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Sunday, 23 December 2012

Otis Redding

Otis Redding
After talking about Sam Cooke and Solomon Burke, here’s another Soul giant. Otis Redding was one of the pioneers of Soul music and was truly amazing. He had a signature raspy voice and amazing ability to convey raw emotion. There are three words that apply perfectly to what Otis was all about: Passion, Energy and Emotion. He’s considered to be one of the greatest singers of all time and his singing style influenced many singers. To name only a few - Al Green, Joe Cocker, Bill Withers, Janis Joplin, Van Morrison and many others. In fact he’s number 8 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s Top 100 Singers of all time. He was also highly respected by The Rolling Stones, who covered his That’s How Strong My Love Is and Pain In My Heart and in return he covered their (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. So anyway, if you know who he was, you know exactly what I’m talking about and if you don’t, then please, read on, because you’re missing out.
Otis Redding’s first big hit was These Arms Of Mine but the hits really started flying about three years later, when he recorded stuff like Mr Pitiful, I’ve Been Loving You Too Long, I Can’t Turn You Loose, Satisfaction, Respect (out of which Aretha Franklin later made a huge hit), Shake and others. He mostly sang just ballads and party tunes and I’m not a big fan of the latter. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s all great stuff, this is just me being very picky. What I don’t like about those tunes (like Shake, Hard To Handle...) is that they sound quite simple, they’re done in the same brassy style every time, so after a while it all sounds a bit repetitive. It wasn’t like this by chance of course, it was simply because Otis really appreciated the beauty in simplicity. On the other hand, I’m crazy about his ballads. Songs like Pain In My Heart, Try A Little Tenderness, Amen and others are just too good to pass on. To me, songs like these showcase his singing and his abilities to convey emotions powerfully. Listen to Pain in My Heart and listen to how he sings ‘Love me’ or ‘Come back’. It’s so compelling.

In 1967, he recorded (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay. At the time he was already very successful and he was already considered to be a great singer, musician and a song-writer but this song took all of that to a whole new level. It was a breakthrough for him as a musician and it pointed to new heights that his music might go to. But, just days after it was recorded, one of the biggest tragedies in the music history happened when he died in a plane crash. He was 26. I’ll leave you with the song and the enticing question “What if”.

P.S. I wrote this post after a friend requested it. If anyone else has any requests, I would love to hear from you!

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Christmas special, part 2

Snowy Snow by Žan Anderle
Here’s a follow-up on the post I did a few days ago. This time around, I’ll mention a few Christmas albums that are a bit different from the usual stuff. A kind of change that is very welcomed among Christmas music, that otherwise sounds the same most of the time.

First off, it’s the Godfather of Soul - James Brown and his album James Brown's Funky Christmas. The title pretty much sums it up and it’s quite an unusual combination, at least for my ears, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good. If you ask me, it’s actually great. There are a few misses along the way, but overall it’s a great Christmas album, with amazing, powerful, energetic James’ singing. I definitely recommend it, if you’re in the mood for something different. Listen to Sweet Little Baby Boy or Let’s Make Christmas Mean Something This Year to get a taste of it. Do you know the song Please Come Home For Christmas? Here’s James Brown’s surprising rendition. It’s very different from other versions which is exactly why I love it.

The First Lady of The Song recorded Christmas albums too. And good thing she did. Listen to Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas to hear how classic Christmas songs were supposed to be sung. Here’s my favourite on the album, ‘What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?’.

Last, but not least is one of my favourite musicians of all time, Ray Charles. In 1985, he recorded The Spirit of Christmas. Before this year, I didn’t even know he recorded a Christmas album. I think I know, which album I’ll have on repeat this Christmas. The warm, soulful sounds Ray managed to create time and again, fit perfectly with the Christmas spirit and the result can be heard on this album. I wouldn't listen to this album outside the Christmas season though, for it sounds cheesy at times. But since it is Christmas, I love it!
Here’s my favourite on the album, ‘All I Want For Christmas’, and don’t let the title scare you, it’s not Mariah Carey...

What are your favourites? What do you think of my humble selection? Comments from anyone are, as always, welcome.
Next time, since a good friend requested it, it’s Otis Redding (if anyone else has any requests, you should never hesitate!). I’m Looking forward to this one! I’ll leave you off with a great song, which connects this post and the next.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Christmas Special

Christmas Spirit by ŽAnderle
There are many reasons why I decided to do a Christmas Special. For one, I LOVE Christmas. As a little kid, I used to count down days till Christmas and my birthday (which is near Christmas) one month in advance. I don’t do that anymore, but not much has changed since then. I’m still a little kid who gets giddy with excitement over Christmas. I can easily get into the Christmas spirit and I love it! For example a couple of days ago, the first snow of this winter inspired me to put on Christmas music and prepare some roasted nuts and mulled wine for my parents and my girlfriend, even though it was just the beginning of December.
And the reason I’m doing a Christmas special more than two weeks before Christmas, is because I’m sure there are plenty more people like me out there. Also, I want to give anyone interested in the albums I’ll be talking about some time to get them (getting them on Christmas Eve is too late).

I’ve been a fan of Christmas music for some time, but I was never able to find something good. Most of what I listened to, was of bad quality, it all sounded pretty much the same and it seemed like it was made in a hurry and with just money in mind. I guess that’s the sad part of Christmas music - it’s easy and cheap to make and everyone will try making it, which means there’s so much crap out there. But fortunately there’s also a lot of great heartwarming Christmas music, you just have to find it. Last year, as a combination of luck and frustration, I found a couple of Christmas albums which I just love and today, I wanted to share them with you. Hopefully you’ll enjoy them as much as I do and they will bring you some Christmas cheer.

The first one is my favourite Christmas album ever. Most of you will know it, but whoever doesn’t, should listen to it as soon as possible. Vince Guaraldi and his A Charlie Brown Christmas. It’s a perfect combination of holiday playfulness, jazz, warm sounds and of course - Christmas spirit. It tastes exactly like those roasted nuts and mulled wine did. It’s on top of my ‘most played albums during holidays’ list. Below is a little taste of it. Now go and get it!


If we’re already at the more jazzy side of Christmas, I have to mention Wynton Marsalis’ Christmas Jazz Jam. This one’s a bit more demanding than A Charlie Brown Christmas, so it may not be to everyone’s liking, but it’s a great album. It has many wonderful moments like Good King Wenceslas and O Little Town Of Bethlehem to name just two. Whenever I listen to this album I feel like it’s putting together two of my favourite things. Jazz and Christmas. Does it get any better than jazzy Christmas?

Still on Christmas with jazz, here’s Louis Armstrong & Friends doing What a Wonderful Christmas. When I first heard it, I was a bit disappointed to hear there are only 6 out of 14 songs by Louis. This makes it more of a compilation with a focus on Satchmo than an album done by him. Nevertheless it’s a wonderful album that’s easy to enjoy. It features names like Dinah Washington, Duke Ellington, Peggy Lee, Louis Jordan and Lena Horne. All in all, it’s an even better combination than Christmas Jazz Jam - Jazz and Christmas AND Louis Armstrong! Just thinking about it, makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. The only thing that leaves you sad after listening to the album is that Louis Armstrong didn’t record more Christmas songs, because he’s so incredibly good at it. Here’s Winter Wonderland done by him. Listen and see what I’m talking about.

(Here’s a post about it in Ricky Riccardi’s blog)

That’s it for now but I’m not done yet. Next time I’ll continue with other great, maybe a bit unexpected but great Christmas albums. Until then, tell me, is there anyone else out there who gets excited over Christmas and Christmas music? What are your favourites?

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Dave Brubeck

I had something different in mind for today’s post, but something happened that is just too important not to write about. An American piano legend, Dave Brubeck, passed away today. He would turn 92 tomorrow. He was known for his unusual time signatures and poly-rhythms. During his 60 year career, he toured with names like Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. He was featured on Time magazine’s cover - at the time, the second jazz musician ever to be featured on its cover, with only Louis Armstrong preceding him.
Most people will know him through songs like Take Five or Blue Rondo A La Turk. Maybe you don’t even know you know him, but most likely you’ve heard these songs before.
I think he’s very easy to listen to, but he also has so much to offer. I recommend him to anyone, to long time jazz lovers as well as to people who are just getting into jazz. He wasn’t being praised so much for nothing...

His renown, in part, comes from his great album Time Out, which is something you have to hear at least once in your life, but the reason I love Dave Brubeck is The Real Ambassadors, a project with his wife Iola, created specifically with Louis Armstrong in mind. Regarding the project much can be found in Ricky Riccardi’s blog and book What a Wonderful World. I won’t go into detail about it (I will come back about this as this is material for a post on its own) but I will say it’s a masterpiece ahead of its time and it’s one of my favourite Louis Armstrong’s albums.
Here’s a song out of the album. Iola wrote the lyrics and she meant them to be light and humorous, especially the part

They say I look like God.
Could God be black? My God!
If all are made in the image of thee,
Could thou perchance a zebra be?

was meant as a joke, but Louis sang them with such seriousness it brings the song to a whole new level.
Anyway, I’ll talk about the album some other time, I had to at least mention it. If you want to listen to some great music and hear Louis Armstrong do something atypical for him, give this album a listen. It’s well worth it!

A musical legend left us today and left a great legacy. Do the right thing and go enjoy some of it.

Come back for more reading as I’ll do a Christmas special later this week!

EDIT 7. December 2012: Here's a great article on The Real Ambassadors by Ricky Riccardi. Check it out!

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Nina Strnad, a Slovenian gem

Nina Strnad by Žan Anderle

This women in jazz series has come to an end and for the last post I decided to do something different, something special. Today I’ll write about a young Slovenian jazz singer. Most of the musicians I listen to are from abroad and are unfortunately not alive anymore, so writing about a young Slovenian singer is something quite different.
I still remember the day I first heard Nina Strnad singing. I was watching television to kill some time and I was rushing through the channels to find something entertaining. All of a sudden I realized I passed something which was completely different than all the soap operas, commercials and low-budget movies on other channels. It felt like a snowball hit me. I stopped browsing, thinking “what was that?!”. I backed up a few channels and started listening to some kind of a concert. I turned on the volume and this beautiful, clear voice started coming out of the speakers. I was mesmerized by this girl’s singing and shocked that we have this voice in Slovenia and that I hadn’t heard about her. Immediately I wanted to find out who she was and I got so excited that I found some new music to listen to (I explained why I get so excited over new music in this post). After that, I started paying attention to her name and whenever I heard she’s playing somewhere, I’d try to go and listen. She was (and still is) just too good to pass on.
After a couple of concerts and jam sessions this year, I really got into her singing and now I always make sure I don’t miss her gigs, and I always recommend her to my friends - if you ever have a chance to hear her sing, take it! You won’t be sorry. At the moment, Nina is studying jazz singing in USA, so any readers from that area, pay attention to her name, and try to catch her gigs if she’ll have any.
This year she started performing some known popular, although older, Slovenian songs, but with a jazzy twist, which is just wonderful. I knew most of these songs before, but I feel like I’m hearing them for the first time when she does them. I really appreciate that she’s doing her own thing with these Slovenian songs instead of doing just jazz standards.
Nina's gig by Žan Anderle

Last week, she came home because of Thanksgiving in the States and had a concert at Ljubljana’s castle, which was the inspiration for this post (and it just so happened that it coincided with my writing about women). Surprisingly, she sang a lot of songs she had never sung before and it was just spectacular. Unfortunately, none of these songs are online yet, but I’ll do another post as soon as they are. The whole concert was amazing but three of my favourite songs were Four Brothers with its nerve-wrecking tempo (for anyone who knows the song - she actually sang all the lyrics!), Chaplin’s Smile with a beautiful Slovene translation (which she did by herself) and most of all Thelonious Monk’s In Walked Bud. I love Thelonious Monk and I love this song and I feel like she sang it exactly the way it was supposed to be sung. I was trying to find a version which would resemble her performance, but without any luck. The closest, I would say, is Carmen McRea’s version, but even that’s not close enough. She was just that good.
I genuinely appreciate the things she’s doing with the Slovenian songs, but I hope she’ll also continue with the stuff she was doing at this concert, because it was phenomenal.

I apologize I can’t supply more musical material with the post, but I wanted to write about her regardless of that, because I think she’s a Slovenian gem and because she’s actually my favourite female singer, who is still alive.

Thoughts, anyone?

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Stevie Wonder

I’ve put this women in jazz series on hold for now, as I want to prepare something different and special for the last one. For now, I wanted to write about something unrelated to that, so I decided to write about Stevie Wonder.
I’m sure he doesn’t need much introduction, since pretty much everyone knows of him. He was born Steveland Hardaway Judkins in 1950 and was blind almost from the day he was born. He began singing in a church choir and began learning piano, drums and harmonica at the age of nine. Today, Wonder plays the piano, synthesizer, harmonica, congas, drums, bass guitar, bongos, organ, melodica, and clavinet. He began his musical career in 1962, when he was only 12, which makes his career span over a respectful 50 years.

I don’t enjoy all of his music (I Just Called To Say I Love You, for example), but there are three albums that are perfection and that make me love and respect Stevie Wonder and call him a living legend. They are, as he has always been, optimistic and cheerful. Website allmusic.com describes it so well: “His best records were a richly eclectic brew of soul, funk, rock & roll, sophisticated Broadway/Tin Pan Alley-style pop, jazz, reggae, and African elements -- and they weren't just stylistic exercises; Wonder took it all and forged it into his own personal form of expression”. Whenever I need a dose of optimism and energy, I put on one of these albums and it works like a charm every time. I don’t know about you, but I personally cannot stand still while listening to Superstition. I believe it’s physically impossible. These three albums I love are Talking Book, Innervisions and Songs In The Key Of Life. Listen to at least one of them (or preferably all three) to hear the genius of Stevie Wonder firsthand.

As I’ve said, I recommend all three of them, but Talking Book might be the best place to start - it’s the easiest to get your head around. It has beautiful love songs like I Believe and it also has one of his best songs ever (if you ask me); Superstition. What I find interesting is that the album is recorded almost solely by Stevie Wonder. He didn’t have any help on some songs, while others feature some great names in music, like for example Jeff Beck on Looking For Another Pure Love.
Innervisions is a bit more socially and politically oriented and might be a bit harder to listen to, if you’re not used to these sounds, but nevertheless a great album. My favourite from this album is definitely Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing, with its great rhythm and groove.
Last but absolutely not the least is Songs In The Key Of Life. Many say it’s the pinnacle of Stevie Wonder’s career. I’m not going to talk about how amazingly good the album is (which it is, and if you’re interested, you can read a good review of the album here), but I’d rather just name two of my favourites songs on the album. Isn’t She Lovely, one of his most known songs is just a pure pleasure to listen to. The whole song is wonderful, but his harmonica solo is incredible. He wrote the song for his daughter, which gives it slightly melancholic undertones - just listen to the lyrics and think about the fact that he’s blind and will never be able to see his daughter. The interesting part though, is that he probably doesn’t think of it this way, seeing as he’s generally so optimistic and cheerful and never considered being blind as a disadvantage. In any case, Isn’t She Lovely is a typical Stevie Wonder song and I love it.
The next favourite from the album is Sir Duke, a song written as a tribute to the great Duke Ellington (I will be talking about him in the future) and music in general. No words here, just listen.

I’m sure everyone has a favourite Stevie Wonder song, so please share!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Nina Simone

Nina Simone
I don’t know as much about Nina Simone and her music as I would like to, but I enjoy her music very much so I decided to do a quick mention of her anyway. I mean, it is my women in jazz series and she definitely deserves a spot! I will do another post on her, once I get to know her a bit more, which will happen soon, because I’m quite intrigued by her. The way she takes on some of the songs is very interesting and her voice takes a bit of getting used to, I think, but after that, it becomes great. It is puzzling but is also rewarding because of that. Another thing I like about her music is that she fills it with raw emotion. Sometimes you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you can just feel something strong.
Here are a few examples of my favourite Nina Simone songs. I love her version of ‘I Put a Spell On You’, I feel it’s the best one (and there are many versions of the song out there). I enjoy the genius irony in ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free’ - the music is so cheerful, but there’s absolutely nothing cheerful about the lyrics. And because I didn’t want to put too many examples in this post I decided for only one more song. I feel ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ is a good example of what I was saying about raw emotion. The singing and the backing piano (which she plays by herself of course) just gets to you. I’ve listened to the song so many times, but it still grabs me every time, because I can’t quite get to the bottom of it.

I can’t wait to do a longer post on Nina Simone. Until then, any thoughts on her or her music?

The First Lady Of Song

The First Lady Of Song
Next up in this women in jazz series is the magnificent Ella Fitzgerald. I feel a bit intimidated writing about her - she was just that good! Her voice is probably as pure as it gets. It’s bright, perfectly clear and it’s very comforting. Her singing is so effortless that she makes it seem like it’s easy to sing like that. Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to have Ella for a grandma. Whenever someone felt blue, she would just sing their troubles away. While I love Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington, they never make me feel as good as Ella always does. It’s easy to get caught up in her music and forget about your worries.

I got to know Ella through my love of Louis Armstrong. As you may know, Lady Ella and Satchmo recorded 3 albums together, all of which are simply golden. Some people refer to ‘Porgy and Bess’ album as “Sandpaper and whipped cream”. I personally prefer the first two albums - ‘Ella & Louis’ and ‘Ella and Louis Again’. A combination of her singing and her exquisite voice, his amazing trumpet playing and his raspy voice is entrancing. Listen to ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me’ or ‘Learning The Blues’ to get a feeling of what I’m talking about. And even if you’re not interested in what I’m talking about, just listen to the songs because it’s wonderful music and also because these albums are probably an example of one of the best collaborations ever.
For some other Ella Fitzgerald’s albums, I would recommend ‘Intimate Ella’ or some of her songbooks: Cole Porter's, Gershwin's or Duke Ellington's. The first two are actually not even that jazzy, so they might be especially appropriate for someone who’s not that into jazz, but because of Ella’s amazing vocals they will also be liked by jazz fans. ‘Intimate Ella’ is a good one to get the most out of her voice, since she’s accompanied only by a piano on this one. Here’s an example.

I read about her life the other day and I was quite surprised. Ella was born and brought up in poverty and she was actually homeless for a year before starting her career. She hit her big break at a talent show in Harlem. She was supposed to dance, but after seeing an amazing dance act go on before her, she got scared and at the last second decided to sing instead. Best last second decision ever!
Behind the stage, she was actually shy and reserved, which I think no one would guess because she looked so confident and, in her own words, felt at home on the stage. Singing is what she lived for. She often felt self-conscious about her looks and at times even doubted her abilities. How can someone so talented doubt themselves?! I guess she was still only a human, like the rest of us, even though she sounded otherworldly.

What is your favourite Ella Fitzgerald album or song? Your thoughts are appreciated.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Dinah Washington

Yesterday, I did a post on Etta James and I promised I would write about Dinah today, and that led me to start a series of posts about women in music I listen to. Up next are Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and some others. So if you’re into that, make sure you check the blog every now and then. Let’s get right to it.

Born Ruth Lee Jones in 1924, Dinah Washington was discovered at a talent show at the age of 15, by Louis Armstrong’s manager Joe Glaser. Since then, she has been praised greatly as a singer of both blues and  jazz and critics have given her as much credit as they have given Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. Listen to her for half an hour and you’ll know what they were talking about.
She sang a lot of torch songs - songs about unrequited love, about loving someone even after they’ve found someone else, songs filled with sorrow and pain. In a way she could relate to those songs, since she had plenty of experiences to draw from. She was married 7 times, and after writing about Etta James and Billie Holiday, it almost sounds like I’m repeating myself. It’s the same story all over again.
In 1959, she hit the pop market with the hit song What a Difference a Day Makes and while the sound of her music changed quite a bit, her singing stayed as strong as ever.
In 1963, she died of a combination of diet pills and alcohol. She was 39 years old.

I love her singing and I listen to Mad About The Boy - The Best Of Dinah Washington at least twice a month (in addition to other Dinah’s albums). I definitely recommend it, and I think it’s actually a nice way to start getting into jazz, for anyone out there, who might be interested. Her singing is nothing short of phenomenal. Her smoky, raspy, salty, rich voice, full of vibrato is just a joy to listen to. Even though she sounds completely different to Billie Holiday, I think you can actually hear a lot of Billie in Dinah’s singing.
The best album Dinah Washington ever recorded though, is, in my opinion, Dinah Jams. It’s a jam session recorded in a studio in Los Angeles with big jazz cats like Clifford Brown and Max Roach. Here are two songs which perfectly show her amazing talent (the album itself sounds a bit different than these two songs, but I wanted to post them, because they represent Dinah better). In the second song, pay attention to lovely piano backing and the perfect saxophone accompaniment.

I love the lyrics of Crazy He Calls me, a song made popular by Billie Holiday. Although Billie Holiday is my favourite female singer of all time, I think Dinah delivers this song better.

