NEW YORK (Billboard) – Two years shy of her 70th birthday,
blues singer Etta James looks better than ever. After
struggling with a weight problem most of her life, James
underwent gastric bypass surgery and dropped nearly 200 pounds.
To put it mildly, James is ecstatic about her new lease on
life. In fact, she cannot wait to begin touring in support of
her March 14 release “All the Way” (RCA Victor). “When you look
pretty good — when you got a figure for a change — you want
to get on the stage and actually move around,” the veteran
Laughing, she adds, “A little kid down the street said,
‘Oh, Miss Etta James got a face-lift.’ I was like, that’s all
right, that’s so cool. But you know what? I had to look at
myself after he said that. I do look like I got a face-lift,
though I didn’t. The little kid also told me what he thought
about the new album. He said, ‘Etta James, you rock!”‘
On “All the Way,” the multiple Grammy Award winner and 1993
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee revisits songs made famous
by others, including Marvin Gaye (“What’s Going On”), Simply
Red (“Holding Back the Years”), Prince (“Purple Rain”) and
Johnny “Guitar” Watson (“Strung Out”).
Earlier this month, James received a lifetime achievement
award from the National Assn. of Black Owned Broadcasters at
its 22nd annual Communications Awards Dinner.
Q: You have been making music for more than 50 years. Is
there anything that still surprises you about the music
A: Yeah, I’m still not getting royalty checks. But it costs
so much to make a record. You get the advance and the happiness
and the publicity. But that’s it.
Q: What did you want to achieve with the new album?
A: When I was getting ready to make the record, somebody
from the record company said, “You should leave the blues alone
for a while and do something lush.” So I said, “What does
‘lush’ mean to you?” He said, “Lush is the young kids that go
to college to become lawyers and doctors.” So, I went in and
created a lush record. But I can’t possibly leave the blues
behind. It’s inside me. It’s part of my soul.
Q: What were you looking for in the songs you selected?
A: Well, first, I hand selected all the songs just as I’ve
always done. I’ve got to be able to look at a song and
understand it. Like (the 1978 cover of Kiki Dee’s) “Sugar on
the Floor,” for example. That was a song that I didn’t quite
understand at first. I remember thinking, “What is sugar on the
floor?” Later, I figured out what it meant — to me. And that’s
how I recorded it. It was the same with these songs on the new
album. I made songs like “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” and
“Calling You” my own.
Q: Where do you see this album fitting in today’s scene?
A: Well, a lot of young people haven’t heard these songs
before. I’m hoping it will fit in with the college kids. The
ones that go to the House of Blues. The ones that don’t smoke
in the dance halls. The ones that pay attention to what’s going
on in music. You know, when I listen to that Kanye West song
(“Addiction”) that samples my own “My Funny Valentine,” I think
the kids are ready for an album like the one I’ve made. Of
course, it’s not just for kids.
Q: There has been much talk about a movie based on your
1995 autobiography, “Rage to Survive — The Etta James Story.”
Who do think should play you?
A: Faith Evans or Mary J. Blige. Each one would bring
real-life experiences to the part. And that’s important when
you’re dealing with someone like me.
Q: What is your advice to young artists coming up today?
A: Don’t get too arrogant or too sure of yourself. Also,
don’t just look for the glory and the bright lights. Never
forget that this is a business. And get someone to manage you
who actually cares about you as a person.