Thursday, August 16, 2007

Swing Along With Etta James!

Etta James - The Same Rope

As Robert Pruter accurately describes her in Chicago Soul, Etta James successfully represented both sides of Chess Records' soul music spectrum, hitting big with lush ballads like "At Last" and with more rocking material, like "Something's Got a Hold of Me" and "In the Basement" (the latter a duet with Sugar Pie DeSanto, who could hold her own in the hard soul department), but by 1967 the momentum of those Argo and Cadet sides had dissipated. Label prexy Leonard Chess decided that Rick Hall and his FAME outfit, which had delivered Chess a couple of hits with the Alabama-based Bobby Moore and His Rhythm Aces the year before, were just what the doctor ordered to get Etta back on the charts. Rick Hall has interviewed that when Leonard first sought him out he told Chess that he didn't have any material for her, to which the ever-brusque Chess retorted with something along the lines of "get off your ass and get some." Chess's pep talk worked, because by the time Etta James walked into Hall's Muscle Shoals studio there was material in abundance, and the album Tell Mama and singles pulled from it (the title track - a reworking of Clarence Carter's "Tell Daddy" - remains a fan favorite, although Etta has interviewed that it's far from her favorite recording) and other sessions gave Etta's career a shot in the arm for nearly the remainder of the decade. Etta's FAME sessions have been compiled on the great CD reissue of Tell Mama, which is highly recommended.

The Tell Mama LP got a lot of turntable action at my parents' house when I was growing up, and today's selection, the lead-off single of the B-side of the LP, was always a favorite of mine. "The Same Rope" ventures into the "revenge" lyrical terrain that I discussed yesterday - yes, women cut some great "revenge" songs in those days, too - but the swinging organ groove, nice bass line and chipper background singers makes the whole thing more fun than fearsome; like in Big Maybelle's version of "96 Tears," you get the impression that the downfall of the song's subject is more of a joke to the singer than anything else.

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