Blues To The Bone: The Life Of Etta James

Episodes

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012011012520150113 (6M)

Candi Staton presents the story of the great RnB singer.

012011012520150113 (6M)

Candi Staton celebrates the life of Etta James, who died in 2012.

With a career that spanned nearly six decades, James has been cited as an influence by artists such as Christina Aguilera, Melissa Etheridge and the late Janis Joplin. Film director Martin Scorsese said of her: "I first heard Etta James' voice in the early 60s, coming out of the radio. That soaring voice... it was like taking a ride up to the stars."

But as we'll hear from these three programmes, James' private life was troubled by drug addiction and legal problems. It wasn't until 1988, after treatment at the Betty Ford Clinic, that she finally beat her addiction and released Seven Year Itch, an album showcasing a new, more raunchy style of singing.

But in 1994 the music industry awarded James her first Grammy, that of Best Jazz Vocal Performance for her collection of Billie Holliday songs. And after picking up the Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2003, two more followed (Best Contemporary Blues Album for 2003's Let's Roll and Best Traditional Blues Album for 2004's Blues To The Bone). This series first broadcast on Radio 2 in 2006.

0120110125

012011012520150113 (6M)

Candi Staton presents the story of the great RnB singer.

012011012520150113 (6M)

Candi Staton celebrates the life of Etta James, who died in 2012.

With a career that spanned nearly six decades, James has been cited as an influence by artists such as Christina Aguilera, Melissa Etheridge and the late Janis Joplin. Film director Martin Scorsese said of her: "I first heard Etta James' voice in the early 60s, coming out of the radio. That soaring voice... it was like taking a ride up to the stars."

But as we'll hear from these three programmes, James' private life was troubled by drug addiction and legal problems. It wasn't until 1988, after treatment at the Betty Ford Clinic, that she finally beat her addiction and released Seven Year Itch, an album showcasing a new, more raunchy style of singing.

But in 1994 the music industry awarded James her first Grammy, that of Best Jazz Vocal Performance for her collection of Billie Holliday songs. And after picking up the Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2003, two more followed (Best Contemporary Blues Album for 2003's Let's Roll and Best Traditional Blues Album for 2004's Blues To The Bone). This series first broadcast on Radio 2 in 2006.

0120110125

022011012620150114 (6M)

Candi Staton presents the story of the great RnB singer.

022011012620150114 (6M)

Candi Staton celebrates the life of Etta James, who died in 2012. First broadcast in 2006.

In the mid 1960s Etta James became embroiled in drug addiction. Despite this, she managed to record some classic tracks at the famous Muscle Shoals recording studio in Alabama, including the Tell Mama album.

We hear about the recording of one of her biggest hits, including the ballad I'd Rather Go Blind and how the impact of that record, and subsequent UK cover versions by Chicken Shack and Rod Stewart, launched Etta internationally.

Josh and singer Sugar Pie Desanto witnessed Etta at her most irascible and we hear about her reputation as someone "not to mess with", alongside her mistrust of the music business.

The singer was at an all time low, and her tour manager Phil Kaufman remembers how disappointed he was to meet Etta in this sorry state. He describes the job he had, keeping her away from drugs, and allowing her to do what she does best "singing and dazzling audiences". We hear of Etta's love for Otis Redding, and how she had planned to record a duets album with him shortly before his death in 1967.

The 1970s funk scene influenced Etta and resulted in some hard hitting tracks like Tighten Up Your Own Thing, All The Way Down, and Out On The Street Again. Brian Ray was Etta's musical director during this time and he explains how Etta was a real taskmaster when it came to her band. The song Feelin' Uneasy is a heart wrenching groove with Etta howling over it, and Brian Ray is still haunted by that recording session, when he witnessed Etta's emotional battle with drug abuse. This was part of a failed comeback, but in part three, we hear how she eventually beat drugs and relaunched her career.

0220110126

022011012620150114 (6M)

Candi Staton presents the story of the great RnB singer.

