Listen to this song by much-missed R&B stylist, and elementally gifted vocalist Etta James. It’s “Tell Mama”, a broiling example of full-on soul-power, charged with the fire of the blues, as taken from the album of the same name, Tell Mama, from 1968.
The record and song was something of a comeback for James, who first broke out in 1960 after some minor dents in the R&B charts previously. She had become sidelined by the middle of the decade by a series of personal problems, including a growing heroin habit. Her addiction to drugs would continue to be a personal millstone around her neck for many years.
Yet, the sheer power of her voice, and the uniqueness of the same, would remain undiminished. And this tune is my favourite of her songs, which is really saying something given the quality of her output.
The comeback itself was successful, with this song being top 10 on the R&B charts, and with the album being her first for almost half a decade to hit the Billboard 200. This tune would become something of a signiture hit, along with “At Last”, her version of Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want To Make Love To You”, and another cut off of the same LP – “I’d Rather Go Blind”.