June 2006

Etta James
at the Toronto Jazz Festival
June 27, 2006Hummingbird CentreToronto
“At Last” Etta James
by Paul J. Youngman with photo by Dougal Bichan
The show was sold out. The Hummingbird Centre seats 3200 people, as Ross Porter (Jazz.Fm Radio CEO) said at the start of the show, “At last the Toronto Jazz Festival has arrived; they’re scalping tickets in front of the theatre.”

The Roots Band took to the stage, Donto James, drums; Sametto, bass; David Mathews, keyboards, organ; Bobby Murray, guitar; Josh Sklar, guitar; Lee Thornburg, trombone; Ronnie Buttacavoli, trumpet; Tom Poole, trumpet; and without wasting any time, launched into a fast paced funk-based tune that featured a powerful Tower of Power type horn section. This is a very energetic band. At times, they overpowered Ms. James with their raw energy and high-end emotion.

Etta arrived on stage to a thunderous standing ovation. Two cheerleaders, guys who looked good, moved well and whose sole purpose was to aid Etta James if she needed it, tried to whip the crowd into a frantic state. They were mostly not needed and quite a distraction.

Etta James performed a variety of songs, some hits, some little known tunes and a medley of Otis Redding tunes. Etta James has been described as a blues, soul, R&B, jazz singer and even a rock and roll singer. She said to the audience, “I sing all of these things.” She proceeded to show the audience that she could still work a room, work her magic and displayed some of the brilliance highlighted on her many recordings. As she approaches the age of 70 (born, Jamesetta Hawkins January 25, 1938 in Los Angeles, California) she is still going strong. She has trouble walking and was primarily seated centre stage. On occasion, she would waltz and strut to the organ where she could dance with the organ acting as a support. Once or twice the mic cord would get tangled and the assistant would dance over and assist in freeing Ms. James to strut.

Etta James
The house was blown away when Ms. James was able to overcome the power of the band, while singing one of her most famous songs “At Last”, the highlight of the concert for me, as well as one other tune. The song, “A Lover Is Forever” was truly magical, a blues ballad performed with only her two guitarists. The first guitar solo of the song was a wailing Freddy King style solo performed by Josh Sklar. The second solo was handled by the more rock inspired Bobby Murray who handled quite a few nice solos during the performance.

Other songs that the audience were treated to included, "I'd Rather Be Blind", "I Wanna Ta Ta You Baby" a funky blues, an Otis Redding medley of "Hard To Handle" and "Pretty Little Thing", "One More Day", "Think", "Rock Me Baby" with nice duelling guitar solos, "Chocolate Jimmy's" and "Sugar On The Floor", one of her favourite songs which she told us was written by Kiki Dee. Ms. James thought Kiki Dee was a Canadian, she was close, Kiki Dee is a British singer. The show's finale was a slow romantic blues "When We're Dreamin", a nice way to end the evening. Everyone got their money’s worth of the blues, care of the incomparable Ms. Etta James.

I should and will, make mention of the opening act, The Paul James band, no relation to Etta James or Elmore James. The band, made up of bass, drums, keys and Paul James on guitar, performed 12 songs with copious amounts of energy.

James is a carry over from the fifties, he is Rick Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly and Ritchie Havens all wrapped up in a package that moves unrestricted by technology in the manner of a Bo Diddley on steroids. The crowd loved his antics; he performed chaine turns, spins, and 4-5 revolutions with the guitar either behind his back or over his head, while soloing. Do not try this at home, unless you have had years of dance training.

James led his straight ahead rock and roll band through some classics such as, “Nadine”, “Lets Keep Rockin” and “She’s Your Money Maker”, an Elmore James song. He sang the Bob Dylan classic, “Like A Rolling Stone” as well as some originals that sounded like Rock and Roll or Blues classics in the manner of Johnny B. Good by C. Berry and “Evil” by Howlin’ Wolf.

Upon ending his set to an appreciative audience, James told them to purchase his CD, available in the lobby and that the money would go to a good cause, gas money.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Paul J. Youngman
• • • • • •
Dougal Bichan
• •
The Live Music Report

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