Etta James

*She could screech like a wildcat or purr like a kitten, but when you heard it you knew it was unmistakably the voice of Etta James – the legendary singer who passed away Friday January 20, 2012 after a lengthy battle with leukemia. She will be remembered for her extraordinary recordings and stage performances.

There exists an extensive collection of some of her early hits titled The Essential Etta James. Reading through some of the song titles is like reading a fragmented love letter. Weaving them together could look something like this:

[“My Dearest Darling” when we first started seeing each other I told you I wanted “A Sunday Kind Of Love.” Do you remember? You thought I was kidding with all those jive-talking men hittin’ on me, and I whispered “I Prefer You.” I asked, “Would It Make Any Difference To You” if you knew I’d been watching you and hoping we could get together? I would have done or gone through “Anything To Say You’re Mine.” You looked so sincere when you asked “Baby What You Want Me To Do?” Then you kissed me on the cheek, and sent chills down my spine. That night we got “All The Way Down” and it was wonderful!

Early recording session

After that I heard nothing from you for days and my thoughts of you made me “A Prisoner Of Love.” Finally when you came by to see me I was “Feeling Uneasy” until you took me in your “Lovin’ Arms” and held me tight. I cried tears of  joy and thought to myself, “Something’s Got A Hold On Me” – I knew right then I was hooked on your love. I said “If I Can’t Have You” I don’t want anybody else. You looked me in the eyes, told me you loved me and said, “Don’t Cry Baby,” “Trust In Me.” That was the assurance and the “Security” that I needed. “At Last” I had found my true love; my knight in shining armor. As time went on I began “Loving You More Everyday.” I treasured what we had.

Then one day I found out you were seeing someone else. I didn’t want to believe it at first but when I went down that night to club “In The Basement” and saw you and her talking, something told me it was over. I lost control and made a big scene. You had been taking me for a “Pushover” while I was being your “Seven Day Fool.” I was devastated and “All I Could Do Was Cry.”

Soon after we broke up I heard it through the grapevine that you were going to be married. I cried so much I had to go “Tell Mama.” I told her “I’d Rather Go Blind” than to see you married to someone else. Mama said, ‘If you feel that way then go “Stop The Wedding.”’ I was “Almost Persuaded” but decided not to go. Instead, I went to the club and sat for hours thinking about all “These Foolish Things.” Then I told Joe to give me “One For My Baby (And One For The Road).” “Fool That I Am” for falling in love with you.]

In the collection’s liner notes – written by biographer David Ritz – James is quoted: “It was a roller-coaster ride,” she says with a sigh, her mind racing with a million memories. “Man, it was absolutely crazy. But when I listen to the music on these discs, when I think of the producers and writers and musicians who gave me their talents and hearts, when I hear all the different kinds of songs I sang, the different styles, the different feelings I expressed…well I know I’ve been blessed.”

In appreciation, we thank you Ms. Etta James for the many songs that became some of the best and most memorable soundtracks of our lives.

Larry Buford is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. Author of “Things Are Gettin’ Outta Hand” (Steuben Pub) Available at Smiley’s Bookstore in Carson CA, Skylight Books, Los Angeles, and Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara CA. Visit the author at (213) 220-8101