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October 19, 2016
Artist: Etta James
Few female R&B stars enjoyed the kind of consistent acclaim Etta James received throughout a career that spanned six decades; the celebrated producer Jerry Wexler once called her “the greatest of all modern blues singers,” and she recorded a number of enduring hits, including “At Last,” “Tell Mama,” “I’d Rather Go Blind,” and “All I Could Do Was Cry.” At the same time, despite possessing one of the most powerful voices in music, James only belatedly gained the attention of the mainstream audience, appearing rarely on the pop charts despite scoring 30 R&B hits, and she lived a rough-and-tumble life that could have inspired a dozen soap operas, battling drug addiction and bad relationships while outrunning a variety of health and legal problems.
Etta James was born Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles, California on January 25, 1938; her mother was just 14 years old at the time, and she never knew her father, though she would later say she had reason to believe he was the well-known pool hustler Minnesota Fats. James was raised by friends and relatives instead of her mother through most of her childhood, and it was while she was living with her grandparents that she began regularly attending a Baptist church. James’ voice made her a natural for the choir, and despite her young age she became a soloist with the group, and appeared with them on local radio broadcasts. At the age of 12, after the death of her foster mother, James found herself living with her mother in San Francisco, and with little adult supervision, she began to slide into juvenile delinquency. But James’ love of music was also growing stronger, and with a pair of friends she formed a singing group called the Creolettes. The girls attracted the attention of famed bandleader Johnny Otis, and when he heard their song “Roll with Me Henry” — a racy answer song to Hank Ballard’s infamous “Work with Me Annie” — he arranged for them to sign with Modern Records, and the Creolettes cut the tune under the name the Peaches (the new handle coming from Etta’s longtime nickname). “Roll with Me Henry,” renamed “The Wallflower,” became a hit in 1955, though Georgia Gibbs would score a bigger success with her cover version, much to Etta’s dismay. After charting with a second R&B hit, “Good Rockin’ Daddy,” the Peaches broke up and James stepped out on her own.
James’ solo career was a slow starter, and she spent several years cutting low-selling singles for Modern and touring small clubs until 1960, when Leonard Chess signed her to a new record deal. James would record for Chess Records and its subsidiary labels Argo and Checker into the late ’70s and, working with producers Ralph Bass and Harvey Fuqua, she embraced a style that fused the passion of R&B with the polish of jazz, and scored a number of hits for the label, including “All I Could Do Was Cry,” “My Dearest Darling,” and “Trust in Me.” While James was enjoying a career resurgence, her personal life was not faring as well; she began experimenting with drugs as a teenager, and by the time she was 21 she was a heroin addict, and as the ’60s wore on she found it increasingly difficult to balance her habit with her career, especially as she clashed with her producers at Chess, fought to be paid her royalties, and dealt with a number of abusive romantic relationships. James’ career went into a slump in the mid-’60s, but in 1967 she began recording with producer Rick Hall at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and, adopting a tougher, grittier style, she bounced back onto the R&B charts with the tunes “Tell Mama” and “I’d Rather Go Blind.”
In the early ’70s, James had fallen off the charts again, her addiction was raging, and she turned to petty crime to support her habit. She entered rehab on a court order in 1973, the same year she recorded a rock-oriented album, Only a Fool, with producer Gabriel Mekler. Through most of the ’70s, a sober James got by touring small clubs and playing occasional blues festivals, and she recorded for Chess with limited success, despite the high quality of her work. In 1978, longtime fans the Rolling Stones paid homage to James by inviting her to open some shows for them on tour, and she signed with Warner Bros., cutting the album Deep in the Night with producer Jerry Wexler. While the album didn’t sell well, it received enthusiastic reviews and reminded serious blues and R&B fans that James was still a force to be reckoned with. By her own account, James fell back into drug addiction after becoming involved with a man with a habit, and she went back to playing club dates when and where she could until she kicked again thanks to a stay at the Betty Ford Center in 1988. That same year, James signed with Island Records and cut a powerful comeback album, Seven Year Itch, produced by Barry Beckett of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. The album sold respectably and James was determined to keep her career on track, playing frequent live shows and recording regularly, issuing Stickin’ to My Guns in 1990 and The Right Time in 1992.