022011012620150114 (6M)

Candi Staton celebrates the life of Etta James, who died in 2012. First broadcast in 2006.

In the mid 1960s Etta James became embroiled in drug addiction. Despite this, she managed to record some classic tracks at the famous Muscle Shoals recording studio in Alabama, including the Tell Mama album.

We hear about the recording of one of her biggest hits, including the ballad I'd Rather Go Blind and how the impact of that record, and subsequent UK cover versions by Chicken Shack and Rod Stewart, launched Etta internationally.

Josh and singer Sugar Pie Desanto witnessed Etta at her most irascible and we hear about her reputation as someone "not to mess with", alongside her mistrust of the music business.

The singer was at an all time low, and her tour manager Phil Kaufman remembers how disappointed he was to meet Etta in this sorry state. He describes the job he had, keeping her away from drugs, and allowing her to do what she does best "singing and dazzling audiences". We hear of Etta's love for Otis Redding, and how she had planned to record a duets album with him shortly before his death in 1967.

The 1970s funk scene influenced Etta and resulted in some hard hitting tracks like Tighten Up Your Own Thing, All The Way Down, and Out On The Street Again. Brian Ray was Etta's musical director during this time and he explains how Etta was a real taskmaster when it came to her band. The song Feelin' Uneasy is a heart wrenching groove with Etta howling over it, and Brian Ray is still haunted by that recording session, when he witnessed Etta's emotional battle with drug abuse. This was part of a failed comeback, but in part three, we hear how she eventually beat drugs and relaunched her career.

0220110126

032011012720150115 (6M)

Candi Staton presents the story of the great RnB singer.

032011012720150115 (6M)

Candi Staton celebrates the life of Etta James, who died in 2012. First broadcast in 2006.

The final programme picks up Etta James' career in 1975, when she was experimenting with more unusual material like Randy Newman's Let's Burn Down The Cornfields and You Can Leave Your Hat On. Her road manager Phil Kaufman, her guitarist Brian Ray, and A&R man Tony Rounce describe her successful fight against drug addiction. Etta's song W.O.M.A.N. co-written with her mother Dorothy, was reworked with a funk groove and Brian Ray remembers his contribution to this.

Singer, Sugar Pie Desanto talks about Etta's wicked sense of humour and tour manager Phil Kaufman relates a few humorous anecdotes about the chaos involved in being on the road with Etta. In 1988, Etta signed to Island Records and Tony Rounce talks about this time, and how she collaborated with singer Steve Winwood on the track Give It Up.

One of Etta's biggest influences was Billie Holiday, who warned Etta to stay clear of drugs when they met. Her 1995 Billie Holiday tribute album, Mystery Lady, secured Etta her first Grammy and she picked up a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2003 Grammy Awards.

0320110127

032011012720150115 (6M)

Candi Staton presents the story of the great RnB singer.

032011012720150115 (6M)

Candi Staton celebrates the life of Etta James, who died in 2012. First broadcast in 2006.

The final programme picks up Etta James' career in 1975, when she was experimenting with more unusual material like Randy Newman's Let's Burn Down The Cornfields and You Can Leave Your Hat On. Her road manager Phil Kaufman, her guitarist Brian Ray, and A&R man Tony Rounce describe her successful fight against drug addiction. Etta's song W.O.M.A.N. co-written with her mother Dorothy, was reworked with a funk groove and Brian Ray remembers his contribution to this.

Singer, Sugar Pie Desanto talks about Etta's wicked sense of humour and tour manager Phil Kaufman relates a few humorous anecdotes about the chaos involved in being on the road with Etta. In 1988, Etta signed to Island Records and Tony Rounce talks about this time, and how she collaborated with singer Steve Winwood on the track Give It Up.

One of Etta's biggest influences was Billie Holiday, who warned Etta to stay clear of drugs when they met. Her 1995 Billie Holiday tribute album, Mystery Lady, secured Etta her first Grammy and she picked up a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2003 Grammy Awards.

0320110127