Dance With Me Henry (The Wallflower) by Georgia Gibbs

October 29, 2012

Georgia Gibbs, 1919-2006, began her career on the big band circuit and was a regular on radio before signing a solo contract in 1948.

Her vocal style always had a jazzy side to it but during the mid-1950s she began covering some of the rhythm & blues hits of the day. During early 1955 her version of LaVern Baker’s “Tweedle Dee” reached number two on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Most Played By Disc Jockey’s Chart.

She returned several months later with a cover of Etta James’ number one rhythm & blues hit, “The Wallflower,” which she renamed “Dance With Me Henry.” While I prefer James’ version, it proved to be a wise choice as it spent three weeks on top of the BILLBOARD Most Played In Jukeboxes Chart beginning May 14, 1955.

She would chart her last single during 1958 and would retire from the music business in 1966

Live At Montreux: 1975-1993 by Etta James

September 30, 2012

I assume the first time I ever heard Etta James was when some oldies station played her hit “The Wallflower (Dance With Me Henry)” during the late 1960s. By the end of the decade she was sharing time on my turntable with the likes of The Beach Boys, The Beatles, and Led Zeppelin.

Jamesetta Hawkins (1938-2012) was a seminal music figure during the mid-1950s as she was a connector between classic rhythm & blues and rock and roll. While she never really crossed totally over to a rock format, her style and sound helped to clear the way for artists who would follow.

Her recording career began during 1954 and continued to near her death. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease during 2008 but managed to issue her final album, The Dreamer, in 2011.

If there is anything better than Etta James in the studio, it is Etta James on stage. She was a constant presence at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Eagle Rock Entertainment has now gathered 11 of her performances spanning four appearances at the festival, 1975-1993.

She always had a strong blues foundation and “Dust My Broom” (1975) and “Sugar on the Floor” (1989) returns her to those roots. The six performances, recorded July 15, 1993, have a cohesiveness that is somewhat missing from the second half of the release as they tend to fit together well. Songs such as “I Just Wanna Make Love to You,” “Come to Mama,” and “A Lover Is Forever” explores the gritty and passionate R&B side of her career.

The two most interesting tracks are from her 1975 appearance. The nine-minute “Respect Yourself” and the 10-minute “W.O.M.A.N.” find her at the height of her career and demonstrate how she could work a crowd for an extended period of time.

The album purports to present the best of her Montreux performances. Personally I would prefer to have the entire performances rather than just various songs from a number of sets and years. Whether any more of her material exists from these shows is unknown to me at this time, but the recording of older Montreux shows was spotty.

Still, it’s nice to have the debut of these songs as they present a fine introduction to her music. Etta James passed away January 20, 2012, and Live At Montreux: 1975-1993 is a statement that her like may not pass this way again.

Article first published as Music Review: Etta James – Live At Montreux 1975-1993 on Blogcritics.

The Essential Modern Records Collection by Etta James

June 11, 2011

I acquired my first Etta James album by winning one of the prizes at a church raffle when I was 15 years old. What can I say, it was a cool church. I also remember not being terribly thrilled at the time, however, as I was a fan of The Beach Boys, Roy Orbison, Four Seasons, and Bob Dylan, who were all about as musically different from Etta James as you can get. Then I played the album, and I was hooked. Four-plus decades later I remain a fan and have continued to buy her music.

Etta James began her career as a teenager during the 1950s when she formed the doo-wop group, The Peaches. In late 1954 at the age of 15 she recorded the lead vocal to what would become one of her most famous songs, “The Wallflower (Dance With Me Henry),” which topped the Billboard Rhythm & Blues Chart for four weeks. She soon embarked upon a solo career which continues today.

Her newest album is titled The Essential Modern Records Collection.The title is a little misleading as the material has nothing to do with her present-day career or music. Rather, it refers to her time with Modern Records, which was a rhythm & blues label and the home of such stars as Joe Houston and John Lee Hooker.

The album gathers 15 of her songs released as singles, 1955-1957. As such, the album has resurrected the earliest material of her career. While the songs have been released a number of times, here they are presented in sequence and provide a nice look at the beginning of her career and development of her sound and style. My only complaint is a lack of notes. A little background to each of the tracks, musicians employed, and recording history would have been appreciated.

While she has gone on to explore blues and jazz, her first three releases, “Dance With Me Henry,” “Hey Henry,” and “Good Rockin’ Daddy,” find her as a gritty R&B singer. When you add in such tracks as “Shortnin’ Bread Rock,” “Tough Lover,” “The Pick-Up,” “Come What May,” and “I’m A Fool,” you not only have an excellent overview of her career, but a look into the development of American rhythm & blues.

Etta James is now one of America’s living musical treasures. She has been inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame (1993) and The Blues Hall Of Fame (2001). The Essential Modern Records Collection is a fine introduction to her career, and does indeed remain an essential listen for her fans or for anyone interested in the early rhythm & blues scene.

Article first published as Music Review: Etta James – The Essential Modern Records Collection on Blogcritics.