In 1994, a year after she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, James signed to the Private Music label, and recorded Mystery Lady: Songs of Billie Holiday, a tribute to the great vocalist she had long cited as a key influence; the album earned Etta her first Grammy Award. The relationship with Private Music proved simpatico, and between 1995 and 2003 James cut eight albums for the label, while also maintaining a busy touring schedule. In 2003, James published an autobiography, Rage to Survive: The Etta James Story, and in 2008 she was played onscreen by modern R&B diva Beyoncé Knowles in Cadillac Records, a film loosely based on the history of Chess Records. Knowles recorded a faithful cover of “At Last” for the film’s soundtrack, and later performed the song at Barack Obama’s 2009 inaugural ball; several days later, James made headlines when during a concert she said “I can’t stand Beyoncé, she had no business up there singing my song that I’ve been singing forever.” (Later the same week, James told The New York Times that the statement was meant to be a joke — “I didn’t really mean anything…even as a little child, I’ve always had that comedian kind of attitude” — but she was saddened that she hadn’t been invited to perform the song.)
In 2010, James was hospitalized with MRSA-related infections, and it was revealed that she had received treatment for dependence on painkillers and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which her son claimed was the likely cause of her outbursts regarding Knowles. James released The Dreamer, for Verve Forecast in 2011. She claimed it was her final album of new material. Etta James was diagnosed with terminal leukemia later that year, and died on January 20, 2012 in Riverside, California at the age of 73. Mark Deming, All Music Guide
Although the 1970 album Losers Weepers was not a landmark in Etta James’ career, and doesn’t include any of her most famous or outstanding tracks, it’s a solid enough album that has an edge on some of the other LPs from the later part of her time with Chess Records. To its credit, it doesn’t seem to be trying as hard or self-consciously to absorb some influences from contemporary soul trends; largely, it lets James do what she does best: give romantic songs everything she’s got, without holding back on some of her grittiest phrasing and throatiest belting. Were the material up to her vocal finesse, this would be up there with the likes of what Aretha Franklin was doing at the time. It’s not, but the songs are OK vehicles for her tense and frustrated takes on love. The title track gave her a small R&B hit, and is certainly the best song here. If it’s a little reminiscent of her own “I’d Rather Go Blind” in the verse, the jubilant, ascending chorus sets it off as a worthwhile tune on its own merits (and the next track, “Weepers,” is a “part two” of sorts that also served as the B-side). It’s a satisfying mix of ballads and more uptempo cuts (like “Look at the Rain,” written by Jackie Edwards, famous for writing early hits for the Spencer Davis Group), also putting some pop into the arrangements and melodies alongside the expected soul. Richie Unterberger, All MUsic Guide
Review By Soulmakossa:
While spiraling out of control physically, emotionally and mentally due to a severe heroin addiction, Etta James kept on singing and recording in that dark period, somehow putting out the ‘Etta James Sings Funk’ and ‘Losers Weepers’ LPs in the early 1970s.
The latter was named for the track that gave Etta her first Top 30 R&B entry since “Security” hit in 1967. “Losers Weepers” manages to incorporate a storming-the-gates-of-heaven funk-rock chorus in what is a decisively downhome old-school soul belter. The flip, which landed on the LP as “Weepers”, is a fierce continuation of the song, with more emphasis on the gospel side of thangs.
But the entire album, which went almost unnoted at the time of its release in early 1971, brims with stellar performances. There’s a driving, Tyrone Davis-styled groove to the blasting opener “Take Out Some Insurance” and a lazy funk vibe emanates from a take on Gene Barge’s “I Think It’s You”.
