I met Etta at a session she was doing in Hollywood in 1978. I had a good friend in radio, Laurie Cobb, who knew her and she brought me along. Laurie knew I was a huge fan. She was working on an album with Jerry Wexler for Rounder Records, “Deep In The Night”. I remember how warm she was and I watched her work with some killin background singers. I can’t remember who they were because I was focused on Etta. They were just knocking down the song and I was loving it. Wanting to be right in there with them. From that point on, whenever she worked after that, if I stuck my head in the door to say hello at her gigs, she was always welcoming and waving me in. We had become good friends. I had a blues horn band in the eighties where we did, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Johnny “Guitar” Watson and other old blues. Etta had me open some shows for her and that’s where she gave me the ritual before I went on, staying to me, ”go bite a whole in it”. We played Telluride Jazz Festival together and she introduced me to Betty Carter because she knew how much I loved Betty’s singing and Jazz. No one has ever reached me like Etta. Her rare take on singing was like no one before her.
Her deep feelings were displayed nightly on stage and you felt every painful loss and every cherished love. That was her light she cast to us all, she sang for all the people’s struggles and tears. Its incredible to me that I was able to know her for a period of time and that time was a gift.
Born in Los Angeles, California, on January 25, 1938, Etta James was a gospel prodigy. In 1954, she moved to Los Angeles to record “The Wallflower.” Her career had begun to soar by 1960, due in no small part to songs like “I’d Rather Go Blind” and “At Last.” Despite her continued drug problems, she earned a Grammy Award nomination for her 1973 eponymous album. In 2006, she released the album All the Way. James died in Riverside, California, on January 20, 2012, and continues to be is considered one of the most dynamic singers in music.