The Prime of Miss Etta James


(Mark Sampson) #1

Firstly, may I thank all the people who commented on my inaugural blog on Survive France. I've been a-bloggin' for six months or so and have just worked out how to access comments on my Blogspot interface. Survive France is very thoughtful, because they send any comments to my Outlook in-box. However, I can't quite work out how to reply to them without going through the whole rigmarole of adding friends and all that time-consuming stuff. So do forgive me if I haven't got back to you. It's not because I'm a curmudgeonly old cove, it's simply because I'm a big old technologically incompetent Hector.


Anyway, bBefore I got sidetracked, I was going to say what a joy it is for a music-loving father to discover that his offspring is beginning to take an interest in his music archives. I got back the other day from trying to remove the last of the algae from the pool at the chateau I look after to hear the familiar sound of Etta James coming from the speakers. The Daughter is well into the likes of Adele, Amy Winehouse and Duffy, so it’s rather nice to think that she’s exploring the roots of all that ‘Nu Soul’ (although that’s probably not the term they use these days).


She loves Aretha Franklin too, but, although the Queen of Soul didn’t get her title for nothing, it’s particularly gratifying to think of her developing a fondness for Etta. Not only has she had a very tough life (Etta, that is, not my child) – being, among other things, a heroine addict for many years – but she also never really garnered the accolades that she surely deserved during her prime. And the prime of Ms. Etta James is captured in all its glory on an absurdly cheap triple-CD set available from the usual Amazonian outlets. Track after track of pearls such as ‘At Last’ (used in an advert for… what was it, Sainsbury’s clothing or something equally incongruous?), the storming ‘Tell Mama’ and the timeless, heart-rending ‘I Would Rather Go Blind’, which was once covered by Christine Perfect of Chicken Shack, before she married John McVie and joined her hubby in Fleetwood Mac.


Tilley, my daughter, asked me whether Etta was a Motown artist. I resisted the temptation to give her a quick history of the Brothers Chess and their Chicago-based label, but, with great restraint, simply pointed out that Etta recorded for Chess, the most famous blues label in the whole U.S. of A. And very appropriate it was, too, because Etta James, more so than others of her kidney chasing Aretha, Mavis Staples and Irma Thomas at the top of the Premiership, was equal parts ‘old school’ R&B and soul chanteuse. In fact, she quite recently made a fine album of blues standards with a couple of her kids in the band. More recently still, the poor woman was diagnosed with dementia followed by leukaemia. Whether it will help her now, I don’t know, but you could do yourself a real favour and get hold of that Best of Etta James (on Chess) so you can cop a listen to a woman voted no. 22 by Rolling Stone in their 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.


It also warms the cockles of a film-lovin’ daddy’s heart that his daughter is also taking a keen interest in films old and new. I encourage it. However, I would certainly not be happy to think of her seeing Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream. Not yet, anyway. Aronofsky made The Black Swan. The Good Wife of La Poujade Basse found it overwrought, so I didn’t bother going to see it. But I did watch Dream during the week. It’s been parked on the DVD’s hard drive for several months, waiting for the necessary courage to sit through it.
Lawdy Miss Clawdy. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but it sho’ ‘nuff is harrowing. It’s based on a novel by Hubert Selby jr., who wrote the grim Last Exit to Brooklyn, and it depicts the descent into drug-addled delusion and degradation of a mother (played by the admirable Ellen Burstyn) and her junky son. It was brilliant, but dreadful. The Daughter’s 16 and there’s time enough for her to find out about the awfulness of life. So I did what a control freak or a responsible parent does, depending on the way you look at it, and pressed ‘delete’ after viewing.


Drugs… helping to link Etta James to Requiem for a Dream. Well, there’s a rather infelicitous way to pull these cultural thoughts together for another weekend. Have a good week, y’hear.


(Lesley Sharp) #2

Is ‘Soul’ making a comeback with the yoof of today? My 23-year-old daughter came over from UK recently with a fully-loaded iPhone of favourite tracks. Hardly off the plane and she’s connecting to the car stereo. Oh no, methinks, what am I going to have to listen to this time? A needless worry, I was treated to a ‘Best of’ selection of sweet soul music from the 60s & 70s! Smashing… and she didn’t even complain when I started to sing along!


(Steve Tallis) #3

One of my favorite female Blues singers…incredible…


(Juanita Grande) #4

I saw Etta and I had to read…

Think I’ll put on her most meaty version of “Willow Weep for Me”, released in the mid ninties and her voice on that disc is so nice and thiiiick.

Hope your daughter digs on, Mark!

: J