A little country soul is thrown in with the brilliant mid-tempo ballad “Someone”, featuring Etta at her rawest, and she’s equally on fire when dabbling in tropical rhythms, as demonstrated on a funky cover of Jackie Edwards’ “Look at the Rain” – Etta in a reggae bag before the Staple Singers took off with “I’ll Take You There!”
Classic Chicago-styled soul appears in the guise of the delightful strut “You’re the Fool”, a loping, bottom-heavy groove layered in brass, and Miss James goes for broke on the 6-minute slowburner “Hold Back the Tears”.
Unfortunately, a couple of songs sound a tad anachronistic when put next to what is offered here. A snappy take on Duke Ellington’s “I Got It Bad” and the supper club crooner “For All We Know”, both crisply executed, harken back to some of the more overblown recordings she released in the early ’60s.
Nevertheless, the LP ends on a grand schale with “Ease Away a Little Bit at a Time”, a soothing mid-tempo soul groove heavy on the bass capped off with another frenzied vocal by Chicago’s own queen of Soul.
A tremendous album.
The CD-reissue by Kent adds a few selections from ‘Etta James Sings Funk’ as bonus cuts, along with a few single-only releases from 1970-1972 and two cuts taken from the Chess vaults.
Album: Losers Weepers
Release date: 1970
01. Take Out Some Insurance
02. I Got It Bad And That Ain’t Good
03. I Think It’s You
05. Losers Weepers
07. You’re The Fool
08. Hold Back My Tears
09. For All We Know
10. Look At The Rain
11. Ease Away A Little Bit At A Time
‘Losers Weepers’ On YouTube
Vinyl Covers & Labels (Click On The Thumbnails)
October 19, 2016
Artist: The Ambassadors
Although this is filled out with covers of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” “Yes I’m Ready,” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” on the whole it’s a solid and varied album of early Gamble/Huff-styled Philadelphia soul. Even though Gamble and Huff’s own contributions were peripheral (Jimmy Bishop produced, Gamble co-wrote the small hit “I Really Love You,” and Huff played piano), several musicians who would play in Gamble-Huff’s house bands participated. The harmonies are lively, the arrangements (by Bobby Martin, who would also work with Gamble-Huff) satisfyingly busy, and the material a bit ordinary but serviceable. Philly soul fiends may consider it a lost nugget of sorts; the three non-LP bonus tracks on the CD reissue include a couple of raucous live cuts with a straighter R&B feel. Richie Unterberger, All Music Guide
The Ambassadors had but one small R&B hit in 1969, “I Really Love You,” a dramatic ballad in the Philadelphia soul style with an ascending horn riff, co-written by Kenny Gamble. They did stay together long enough to do an album, Soul Summit, which featured several musicians — including Leon Huff (on piano) and Earl Young (drums) — who were instrumental to the Gamble-Huff productions that epitomized the peak of Philadelphia soul in the early ’70s. The Ambassadors didn’t project a ton of personality, but then again, personality wasn’t the long suit of some other big Philadelphia soul acts; perhaps if they’d been given excellent material, they would have been far more successful. As it is, the rare Soul Summit LP, reissued on CD in 1998, is a notable find for those who love the Gamble-Huff sound and want an accomplished example that they might not have previously heard. Richie Unterberger, All Music Guide
Album: Soul Summit
Release date: 1969
01. I Really Love You
02. Can’t Take My Eyes Off You
03. Music (Makes You Wanna Dance)
04. You Gave Me Somebody To Love
05. Storm Warning
06. Ain’t Got The Love (Of One Girl On My Mind)
07. I Dig You Baby
08. You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’
09. A.W.O.L. (Away Without Love)
10. Yes I’m Ready / I’ll Try Something New
11. If I’m All You Got (I’m All You Need)
‘You Gave Me Somebody To Love’ On YouTube
Vinyl Covers & Promo (Click On The Thumbnails)
October 16, 2016
Poison – an obscure 70s funk combo that hailed from Richmond, VA! The group’s outfits, righteousness, and instrumentation clearly show a strong debt to EWF – but there’s also a roughness to some of the tracks that belies their southern funk roots – particularly on the album’s break-intro track “Do What You Wanna Do” – a great bit of party funk!
