Jamesetta Hawkins, 25 January 1938, Los Angeles, California, USA. James introduction to performing followed an impromptu audition for Johnny Otis backstage at San Franciscos Fillmore Auditorium. Roll With Me Henry, her answer to the Hank Ballard hit Work With Me Annie, was retitled The Wallflower in an effort to disguise its risqué lyric and became an R&B number 1. Good Rockin Daddy provided another hit, but the singers later releases failed to chart. Having secured a recording contract with the Chess Records group of labels, James, also known as Miss Peaches, unleashed a series of powerful songs, including All I Could Do Was Cry (1960), probably the best ever version of At Last (1961), Trust In Me (1961), Dont Cry Baby (1961), Somethings Got A Hold On Me (1962), Stop The Wedding (1962) and Pushover (1963). She also recorded several duets with Harvey Fuqua.
Heroin addiction sadly blighted both James personal and professional life, but in 1967 Chess took her to the Fame studios. The resultant Tell Mama was a triumph, and pitted James abrasive voice with the exemplary Muscle Shoals house band. Its highlights included the proclamatory title track, a pounding cover version of Otis Reddings Security (both of which reached the R&B Top 20) and the despairing Id Rather Go Blind, which was later a UK Top 20 hit for Chicken Shack. The 1973 album Etta James earned her a US Grammy nomination, despite her continued drug problems, which she did not overcome until the mid-80s. A 1977 album, Etta Is Betta Than Evah, completed her Chess contract, and she moved to Warner Brothers Records. Her debut for the label, Deep In The Night, proved to be a critical favourite. A renewed public profile followed James appearance at the opening ceremony of the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. The live Late Show albums, released in 1986, featured Shuggie Otis and Eddie Cleanhead Vinson, and were followed by Seven Year Itch, James first album for Island Records, in 1989. This, and the subsequent release, Stickin To My Guns, found her back on form, aided and abetted once more by the Muscle Shoals team.
James was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1993, prior to her signing a new recording contract with Private Records. Following the use of her version of Muddy Waters I Just Want To Make Love To You in a television advertisement, she unexpectedly found herself near the top of the UK charts in 1996, giving this emotional and foxy singer some valuable exposure. All her cover versions, from Need Your Love So Bad to The Night Time Is The Right Time, are indelibly stamped by her ability to feel the essence of a lyric and melody, allowing her to take over and shape a song. Her extraordinary voice was showcased to great effect on a slew of releases for the Private label in the late 90s and early 00s, including Loves Been Rough On Me, Matriarch Of The Blues and Blue Gardenia. The latter, a smooth album demonstrating James love of jazz ballads, rewarded the singer by rising to the top of the Billboard jazz chart in 2001. The dynamic Burnin Down The House was recorded at the House Of Blues in West Hollywood, California, with both singer and band in fine form. Lets Roll found James assuming production duties on a mainstream-leaning collection of material. In contrast, 2004s Blues To The Bone featured James delivering a dozen gutsy readings of blues classics. James is really on a role at the present time, testament to a truly remarkable singer.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.