[lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Etta James[/lastfm] has been with me all of my life. As a young child I heard her feverishly belting out “The Wallflower” on my tiny transistor radio. She was only a teenager at the time. The song was originally called “Rock With Me Henry”, and Etta certainly did. She rocked, rolled and sang her painful version of the blues like no other. We lost Etta today at the surprisingly young age of just 73.
Jamesetta Hawkins was born in Los Angeles in 1938. Seemed like she had been around much longer. With her wide variety of styles, Etta was one of those rare talents that touched almost everyone. Current superstar Adele called Etta “my favorite singer ever.” Etta could sing anything from Gershwin to Guns & Roses. After first hitting the charts in the Chuck Berry and Little Richard era,her career took a dive. Upon singing with Chicago’s Chess Records in 1960, she cut her most remembered songs. “Something’s Got A Hold Of Me” tore up the blues charts, while “Tell Mama” and “I’d Rather Go Blind” became her most requested songs all thru the 60s.
Drug addiction and bad health plagued Etta’s career, all thru the 70’s, but she never gave up. In 1976, I saw Etta in a very small club in San Francisco. She rocked the house. It didn’t matter if you saw Etta in a tiny bar, or on a big stage with an orchestra, it was always a great show.In the early 1990’s, a little known Etta release from 20 years earlier was featured in a television commercial. The song was “At Last.” The huge success of the commercial, plus the beautiful lyrics and dynamic orchestration illustrating Etta’s powerful voice brought her back bigger than ever.
Many new releases and a torrid schedule of concerts from the 1990’s up until just recently, kept Etta at the top. Etta’s final CD release was just a few months back, it is called “The Dreamer.” I saw Etta at her final Hollywood Bowl appearance a couple of years ago. I met her after the show and she could not take hers eyes off the Stax Records shirt I was wearing that night. Her comment was “Where’s Mine?” I felt so guilty that this huge star I had listened to for 50 years wanted my shirt so bad, I almost took it off and gave it to her. I’m glad I didn’t, as I am wearing it today, in tribute to Etta.