Etta James packed a whole lot of music and a whole lof of living into a career that started when she was a teenager and lasted for the better part of 60 years. Her death on 20 January 2012 robbed us of an artist who had one of the definitive R&B-blues voices, a unique, rasping soulfulness that infused everything she sang, and plenty of attendant demons. Udiscover Music is presenting just a tiny sample from her amazing archive for our Etta James In 20 Songs playlist.
Born on 25 January 1938 in Los Angeles, James was in the charts when she was barely 17, sharing vocals with Richard Berry on 1955’s ‘The Wallflower,’ otherwise known as ‘Roll With Me Henry,’ the answer record to Hank Ballard and the Midnighters’ ‘Work With Me Annie.’ That begins our playlist, which continues with her subsequent teenage hit ‘Good Rockin’ Daddy’ and continues with what can only be a fraction of her brilliant output during her time at Chess Records.
These include ‘If I Can’t Have You’ and ‘Spoonful,’ James’ early duet hits with Moonglows member and later Motown alumnus Harvey Fuqua. You’ll hear the signature songs that reached not just the 1960s generation but those that followed, such as ‘At Last,’ ‘I Just Want To Make Love To You’ and ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’; brilliant, driving R&B gems like the Clarence Carter composition ‘Tell Mama’ and ‘Do I Make Myself Clear’ and Etta’s great version of Otis Redding‘s ‘Security.’
Space prevents us from fully reflecting the often exceptional output of James’ later years, but it was essential to make room for her terrific rare groove gem ‘All The Way Down,’ which became her last top 30 R&B single in 1973; and a track from her final studio album, 2011’s The Dreamer, which featured another fine Redding interpretation, ‘Cigarettes & Coffee.’
Follow uDiscover Music’s Etta James Best Of playlist.