Friday, March 02, 2007

Etta James

Etta James (born Jamesetta Hawkins January 25, 1938 in Los Angeles, California) is an American Blues, R&B and Gospel singer. In the 1950s and 60s, she had her biggest success as a Blues and R&B singer. She is best-known for her 1961 ballad "At Last", which has been classified as a "timeless classic" and has been featured in many movies and television commercials since its release.

Few R&B singers have endured tragic travails on the monumental level of Etta James and remain to tell the tale. [1]

Etta James was born to an unmarried 16-year-old African American mother. She claimed that her mother told her that her father was Rudolph "Minnesota Fats" Wanderone, and that they received financial support from him on the condition that they keep his paternity a secret. She received her first professional vocal training at the age of five, from James Earle Hines, musical director of the Echoes of Eden choir at St. Paul Baptist Church in Los Angeles.

James's family moved to San Francisco in 1950 and James soon teamed up with two other girls to form a singing group. When the girls were fourteen, bandleader Johnny Otis had them audition: they sang an answer to Hank Ballard's "Work With Me, Annie" called "Roll With Me Henry." Otis particularly liked the song, and against her mother's wishes, James and the trio went to Los Angeles to record the song in 1954. The song was recorded under the label Modern Records. By this time, the trio renamed the song "The Wallflower (Dance with Me, Henry)". James also named her vocal group The Peaches. "The Wallflower (Dance with Me, Henry)" was released in 1955.

Friday, February 02, 2007


There are at least two versions of how Johnny Otis discovered Etta James: Otis's version is that she came to his hotel room after one of his performances in San Francisco and persuaded him to audition her. Another frequently told story is that Otis spotted her performing in an L.A. nightclub with The Peaches and, having conceived of the answer song to Hank Ballard's "Work With Me, Annie," arranged with the Bihari brothers for Modern Records to record "The Wallfower" with James. "The Wallflower" reached number two on the rhythm and blues charts in February 1955 but was undercut in the wider market by a rushed out cover version by Georgia Gibbs on Mercury Records. The song's royalties were divided between Hank Ballard, Etta James, and Johnny Otis, and its huge success attracted the attention of the R&B world, resulting in James going on tour with Little Richard. On the tour, according to James, she witnessed and experienced situations which minors are not usually privy to and acquired a drug habit

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Chess Years in the 60s

In 1960, Etta signed a recording contract with Chess Records. Little did she know that she would have the biggest success of her career from this recording label, recording her biggest and most memorable hits. This recording company went into high gear with James, releasing many duets with her then boyfriend Harvey Fuqua, who was then the lead singer of the Moonglows. One of her duets with Fuqua, called "I Can't Have You", became a hit on the R&B charts in 1960. As a solo artist however, she had more enduring success. One of her first singles released by Chess in 1960 was called "All I Could Do Was Cry". This Blues number became a big hit for James on the R&B charts in 1960. James' sassy vibe added a significant touch of personality to the song. Leonard Chess, one of the founders of Chess Records helped James along the way. He saw the potential for James to go into a more Pop-oriented direction. Therefore, James started recording more Pop tunes for the label.

The year 1961 became a year of great change for James. In 1961 came the release of one of her first Pop-oriented tunes called "At Last". The song became a big hit in 1961, reaching #2 on the R&B charts. The song even went as far as #22 on the Pop charts that year, proving that the Pop crossover direction was becoming successful for her. Although it may have turned out to be less of a hit than expected on the Pop charts, it still made the Top 30. The song became her signature song and the song most people remember her by.[3] Her career had not ended yet though. More success came, following the success of "At Last". Other songs such as "Trust In Me" became hits for her, following the success of her signature tune. The 1962 tune "Something's Got a Hold On Me", showed more of James' Gospel side, a genre she had sung since childhood.

