I remember the first time I heard her. It was on a blues show on a radio station from Syracuse. This was the song:
Immediately I was in love and had to buy The Essential Etta James, a two-disc collection of her music from Chess Records — a collection that I recorded and re-recorded on cassette after cassette that I played and played until they wore out one by one.
“And then you made me a tape,” my wife remembered during a conversation we had this afternoon on Facebook. “She was so awesome and I’d never heard her before.”
Later I made my wife another mixtape that included Etta’s signature song:
In the middle of the song, I recorded my own message just for my wife: “Will you marry me?” with my playing the tape one night when we were out ostensibly to “spotlight” deer.
In 1995, we saw Etta James perform live when she was on tour with B.B. King during one of his blues summits that included Jimmie Vaughan and others whom I don’t remember now. This was before she had gastric bypass surgery in 2003 that enabled her to lose 200 pounds and she had a hard time getting around the stage. However, she was still — as she always was — great — and as raunchy (if not moreso) as she was in this video (especially at the 1:50 mark):
So this afternoon when my wife texted me to let me know that Etta had died this morning at the age of 73: