Back To The Roots
I had the pleasure
to see Etta James, a Blues Hall of Fame inductee, perform at a music industry
event in San Francisco in a very intimate venue with about 100 more people.
I was sitting with a few friends at one of the front tables just a few feet
away from the stage. The show was about to start . . .
A native Angeleno,
Jamesetta Hawkins (Johnny Ottis baptized her Etta James by anagramatizing her
first name) got her singing start as a gospel singer in her local church. In
1950 she moved to San Francisco, formed a trio with two other girls and auditioned
for Otis' band who gave her trio their name (and Etta's nickname): The Peaches.
It was now 1955 and "The Wallflower" was at the top of the charts.
The Peaches disbanded shortly thereafter but Etta kept going signing with Chess
Records in 1960. It was in 1961 that Etta's trademark song, "At Last"
was recorded and released. Etta stayed with Chess till the mid seventies. Dealing
with personal issues she put aside her recording career to which she returned
in 1988 with "Seven Year Itch." During the nineties Etta experimented
a bit and took her albums to different directions from Jazz to almost-contemporary
R&B to bluesy roots-oriented R&B.
Her new album, self-produced Let's Roll, is much more rock-oriented than any
of her previous work. "Over the years, I've done all kinds of things but
I've always considered myself a rock 'n roll singer," Etta says. "This
album feels like getting back to who I am and that's a great feeling."
From the hard driving opener "Somebody To Love" to the Kevin Bowe-penned
"The Blues Is My Business" Etta rocks and rolls no doubt. But the
highest point of the album comes with "Stacked Deck" which Etta sings
with her son Donto, who also plays drums on the album [her other son, Sametto,
plays the bass]. This is a 50-year-old New Orleans tune writen by Billy Wright,
a chart-topping blues master of the 40s and 50s. Etta and her son simply give
an outstanding performance in this one true Blues storytelling [cant
wait to see this one live]. And for those of Etta's fans that expect that soulful
ballad in the style of "At Last" or "Sugar On The Floor,"
Etta does not let you down. "A Change Is Gonna Do Me Good," is where
Etta sings about love, heartbreak, finding yourself, and starting a new life
- it almost seems autobiographical.
. . . and there she was, in all her majesty, delivering the goods for more than
an hour and a half. I was just sitting there, mesmerized, watching a true legend!
And you know what ladies and gentlemen . . . Etta winked at me! The Matriarch
of the Blues winked at me!