1/3. The Life of Etta James: Candi Staton presents the story of the singer who has conquered personal demons while recording some of the greatest R 'n' B records ever.


The Life of Etta James


Fighting Demons

In the mid 1960s Etta James was beginning to be embroiled in the world of drugs, whilst trying to keep the singing career going. We hear about her gaining a reputation for being unreliable. Despite this, Etta managed to record some classic tracks at the famous Muscle Shoals recording studio in Alabama, including the classic, Tell Mama album. We hear about the recording of one of her biggest hits, the ballad, I'd Rather Go Blind (Etta explains how she missed out on writing royalties for this song), and how the impact of that record, and subsequent UK cover versions by Chicken Shack and Rod Stewart, launched Etta internationally. Etta's musical director/guitarist of 20 years, Josh Sklair, talks about the influence Etta had on the rock world and in particular, singers like Janis Joplin and Christina Aguilera.

Josh and singer Sugar Pie Desanto witnessed Etta at her most irascible, and we hear about her reputation as someone not to mess with alongside her mistrust of the music business. A&R man and Etta James fan, Tony Rounce, tells of the birth of her son Donto, and how even that didn't stop her from ending up in jail for drugs and fraud offences. The singer was at an all time low, and her tour manager Phil Kaufman, the man who famously burned country singer Gram Parsons body in the desert, remembers how disappointed he was to meet Etta in this sorry state. He describes the job he had, keeping her away from drugs, and allowing her to do what she does best singing and dazzling audiences. We hear of Etta's love for Otis Redding, and how she had planned to record a duets album with him.



Etta is Betta

We recap Etta James' career to 1975, when she was experimenting with more unusual material like Randy Newman's, Let's Burn Down the Cornfields, and You Can Leave Your Hat On. Her road manager Phil Kaufman, her guitarist Brian Ray, and A and R man Tony Rounce describe her successful fight against drug addiction. Etta's song, W.O.M.A.N, co-written with her mother Dorothy, was reworked with a funk groove and Brian Ray talks about his contribution to this.

Singer, Sugar Pie Desanto talks about Etta's wicked sense of humour and tour manager, Phil Kaufman, relates a few humorous anecdotes about the chaos involved in being on the road with Etta. In 1988, Etta signed to Island Records and Tony Rounce talks about this time, and how she collaborated with singer Steve Winwood on the track, Give It Up. One of Etta's biggest influences was Billie Holiday, and she only met her once, when she warned Etta to stay clear of drugs. Her Billie Holiday tribute album, Mystery Lady, won Etta her first Grammy, and is even more poignant with Etta falling into the same trap as her heroine, who as Etta explains, she heard through her mother's love for Holiday's music. Guitarist Josh Sklair is still haunted by the beauty of this recording 12 years later.

Her album, Blues to the Bone, saw Etta gain even more attention award-wise, with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. It now seems she has achieved her rightful place in the Popular Music History books. Nowadays Etta is firing on all cylinders. She's clean of drugs and has slimmed right down. As Josh Sklair witnesses every night on stage, Etta is singin' betta than evah! Contributors pay tribute to the legacy of the emotionally charged Etta James, and prove why she's a living legend.

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Candi Staton tells the story of Etta James.

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Candi Staton continues the story of Etta James.

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Candi Staton concludes the story of the great RnB singer.