Etta James – At Last (Argo Records)
How about goin’ back in the day? And this along with the evergreen vibrant atmosphere of Etta James‘ ‘At Last’ which would serve as the title track of her 1961 album of the likes. Then how to not find a connection with Ray Charles’ memorable ‘Georgia’?
Yes folks, we’re goin’ way back with this song dating from 1941. With writing and production work by the likes of Mack Gordon and Henry Warren for the musical film ‘Orchestra Wives’. And vocals courtesy of Ray Eberle and Pat Friday.
Arranger Riley Hampton would somehow improvise on Warren‘s melody though when coming to record Etta‘s version. Therefore enhancing the emphasis of the melody and her vocal delivery, served by lyrics coming straight from and to the heart…
Besides, strange as to how one could most likely say it all in 3 minutes or so at the time. Miles away from nowadays’ productions as a matter of fact. Although hard to not feel how we would have liked some more with such an interpretation. And in the meantime such a presence and temper, in the vein of the incredible Vi Redd. If not of the late Amy Winhehouse whom she probably inspired.
A L.A., CA native, Etta James stands as one of the greatest singers of all time. With thanks to a contralto voice that’s been for much on the establishment of her unique style. Displaying it in various genres such as Rhythm & Blues, Soul, Jazz, Gospel and eventually Rock.
A heavy inspirational artist in the history of contemporary music, Jamesetta who was istening to Doo-Wop in the 40’s, went on to form a group, The Creolettes. Soon after relocating to San Francisco, she met Johnny Otis at the age of 14, who would get her group under his wing. And eventually give her her stage name while reversing her first name into Etta James.
She then would record duets with Harvey Fuqua on Chess label Argo. Soon surrounded with violins and other string instruments, with label CEO Leonard Chess envisionning her as a classic ballad singer who had potential to cross-over. Eventually singing background vocals on Chuk Berry‘s ‘Back In The USA’.
Comin’ to light by the end of 1960, her debut album, ‘At Last!’ almost stands as a testimony. Featuring classics such as ‘I Just Want To Make Love To You’ and “A Sunday Kind Of Love”. But also ‘At Last’, considered as her signature song.
A song written back in 1941 by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren for the musical film ‘Orchestra Wives’. Glenn Miller and his orchestra recorded it along with vocals by the likes of Ray Eberle and Pat Friday. The U.S. War Department releasing it as a V-Disc (or Victory Disc) before sending it to the American soldiers and military personnel overseas.
Etta James gave it a vibrant cover version with arrangements courtesy of Riley Hampton that improvised on Warren‘s melody. ‘At Last’ becoming her second number 2 R&B hit and crossing over to Pop radio.
Considered one of the most underrated Blues and R&B aritsts in the music history of the United States. she nevertheless had to wait until the 90’s to start receiving major industry awards from the Grammys and the Blues Foundation.
She was diagnosed with leukemia in early 2011. It became terminal and she passed in Riverside, CA on Jan 20, 2012. Just 5 days before her 74th birthday and 3 of Johnny Otis, the one who had discovered her in the early 50’s…