Etta James: 'I was like a punker … I'd spit in a minute'
Although consistently lauded by folk within the biz as one of the great black female singers, Etta is only just now emerging into the extreme sidelights of the great white wunnerful rock arena via a contract with Warner Brothers and her appearances on the current Rolling Stones tour of America.
“The Stones are great,” she says, slightly wistfully. “They are doing black music and they’ve got it. They got the direction and they know what the hell to do. They know how to pump plenty of sound, they know how to get real intense and get people so crazy that they don’t know what the heck’s happening to them. And that’s the way you gotta do it.
"I find myself going crazy about the Stones just like the kids are in the audience. Keith, he just stumbles over his own feet, blam, he falls down, he just lays there, blungablunga, he’s still there just like it’s part of the act. They kick each other and thump each other in the back of the head. Mick, if he forgets the damn words he just burbles and they go nuts. He forgets what part of the song he’s singing but who cares, y'know? Long as he’s there to holler something people just bump their heads on the wall, it’s great.
"But, you know, Mick told me: ‘I met you 15 years ago at a little club in Los Angeles. You were wearing a blonde wig and you had on a green dress and it had feathers …’ he named everything. He was right. And a lot of the stuff that I see him do on stage is stuff that I used to do. I mean when I was really jumping around an’ leaping an’ looking all crazy.
"I was originally like a punker, know what I mean, like the punks are today, I’d spit in a minute. And I notice Mick does that same facial expression that I see, so then I sit in the dressing room and I think it’s really weird how these guys have gotten over.
"The first night I worked with them I almost cried in my dressing room. I thought, God, here are these guys, they’re famous millionaires from doing this here and I’m still nowhere after all these years. What is happening here?
"Then I think, I don’t know, I wanna make money but I don’t probably never wanna be cool about it, you know what I mean? I would never be cool about it. I would never give a shit whether I worked Las Vegas or Lake Tahoe or not. I’m not a bourgeois person, never will be. I could work Dingwalls forever because I’m used to that kind of joint.
"Like the guys came to me last night and said, 'I’m sorry this is not like the Ritz.’ Well what the heck would I know? In 25 years I’ve never worked the Ritz; I’ve worked nothing but places that look like Dingwalls. And for those kind of people, that stand there and scream all night, and when you get through they’re mad because you don’t come back, that’s my kind of people.
"See, I don’t like places where people can’t dance – don’t like clubs or theatres where a bunch of bourgeois people sit around tip, tip, tipping their fingers.” [Read More]