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The day my music died

It would have been the summer of 1962, and Miss Etta James was on the box. Time stood still for me as she raised the gospel shout at the beginning definitely got my little-white-girl-in-suburban-L.A. attention.

“Sometimes I get a good feeling
A feeling I’ve never, never, never, had before . . .”

Her gravelly vocal statements were answered by a back-up group, and then she launched into “Something’s Got a Hold On Me (It Must Be Love).” And I was born again as a hipster at that exact moment. You can look at several YouTube versions. The beginning shout outs are downright primal and still make my hair stand on end. She was full-throated sex and womanhood.

I am from an L.A. County surfer town, so you might think I would have liked the Beach Boys. So white bread. So ONE-two, ONE-two, chucka, chucka. In 1964 the Beatles hit America, and my high school girlfriends and I were enthralled. I was even in a Beatles group (I was John Lennon). But I didn’t really like the Beatles’ music nearly as much as the soul and R&B I heard on the L.A. radio stations. Miss Etta was, and always will be, my favorite singer.

I was lucky enough to see Etta James perform live one time at Salt Lake City’s Capitol Theater. She had great difficulty walking, sat on a stool for most of the show, yet belted out her soul, pain, rage, and truth like she was young and tortured all over again.

Etta James died today at age 73 after lifelong drug and health problems that followed her rough beginning: a too-young mother, an absent father, and abuse throughout her life from men and the music industry. She claimed the pool pro Minnesota Fats was her dad, and maybe that’s so. The 2008 movie Cadillac Records spotlights some of her life, though all those intimate close ups with Adrian Brody and Beyonce (as Etta) were a little too creepy for my taste. Maybe that is how it was, but still. I have her autobiography Rage to Survive, and now I just may read it. And perhaps Beyonce’s brand new baby girl was a sign that a spirit was passing.

Rest in peace, Miss Etta.

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