Wow, it's been a sad week in the world of music. As I sat down to write my last post, a belated obit to funky brother, Jimmy Castor, I learned of the passing of another favorite of mine, Johnny Otis. Only hours later, I learned of the passing of one of Johnny's protégés that would go onto achieve far greater fame than he ever would, Etta James.
Otis (middle) connected with black culture.
Johnny Otis (1921-2012)
Johnny Otis, born Ioannis Veliotes, was the child of Greek immigrants who grew up in the predominantly african-american area of Berkeley, California. He was enamored with black culture and music and once famously said, “I decided that if our society dictated that one had to be black or white, I would be black.” This was in the severely segregated 1930's. In his career he would come to fame with his 1950's hit, "Willie and The Handjive" before helping launch the careers and mainstream acceptance of artists such as Little Richard and Etta James, whom sadly would pass on the same day as her mentor (see below). The later part of his career saw him producing unforgettable funk gems such as "Watts Breakaway" and helping to launch the career of his virtuoso son, Shuggie Otis. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and Godfather of Rhythm and Blues, as he was often he refereed to as, was 90 years old.
Etta James, performing live in the late 50's
Etta James (1938-2012)
Etta James' life was never an easy one. Sadly today may be the first time she has found peace in many years. The bluesy songstress, known for such heartbreaking songs as "I'd Rather Go Blind", was listed by Rolling Stone magazine at number 22 on their list of 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. In her lifetime, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Blues Hall of Fame as well as the Grammy Hall of Fame after winning the coveted award on six occasions. Her epic successes, sadly, were mirrored by her epic struggles with heroin addiction. Life on the streets was no stranger to her, as documented in her track from 1972, "All the Way Down". She had managed to clean up her act, to some extent, and reemerged in the 1980's with her critically acclaimed album, The Seven Year Itch. She would soon be battling addiction and illness again however, finally succumbing to leukemia and other illnesses today, January 20th, five days shy of her 73rd birthday.
Although slightly atypical of her style, this is my favorite track by the late Ms. James and probably the one most highly regarded by the diggers.
From her 1972 self tittled Lp, this is "All The WAy Down", a hard knocks tale of life in the streets and the pimps and pushers that inhabit them.
Ms. James was introduced to the younger generation through the Flo Rida track (of dubious quality), "Good Feeling", which samples the intro to her track, "Somethings Got A Hold On Me". Below is a scorching live performance from 1962.
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