In light of another Etta James death hoax, I figured I’d pull out a side that I was sitting on for a while. The other day I got a message from Larry over at Funky 16 Corners asking if the Etta James death was true or not. I did some research, and fortunately for us, she was still alive. In fact, some internet scam group had set up a page to look like TMZ, ran the headline of James death, but had some malicious intent. I believe it was some kind of phishing scam, but whatever the case, we haven’t lost Etta yet. Here’s Etta James from 1974 on Chess Records with “Out On the Street, Again”.
From her early years in her local Baptist church in Los Angeles to Johnny Otis to the Chess years to heroin to modern times where she was snubbed at Obama’s inauguration to sing her rendition of the song “At Last” in favor of Beyonce, (where she claimed she’d whip her ass), Etta James has led a sordid and successful music career.
In fact, the last Etta James post I did, a duet with Sugar Pie Desanto “In the Basement”, is probably the most popular post over the years on FMF. From her early years in her local Baptist church in Los Angeles to Johnny Otis to the Chess years to heroin to modern times where she was snubbed at Obama’s inauguration to sing her rendition of the song “At Last” in favor of Beyonce, (where she claimed she’d whip her ass), Etta James has led a sordid and successful music career. A multiple Grammy winner and a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as well as the Grammy and Rockabilly Halls of Fame respectively, James’ style has changed from Doo Wop to R & B to Soul, Jazz and Pop. A troubled life that included drug addiction, stints in rehab and psychiatric hospitals, and this past year a diagnosis with Alzheimer’s disease as well as leukemia, there is no doubt that Etta James is one of our lifetime’s greatest female singers. While “In the Basement” was a dirty wall grinding after hours classic, “Out on the Streets, Again” visits Etta’s experimentation with a more gritty and raw, Blaxploitation soundtrack sound. This song could easily have been inserted in any one of many films, and Etta does her best to compete with singers like Betty Davis and the women alike who were challenging the male dominated Funk and Blaxploitation OST scene. Guys like Isaac Hayes, Willie Hutch, Marvin Gaye, etc. who really laid down a stone groove to these movies. James did have her problems in music and in life, but it was those exact problems that helped her raise the bar in her career. The struggle, like so many other musicians of balancing her music life with her personal life, the overlapping of tragedy, addiction, and trying to deal with the fame of Etta James helped shape her sound. It was stuff like this that led her to experiment with sounds, this time a raw funky groove. “Hey man, give me the dice…..let it roll.” This song mirrors her career at the time, betting it all on one roll, hoping to win and keep her head above water. This song was written by Gabriel Mekler, a song writer who had penned stuff for Three Dog Night, Steppenwolf and Janis Joplin. He also was the founder of Lizard Records, a great label for us 45 heads: Nolan Porter, Paul Humphrey and his Cool Aid Chemists, does that ring a bell? Mekler collaborated with James for two records, and they produced some great Funk, Soul, and Jazz grooves together. This is a perfect find here at FMF, a cheap 45 that packs a punch, and has some great history around it. Keep on swingin’ Etta, we’re all pulling for you. Keep Diggin’!
PS: Larry over at Funky 16 Corners and I were on the same Etta wavelength. Check out his post here.