Friday, January 20, 2012

Etta James - At Last

Just a day after we heard of the death of the man who discovered her - Johnny Otis - the Vinyl Word raises a glass to Etta James, who has died aged 73. It was not unexpected. In fact, rumours of her passing have been around for months. But now it's been confirmed, and the world is a sadder place.

Etta 's career straddles rhythm and blues, soul and rock, but she is remembered most fondly for R and B classics for Modern and, later, Chess like Roll With Me Henry (with Harvey Fuqua, and produced by Johnny Otis) and Good Rockin' Daddy, and soul songs recorded in Muscle Shoals in the 1960s, including Tell Mama, I'd Rather Go Blind and Security. She had a UK hit in the 90s with I Just Want To Make Love To You which was used in a Coke ad. Her early track, At Last, was sung by Beyonce in the movie Cadillac Records and Etta was critical of Beyonce's attempt at the song at President Obama's inauguration. But by then Etta was reaching the end of her career.

I had the pleasure of seeing her perform several times over the years - the last time being at the House of Blues in New Orleans in 2008. I thought then that her material was a little disappointing and that she was below her best, but perhaps this was the start of the dementia and leukaemia that eventually led to her death. Etta had a tough life. She never knew her father and her mother was only 14 when she was born, she suffered from drug addiction and weight issues and often struggled during her career. But she was without doubt one of the greatest artists of the late 20th century. Etta - we will miss you.


At 9:26 am , Blogger Nick said...

I saw Etta at least six times during the late eighties and early nineties - at the Town and Country Club (three times - 1989, 1990 and 1992), North Sea Jazz Festival (1990)and Jazzfest (twice - 1992 and 1998). She was one artist that you really had to see whenever you could and was always a wonderful performer. The last time I saw her - at the HOB in New Orleans, she had slimmed down, but I wrote on the blog at the time: 'The place was packed, with some of the best areas cordoned off for Dan Ackroyd and his cronies. A new, slim-line Etta proved she was still in fine form, but her choice of material was dissappointing - she did a Kiki Dee cover for God's sake! - and there was a lot of inaudible patter between songs. Despite support from Dr John on one number there was a feeling that she was going through the motions to some extent.'

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