Studio In The Country

Betty Davis, Stevie Wonder and an IRS showdown along the way... Steve Sutherland on a studio in America's Deep South that's produced more than its fair share of classic cuts

It's a bit of a mystery why it didn't come out when it should have. One story goes that the record company had no faith in its sales potential and shelved it. Another has it that the singer had a row with the record company boss over a track called 'Stars Starve, You Know', which had a right go at him.


Exterior of the building in Louisiana

Funky Force
Yet another states that the studio hung onto the master tapes in lieu of an unpaid bill. Whatever the reason, Is It Love Or Desire would have been Betty Davis' fourth LP had Chris Blackwell's Island Records released it in 1976. But it took a further 33 years for it to finally reach our ears courtesy of the archive expert label Light In The Attic.


Singer Betty Davis

Davis was a true force of nature. An Afro-American model turned singer, musician, songwriter and producer, she was a funk pioneer, as wacky as George Clinton, as gritty as James Brown and as sassy as Millie Jackson. She was bosom buddies with Jimi Hendrix and, for a while, was married to Miles Davis.

During her time with Davis she turned him on to Sly & The Family Stone, etc, introduced him to rock and soul and encouraged him to experiment outside of traditional jazz. The result was such cross-pollinated masterpieces as Bitches Brew and On The Corner.


Her LP Is It Love Or Desire, recorded in 1976 but not released until 2009

Rotten History
Frequently sampled by rappers, Ms Davis, who passed away in 2022, was the queen of inner city funk so it's quite the wonder that she and her urban backing crew, Funk House, decided to record Is It Love... at Studio In The Country, just about the last place you'd expect them to choose. The facility itself is located at 21443 Highway 436 in Bogalusa, Washington Parish, Louisiana, some 60 miles north of New Orleans. It's a region best known for its logging and sawmills and what makes Ms Davis' presence more surprising is it has a rotten racist history.


On stage with beads 'n' braids – Stevie Wonder in the late '70s. He worked on his Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants at the facility in 1979

In August 1919, black war veteran Lucius McCarthy was accused of assaulting a white woman – a mob of some 1500 people seized him, shot him multiple times and then dragged his dead body behind a car through Bogalusa's black neighbourhoods. Later that year, workers went on strike in a bid to unionise at the Great Southern Lumber Company, then the largest sawmill in the world. The owners hired a white militia group to intervene, and six union members were killed.


The live room at Studio In The Country, pictured in 2010

Things hadn't improved much by the '60s, the Ku Klux Klan violently resisting the civil rights movement's drive towards integration. In 1965, Oneal Moore, the first black deputy sheriff hired for the Washington Parish Sheriff's Office, was murdered in a crime suspiciously never solved.

Still, a mere decade on found Ms Davis and her crew at SITC, a location which doesn't come much more rural. It sits in a 26-acre pine forest and here are members of the band Kansas, telling it like it is in the 2015 documentary Kansas: Miracles Out Of Nowhere: 'So we're coming up with all these songs and they're sounding great and we're hitting it really hard. And [producer] Jeff Glixman walks in and says, "I've gotta place we can go record". So we're thinking, "LA, New York…" and he said, "Bogalusa, Louisiana".