Her 1963 album Etta James Rocks the House, which was cut at Nashville's "New Era" club also gave her career a boost. She had other big hits in the 1960s, but mainly on the R&B charts. The song "Pushover" was a hit for her in 1963. Other hits followed, like "Stop the Wedding", "Fool That I Am" and "Don't Cry Baby", which were all hits for her between 1961 and 1963. From this, James became one of the most successful R&B artists of the 1960s, having many more Top Ten and Top Twenty hit singles on the charts. She has been classified as one of the pioneers of the Blues, being acclaimed to the ranks of artists like B.B. King. Performing in Memphis, Tennessee, the city where Blues started didn't hurt James into making her into a blues icon. Between 1965 and 1967, not much other success had followed, in terms of chart success. However, this wasn't to last for very long, in 1967, she would release another single that would become a big hit again, giving her comeback into music once more.

Career in the 50s

Before too long, "The Wallflower" was a #1 hit on the R&B charts of 1955. The song was later a hit in the white market for Georgia Gibbs, who re-wrote it as "Dance with Me, Henry". Soon after the song's success, The Peaches and Etta parted company, but this did not halt her career. She continued to record and release albums throughout much of the decade, and enjoyed more success. Her follow-up, "Good Rockin' Daddy" was released and became another hit in the fifties. Other songs however, such as "Tough Lover" and "W-O-M-A-N" failed to gain any significant success at all. James toured with Johnny "Guitar" Watson and Otis Redding in the fifties and has cited Watson as the most significant influence on her style.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Chess Years in the 70s, 80s and Onward

In 1967, Etta was ready to release her next hit single. The song was called "Tell Mama" and it became a Top Ten hit on the R&B charts that year. The song showed James' comeback, after a dry period of no hits for almost four years. The song made James a household name once more. The follow-up also proved to be just as successful as "Tell Mama" was for her. The song was called "Security" and proved that James had staying power on the charts agin. After that, less success came, but James was still on the charts regularly. Despite the death of Leonard Chess, Etta James stayed with the Chess label into 1975. Towards the end of the Chess years though, James went into more Rock-based songs. Her career however did not stop once the Chess years came to an end. Etta recorded for numerous other labels and continued to release albums, like 1978's Deep In the Night by Atlantic Records.

Etta James on the cover of her At Last! album. The album was released in 1961 and it featured her signature song, "At Last".Despite a dry period during the early to mid 80s, Etta got back on track and began to record music again. Her 1988 album Seven Year Itch proved this comeback capability. The album showed more James' Soul side. Into the 1990s, she continued to record and perform. Her albums widely varied in styles and genres of music. Her 1992 album The Right Time was another Soul album that was produced by Elektra Records. The album was upbeat as well. She began to record more Jazz music as well, which became the subject for many of her 1990s albums. In 1998 she released a Christmas album called An Etta James Christmas. To a younger generation, Etta is known for the Muddy Waters song "I Just Wanna Make Love To You", used in television commercials for Coca-Cola and for John Smith's bitter. The Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry and Foghat have also recorded the song. Etta's version was a surprise Top 10 UK hit in 1995. Drug-related and romantic problems interfered with her career, but James managed to maintain a career throughout the latter half of the 20th century.[4] Later in life, James struggled with obesity. She reached more than 400 pounds, experienced mobility and knee problems, and often needed a wheelchair. In 2003, James underwent gastric bypass surgery and lost over 200 pounds.[5] James was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.[6] She was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2001. Her pioneering contribution to the genre has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. In 2003 she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as well as a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked her #62 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.[7] She is still touring in 2006. A new album was also released in 2006 called All the Way, which was released by RCA Records.

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Friday, September 22, 2006


Though Etta James needs no introduction, she has been aptly described as: "One of the great forces in American Music." "Considered by many to be one of the greatest vocalists since Billie Holiday." "Etta James embodies the heart and soul of R & elemental force of nature. Put simply, Etta is one of the most emotionally charged vocalists God ever put on this earth." Jerry Wexler, of Atlantic Records fame, describes Etta James as "the greatest of all modern blues singers...the undisputed Earth Mother."

That's not overstating the facts, hardly. She has earned it -- and then some. Half a century has passed, and through it all, the ups and downs and turnarounds, Miss. Etta James still performs and records with an oh-so-soulful vengeance! Whether she's coming off all smooth 'n' sultry, or fiery 'n' funky, or beggin' 'n' pleadin' from a smoldering inferno to a sea of flames, sending off a quiet storm vibe or full-throttle raging, nobody does it better with passion, soul and intensity, decade after decade. BORN JAMESETTA HAWKINS in Los Angeles, CA, January 25, 1938, Etta James was a gospel singing prodigy at the age of 5. The congregation of the Saint Paul Baptist Church in South Central LA delighted in "the little girl with the big voice" while she was a member of the Echoes of Eden choir and under the vocal guidance of Professor James Earle Hines.

