About two or 3 Summers ago I bought a box of unsleeved 45’s at The Spot. It had hundreds of 45’s in it. It was the infamous box that I pulled out Mickey and the Soul Generation’s “Iron Leg” out of. I kept all the good 45’s. They sit in a bin, still unsleeved, with all the ones piled up I’m eventually gonna do something with. Today I decided to go through it. I pulled this very record out. It is a scorcher. This woman, for some reason, generates a lot of traffic to Flea Market Funk. At one time it had to do with Cadillac Records, but now it has more to do with the woman herself. That woman is Etta James. We close out the week with a great side from Chess Records in 1973, “All the Way Down”.
Jamesetta Hawkins, aka Etta James was born in Los Angeles, CA in 1938. Allegedly the offspring of her pool hustler father Minnesota Fats (or so claimed by her mother), James started singing at an early age. After starting out in the church, and relocating to San Francisco, she joined a female Doo Wop group. Discovered by Johnny Otis, the group eventually renamed the Peaches put out a side called “The Wallflower” (a reworking of a Hank Ballard tune) out on Modern Records in 1955. There was some success with the side which led to tours with Little Richard, Johnny “Guitar” Watson and Otis Redding. Her 50’s releases never made a large impact like “Wallflower”, but she release a good amount of singles none the less. James would go on to sign with Chess Records and it’s subsidiaries (Argo, Cadet), releasing sides such as “If I Can’t Have You” (with husband Harvey Fuqua), “My Dearest Darling”, and a song that still gets played at weddings from 93 til infinity: “At Last”. The 60’s proved fruitful for Etta, as she released a string of hits such as “Pushover”, “Pay Back”, “Loving You More Each Day”, and others. This decade would also be a dark period as well, her heroin addiction wasn’t a secret, and stays at a Psychiatric Hospital went until the end of the decade. As the 60’s came to a close and the 70’s started, James, while still making records (not so many hits), still was a great draw on the road. Her Muscle Shoals recorded record Tell Mama garnished some attention, but as a whole James kept busy recording on Chess until 1978 (even after the death of it’s founder). Later on in her carreer, James has recorded for Island, Elektra, collaborated with Def Jef on Delicious Vinyl, reunited with Jerry Wrexler, earned a Grammy, and has been inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Her road to success (with many bumps along the way including being arrested for drugs) has shaped her carreer, adding fuel to the fire that burns when she performs. She is a legend that is still going strong today.
“All The Way Down” could be a soundtrack to a Blaxploitation film. It’s horn work in the intro is superb. But wait, there’s more. You get the horn arrangements, the strings, lots of chucky wah-wah guitar, and we’ll thrown in the funky drums and bass line (in the pocket) for FREE! Recorded is Los Angeles, and apparently for some imaginary soundtrack to a film ( I’d like to think that), the record features work on keyboards from William D Smith, percussion from King Errisson, and bass from Chuck Rainey. This is one bad ass side from one bad ass woman. If you have any doubts that Etta James wasn’t living the life, making records, living hard, and doing it to the death, then this record should change your mind. I’ll be back after the weekend with more dusty goodness. I’ve gotten a few questions about my digging: do I still do it, and when will I publish more stories. The answer is yes and yes. I’m just DJing quite a bit, making some moves, and getting things done. I still dig every chance I get. Stay tuned. Keep Diggin’!