Great singer, tough life. Here's one of my favorites:
I had a chance to see her perform in 1997. Here's my review:
Etta James showed the audience in Cleveland's Palace Theatre her full range Saturday, from jazz to funky blues to pop and back again in an 80-minute concert.
The closing performer in the 18th Annual Tri-C JazzFest, James came out strong with Breaking Up Somebody's Home. Perched on a stool with ETTA! written in white on it, the 1993 Rock and Roll Hall of Famer let her voice, face and hands make the songs dramatic.
Like singer Jimmy Scott, who influenced James and was in the audience Saturday, the 59-year-old singer can turn the delivery of a single song line into a little play -- singing one line, then pausing, hand in the air, face turned from the microphone, before singing again.
James was also funny, as when she made raunchily clear why the woman loved her man in her classic I'd Rather Go Blind. The joking almost overwhelmed the song, but James usually did more than just re-create her recordings.
The hard-edged Damn Your Eyes veered neatly into the pop warhorse Besame Mucho, for example. Jimmy Reed's rollicking Baby What You Want Me to Do flowed into Lee Dorsey's Ya Ya. And a closing medley of two Al Green songs -- Love & Happiness and Take Me to the River -- concluded with a splendid, jazzy rendering of My Funny Valentine. A line from that song was her farewell to the audience: "Y'all are my favorite work of art."
But before that she offered Come to Mama, A Lover Is Forever, a fine You've Changed (from her Billie Holiday tribute album, Mystery Lady) and a lovely At Last.
The eight-piece Roots Band, led by guitarist Joshua Sklair and including James' sons Donto on drums and Sametto on bass, provided able backing, with Sklair and second guitar Bobby Murray the standouts.