Etta James. Woah! What a voice. What a soulstress and rocker at the same time. A soul, jazz and rock singer in the purest, stripped down and sexiest form. No over production (even when strings were added), no auto tuning even in her later years, just great fucking records with her strong, killer voice recorded way above the backing musicians.
I can’t even remember the first time I ever heard her records. I never bought them when I was a kid, and I bought lots of records. When I eventually started working in record stores while I was in college, I got turned on to so much more music than I was hearing on the radio. Everyone I worked with had vastly different tastes and I was exposed to so much music. An unbelievable assortment of genres and artists every week. From pure country to folk, jazz, R&B and even way out experimental stuff (but that’s another blog).
There was this guy named Peter Curley, but everyone knew him as Skip. He would pull out and play this MCA Records Etta James Anthology almost every day. At Last was the hit you immediately went for, and there was her wonderful version of the Willie Dixon song, Spoonful. I was originally introduced to that song by Cream’s version, but loved hearing it in it’s native bluesy, R&B style. But the song we replayed again and again was called Stop the Wedding. We picked up the needle after the opening dialogue and kept repeating it. It was that hilarious opening with the preacher asking: If there’s anyone here who knows why these two people should not be joined together, let them speak now or forever hold their peace… And then Etta’s voice chiming in with an intense a cappella refrain, Wait, wait, stop the wedding. You’re just marrying her for spite If she knew the inside story, she’d tell you what you’re doing just ain’t right… That song sucked me in and I took the album right home.
Today I just received this new Etta James CD Retrospective album set. Designed like the old LP multi-gate fold collection with great liner notes and photographs, it’s been on the player all afternoon. From her earliest sides for Chess Records recorded in the 1950s to her final recordings around 2007, the collection kicks ass just as you would expect it to. I’m in love with her music all over again. Yes you can buy the wonderful At Last album as a single disc or any other one of her several best of collections or even download one song at a time, but these four discs bring most of her great Chess recordings to you in one stellar package. I just want to hold this package in my hands and read the liner notes while I listen to the tunes. I want the best sound quality available and don’t care how much psychical space it takes up in my house. And I just found out that Ella James lived in San Francisco when she was first discovered by Johnny Otis.