at best, only local or regional hits; and I think Toussaint envisioned more for Harris, writing songs in various styles, some with pop leanings, tailored for a national market that did not ultimately materialize either, except for the lovely ballad, “Nearer To You” that charted well in 1967. As with other of her mostly outstanding Sansu sides, “Trouble With My Lover” really has no New Orleans musical identity; and there’s no harm in that. It reminds me somewhat of a Staple Singers groove and sound from that era; maybe it’s that simple, but effective tremelo guitar. In any case, her wailing testimony on this tune makes it easy to understand why collectors and connoisseurs consider her voice to be so compelling. Makes you wonder how she could have been passed over; but remember that many r&b/soul artists then were fighting a losing battle for airplay with British bands that, ironically, had been heavily influenced by African-American musical styles.
I first heard most of Betty Harris’ Sansu output on a Charly LP compilation called In The Saddle, as I recall (most of my vinyl is still in storage). Up until that point in the late 1980’s, I had only seen references to these records. So, needless to say, hearing her do “Trouble With My Lover”, among others, was quite a revelation. In 1998, the once prodigious West Side in the UK released Soul Perfection Plus, containing her Jubilee, Sansu, and SSS International tracks. If you can find it, buy it. That label seems to have been sadly lost in some corporate shuffle over there. You can find a few of her Sansu sides on the Sundazed Get Low Down collection; and “Trouble With My Lover” appears on The Further Adventures of Funk Soul Sisters CD. Hear a couple of her other sides on the Soul Club Jukebox, too.
For background, I’ve got some links following that you should check out to learn more about this talented lady who may be coming back around to performing. Though not a native of NOLA, Betty Harris, through her work with Allen Toussaint, is certainly a remarkable part of the city’s rich musical heritage. She well deserves our attention here at the Home of the Groove.
More About Betty Harris
Sansu overview at Funky 16 Corners (another good job, Mr. Grogan)
Mystic Knights of the Mau Mau Ponderosa Stomp 2005