Obscure late 70s / early 80s major label soul is my thing these days. Delay and I were just chatting not too long a go in New York about how much we dug this joint. I think he is just partial to it ’cause they hail from Richmond, VA where he did many a days digging while he went to school there. The vocals are a bit Brass Constructiony in spots, but the rhythm more than makes up for it especially on cuts like “Unity Man” and “Do What You Wanna Do” which starts off with a hot drum break and ensuing “git on up!!”. There’s even a a dope sweet soul tune on here called “How I Wish for Yesterday.” Definitely peep this one before you buy it ’cause it’s not for the pre-74 purists.
A sweet set of Earth Wind & Fire-inspired grooves from Poison – an obscure 70s funk combo that hailed from Richmond, VA! The group’s outfits, righteousness, and instrumentation clearly show a strong debt to EWF – but there’s also a roughness to some of the tracks that belies their southern funk roots – particularly on the album’s break-intro track “Do What You Wanna Do” – a great bit of party funk in the mid 70s Roulette Records mode. Other cuts nicely intercut guitar riffing, soaring vocal harmonies, and some full-on horns and percussion – pushing things to the skies on a great set of tracks that includes “Magic Words”, “How I Wish For Yesterday”, “Let Me Lay My Funk On You”, “Unity Man”, “Music Is Our Destiny”, “Cosmic Dancing”, “Our Place In Time”, and “Do What You Wanna Do”.
Album: On Our Way To Number I
Release date: 1976
01. Our Place In Time
02. Do What You Wanna Do
03. How I Wish For Yesterday
04. Magic Words
05. Cosmic Dancing
06. Let Me Lay My Funk On You
07. Unity Man
08. You Can’t Run Away From Yourself
09. Let Your Fingers Do The Walking
10. Music Is Our Destiny
11. Get Up And Move You Body
‘You Can’t Run Away From Yourself’ On YouTube
Vinyl Covers, Labels & Promo (Click On The Thumbnails)
October 15, 2016
Artist: Talya Ferro
Nice bit of soulful late 60’s pop recorded under the baton of Clyde Otis. She sang with Walter Wanderley for a bit before this recording, and some of this stuff has a sort of bossa Latiny feel to it. Other tracks are more 60’s soul sounding, but with a pop diva twist. Tracks include “Look at Me”, “The Magic Door”, “On Top of the World”, and “We Could Learn Together”.
Album: Look At Me
Release date: 1968
01. Look At Me
02. Cuando Caliente El Sol
03. On Top Of The World
04. If You Go Away
05. Until It’s Time For You To Go
06. We Could Learn Together
07. Something Wonderful
08. Your Kiss, Your Touch
09. After Your Love
10. The Magic Door (Les Ballons Rouge)
‘We Could Learn Together’ On YouTube
Vinyl Covers (Click On The Thumbnails)
October 14, 2016
Artist: C.L. Blast
A traditional gospel-tinged Southern soul singer from Birmingham, AL C.L. Blast has never been able to generate much interest outside the South, and enjoyed only limited recognition within that region. He grew up doing gospel before switching to soul and singing with several local and regional groups. He did the song “I Take the Case” and then the LP I Wanna Get Down for Cotillion/Atlantic in 1980, then worked with vocalist/producer Frederick Knight on Park Place in 1984. The single “50/50 Love” was competently produced and performed, but didn’t attract much interest. The LP C.L. Blast suffered the same fate. Ron Wynn, All Music Guide
Album: C.L. Blast
Release date: 1984
1. Boomerang Love
2. 50/50 Love
3. I Need To Love You
4. Drown In My Own Tears
5. Never Let Me Go
6. Lay Another Log On The Fire
7. Somebody Shot My Eagle
8. I Just Don’t Know
9. Let Me Entertain You
‘Somebody Shot My Eagle’ On YouTube
Vinyl Covers & Labels (Click On The Thumbnails)