After a move to San Francisco in 1950, she formed "The Creolettes," a female trio. Etta wrote a risque answer song to Hank Ballard's "Work With Me Annie." Against her mother's wishes, she went back to LA and recorded "Roll Me Henry," with bandleader Johnny Otis producing his new discovery's first hit. He's credited with renaming Jamesetta Hawkins to Etta James. Etta's debut hit was renamed "The Wallflower" because of it's suggestive title, and was banned until she re-released it as "Dance With Me Henry" which topped the R&B chart for four weeks in 1955; Followed by her second big hit 'Good Rockin' Daddy', which rolled up the charts to number six. Her first smash hit made her a star and it's said she never forgot how eager the public was to hear a woman be a little suggestive. Follow-up recordings of "W-O-M-A-N" and "Tough Lover" proved to be ahead of their time, and are appreciated more now than they were then.

Also known as Miss Peaches, by the time she was 16, Etta was touring the US with Johnnie Otis & his band, Bo Diddley, Little Richard, Nappy Brown, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, and others, while recording for Modern Records until 1958. Etta's golden recording years began in 1960 when she signed on with Argo, a subsidiary of the Chess Records organization. Immediately, her recording career kicked into high gear; not only did a pair of duets with her then-boyfriend (Moonglows lead singer Harvey Fuqua) chart, her own sides (beginning with the tortured ballad "All I Could Do Was Cry") chased each other up the R&B lists as well. Leonard Chess viewed James as a classy ballad singer with pop crossover potential, backing her with lush violin orchestrations for 1961's luscious "At Last" and "Trust in Me." But James's rougher side wasn't forsaken -- the gospel-charged "Something's Got a Hold On Me" in 1962, a kinetic 1963 live LP (Etta James Rocks the House) cut at Nashville's New Era Club and a blues-soaked 1966 duet with childhood pal Sugar Pie De Santo, "In The Basement," ensured that.

Although Chess hosted its own killer house band, James traveled to Rick Hall's Fame studios in Muscle Shoals in 1967 and emerged with one of her all-time classics. "Tell Mama" was a searing slice of upbeat southern soul that contrasted markedly with another standout from the same sessions, the spine-chilling ballad "I'd Rather Go Blind." Despite the death of Leonard Chess, Etta James remained at the label into 1975, experimenting toward the end with a more rock-based approach. There were some mighty lean years, both personally and professionally, for Miss Peaches. But she got back on track recording-wise in 1988 with a set for Island, Seven Year Itch, that reaffirmed her southern soul mastery.

The past decade of albums have been a varied lot -- 1990's Sticking to My Guns was contemporary in the extreme; 1992's Jerry Wexler-produced The Right Time for Elektra was slickly soulful, and her more recent outings have successfully explored jazz directions. After winning a long over-due Grammy for Best Jazz Performance for Mystery Lady, Etta James released another stunning tribute to her favorite jazz artists, the critically acclaimed Time After Time. On Love's Been Rough on Me, Etta mixes together a potent blend of rootsy R&B blues with a touch of Nashville. In 1998, she issued her first holiday album, Etta James Christmas. She also released Life, Love and the Blues, earning the 1999 W.C. Handy award for Soul Blues Album of the Year. And a list of newer releases continue.
In concert, Etta James is a sassy, no-holds-barred performer with occasional suggestive stage antics which are drawfed by her mighty talent. Today, Etta is more fulfilled by music than ever before. She maintains an active tour schedule, performing in clubs, concert halls, and festivals year round. With her high-energy Roots Band behind her, this Rock and Roll Hall of Famer continues to churn out live R & B and jazz with the same raw intensity and bold passion for which she has always been famous. She's paid her dues many times over as an R&B and soul pioneer; long may she continue to shock the uninitiated. And, long may she continue to win a legion of fans the world over, with an expressive vocal and soulful talent that has made her legendary.