Etta James continues to push the envelope at the Golden State.
Thursday, December 6, 2007
“You better roll it while the rollin’ is on/ roll on, roll on, roll on.”
Etta James’ career in the music scene took off with her first recording, “Roll with Me Henry,” in 1955, at the young age of 16.
The song was deemed so raunchy at the time that many radio stations wouldn’t play it. The song was also given two, less-promiscuous titles: “The Wallflower” and “Dance with me Henry.”
Sexuality continues to drip from James’ earliest hit, and offers only a small taste of the 50 steamy years that followed.
James has become synonymous with sultry. The 69-year-old singer, known for her searing rendition of “At Last,” still wears her hair dyed a peroxide blonde. Her golden locks, light mocha skin and bedroom eyes have all contributed in the creation of an image that is undoubtedly Etta James.
Since the 1950s, James has illuminated concert halls, clubs and bars with a sexy, shrewd soul that artists continue to emulate.
Bonnie Raitt, one of the many musicians James has influenced, once wrote in a Rolling Stone tribute article, “There’s a lot going on in Etta James’ voice—a lot of pain, a lot of life but, most of all, a lot of strength.”
The “pain” Raitt speaks of was induced by decades of heroin and other drug addictions, as well as numerous health problems.
“I’ve gone through so much,” James told sfgate.com. “I should have been dead a long time ago, but I am still here, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”
Five years ago, James depended upon a motorized wheelchair to get around. She even had to use her wheelchair on stage. Since then, she has lost 200 pounds and is much more limber, though still suffers from knee problems.
When James performs these days, she sits in a specially made, one-armed swivel chair with “Etta” adorned on the seat. Sitting down does not stop James onstage sexual prowess is known for.
“They said that Etta James is still vulgar,” James told CNN in 2002 before playing the Monterey Jazz Festival. “I said, ‘Oh, how dare them say I’m still vulgar?’ I’m vulgar because I dance in the chair. What would they want me to do? Want me to just be still or something like that? I’ve got to do something.”
Though James is commonly labeled as a blues singer, she falls into a musical category of her own invention. She does it all: the blues, R&B, rock ‘n’ roll, and jazz—all with equal mastery, raw emotion and erotic friskiness.
James continues to prove her musical versatility and her love for all types of music. In 2006 she released All the Way, an album comprised of a unique array of cover songs that span decades and several musical genres.
“I sing the songs that people need to hear,” James says.
A sample of the songs on the album include West Side Story’s “Somewhere,” James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World,” Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” John Lennon’s “Imagine,” and Prince’s “Purple Rain.”
“It’s not about battling the original artists when I record these songs, it’s about paying tribute to them,” she explained to Jazz e-news. “I wanna show that gospel, country, blues, rhythm and blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll are all just really one thing. Those are the American music and that is the American culture.”
Some of the honors James has received over the years include an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a nod as the 62nd Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Artist of all time by Rolling Stone, three Grammys and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. On top of all that, she’s still sexy.
ETTA JAMES AND THE ROOTS BAND play 8pm Friday, Dec. 7, at the Golden State Theatre, 417 Alvarado St. in Monterey. $45-$100. 372-4555 or goldenstatetheatre.com