Friday, January 20, 2012

Etta James: January 25, 1938 – January 20, 2012

I was sorry to hear about Etta James illness and am saddened to hear of her passing because she's been a surprisingly significant part of my life.

I didn't know James, of course, but directly and indirectly she's been a part of my life.

I was introduced to James when Jaguar used part of her signature song At Last in a commercial for a car so uninteresting I can't even remember what it was.

I was just starting to appreciate jazz and was struck by an R&B accented jazz song.

I asked a friend an encyclopedic knowledge of music whose voice it was and he told me Etta James.

When I went to the Virgin record store downtown (If that last thing doesn't quite seem to make sense ask your parents. If they don't know, then, um, good luck explaining what you were asking about.), and looked for her in the jazz section, but she wasn't there.

Of course you know she's known as a blues artist, but that's not how I was introduced to her, and even now I think of her primarily as a jazz singer with a blues sensibility.

I should note, I'm familiar with blues music. I love the sparseness of early delta blues, I know the legend of the crossroads, I even believe the story about how Howlin' Wolf got his name, so I was a little surprised to find James in the blues section. (The same thing happened to me with Mose Allison, but it's a less interesting story, and I was spelling his name wrong [What do you mean you're not finding this interesting?])

Mind you, having been introduced to Roald Dahl through Kiss Kiss, I was a little surprised to find out he was famous for his childrens books. (Further note, I was introduced to Kiss Kiss as a child.)

I first heard Dee Daniels sing at a show at Richard's on Richards (The hip kids call "Dick's on Dicks", hipper kids know it as that place old suits pick up girls their daughter's age) where she sang the duet If I Can't Have You with Jim Burns, originally sung by James and Harvey Fuqua.

I was amazed by Daniel's silky voice and amazing range, and I've since made a point of seeing her sing whenever I can.

When I started to appreciate Janice Joplin it was a pleasant surprise to find out James was one of her influences.

I hear James influence in Joplin's interpretation of George Gershwin's jazz standard Summertime. Of course, that could just be my issue.

One of the things my wife and I have in common is a love of jazz, it was one of the things that attracted her to me (I think), and an appreciation of James, so when we were planning our wedding having At Last as part of the ceremony wasn't a cliche, but a perfect selection at so many levels.

That I knew my dear family friend Ramona could nail the song perfectly made it even more special for us (I promise I'll have that video available soon).

Another reason James and her music is special to me is from her relationship to her father.

James, raised without her father, came to believe her father was famous pool player Minnesota Fats, but when she attempted to initiate a relationship she was rebuffed.

I've had a similar experience. (No, not with Minnesota Fats.)

When I visited Chicago in 2007 I had to see the former Chess Record studios partly because of Chuck Berry, but also because of James and the music she recorded there.

The Related Video In The Basement wasn't a random selection, I wanted to honour James, who had a very challenging life, with something innocent and happy because after everything she has been through, she deserves innocence and happiness. And peace.

Related Links
Etta James [Wikipedia]

Related Video

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