I say I'll move the mountains
And I'll move the mountains
If he wants them out of the way
Crazy he calls me
Sure, I'm crazy
Crazy in love, I say

I say I'll go through fire
And I'll go through fire
As he wants it, so it will be
Crazy he calls me
Sure, I'm crazy
Crazy in love, you see

Like the wind that shakes the bough
He moves me with a smile
The difficult I'll do right now
The impossible will take a little while
I say I'll care forever
And I mean forever
If I have to hold up the sky
Crazy he calls me
Sure, I'm crazy
Crazy in love am I
I love the witty contrast in the song. I feel like when she sings 'Crazy he calls me, sure I'm crazy, crazy in love' he and she are talking about the same thing, but seeing it differently. They're both talking about the same relationship, they're both using the same word, yet they don't have the same view on it. He sees crazy as are-you-out-of-your-mind crazy, it's not good to be this way crazy and she understands it as 'I'm so deeply in love, it makes me a bit crazy', but a good kind of crazy. And anyone can understand it that way actually. You could see 'I say I'll go through fire and I'll go through fire, as he wants it, so it will be' as something only a person not thinking straight would do, and it's not sane. Or you could be more romantic and see it as an inspirational thing and admire her deep love for him.
In the end, both kinds of crazy are actually the same thing, it just depends on how you look at it and what you have to gain from your perspective; if you see this crazy as something wonderful as she does, then you can do the impossible 'The difficult I'll do right now, the impossible will take a little while', otherwise it's likely that the impossible will stay impossible. I don't know about you, but I'd rather be a romantic and do the impossible.

What do you think about the two songs? What are your favourite Dinah Washington songs? Comment away.

Next time, I’ll write about another wonderful female musician. Until then, everyone.

Etta James

Etta James
Here’s a singer! Nicknamed ‘Miss Peaches’, Etta James was born in 1938 and her amazing career spanned from the 50’s to around 2010. She left a great legacy and a big amount of wonderful music for us to enjoy. If you don’t know her, you should read on, because in my experience, everyone seems to like Etta James. Doesn’t matter what music you’re into, there’s a chance you’ll enjoy Etta.

I started listening to Miss Peaches after a recommendation from a good friend and she’s been one of my favourite female singers ever since. She has probably the strongest voice I’ve ever heard in a woman and with it she can sing whatever she wants. She defies labels and genres, so it’s really hard to say what she sings, but I’d say it’s a bit of jazz, a bit of blues, a bit of soul, and a bit of R’n’B. She also didn’t like being put into a category and she said that she just sings what she sings and it doesn’t really matter what you call it.
Most people will know her by the song At Last or maybe I’d Rather Go Blind, but there’s more to her than just those two songs. What I like about her is that it doesn’t matter what mood I’m in, I can always find an album that’s appropriate. Anyway, I would recommend you get some kind of Best Of Etta James album, because it’s hard not to like her, and I doubt you’ll be sorry. Also on the recommended listening list are These Foolish Things from her Billie Holiday tribute album and a duet with Dr John - I’d Rather Go Blind, which I personally think is probably one of the best duets ever.

Miss James had a turbulent life, which sometimes reminds me of that of Billie Holiday. She was born to a 14 year old mother, she never met her father, and throughout her whole life, she was struggling with relationships and drug addictions. You could say that, like Lady Day, she also not only sang the blues, but lived the blues. She explains that because she felt the pain, she could sing the songs the way she did.
Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington were her greatest influences. I talked about Billie Holiday before and I’ll talk about Dinah Washington next time, since they’re all connected in a way.
Etta admired Lady Day greatly. I was watching an interview with Etta, in which she described how the two met in the 50’s. Miss James was only about 17, 18 at the time and when she met her, Billie was very weak. Her feet were all swollen, two men had to help her walk around and, as Etta remembers, her hands were almost like boxing gloves. Etta observed her nervously and eventually their eyes locked and Billie said to her “don’t ever let this happen to you”. In hindsight, she found this intriguing and strange and it had haunted her for a while. The thing is that at the time, she wasn’t into drugs at all, but later when she got addicted, she remembered that moment and wondered “Why did she say that to me? Why did she look in my eyes and say that?”. I think it’s all very interesting how even though she didn’t want it, her idol’s fate got a hold of her and how that very same idol could foresee it. (this is a nice thought)

If I had to choose one song to try to introduce someone to Etta James, it would probably be an obvious choice like All I Could Do Was Cry. But if I wanted to choose a song which would showcase her singing, her interpretations, her raw emotions, it would have to be Feeling Uneasy. The song is just filled with pure pain, sorrow and hurt and she delivers it perfectly. They recorded the album while she was in rehab, and when they recorded this particular song, the withdrawal was especially bad. She was in so much pain that she was actually unable to sing the lyrics. All she could do was shout and moan, so they just let the tape roll and this is what they came up with. A haunting, painful and poignant piece of music.

What do you think? What about Etta James, do you like her? What are your experiences with her music? Please, share your thoughts!