1968, Music

Tell Mama (1968) by Etta James

Somehow this is the first time I’ve managed to give an Etta James album my requisite three listens. I definitely checked out at least one other, but for some reason dropped it from the podcast list.

James is the quintessential female soul singer of her day. I do not mean that praise as any kind of criticism of the recently deceased Aretha, but rather I mean to point out that James does one thing very, very well, whereas Aretha does lots of things. James brings the passion we expect in southern soul in a way no other female soul singer I’ve heard ever has. She doesn’t have Aretha’s vocal chops, though, not could she write songs like Aretha. (And I should point out that I prefer Aretha’s records that I’ve heard.)
This is a pretty good set of songs, with one absolute standout in “I’d Rather Go Blind,” which is one of the great soul songs of its era.

The real draw is Etta James, herself, of course, who does what all of the great soul singers do, she takes material that is fine and makes it classic or borderline classic by sheer force of her performance.

The arrangements are the kind of soul arrangements I like – there’s not a lot going on in them and we’re left with the voice at the centre of everything.

I don’t know where this record sits in James’ catalogue, but for me it’s a pretty good introduction and makes me want to listen to more.


  1. “Tell Mama” – (Clarence Carter, Marcus Daniel, Wilbur Terrell) 2:20
  2. “I’d Rather Go Blind” – (Billy Foster, Ellington Jordan, Etta James) 2:33
  3. “Watch Dog” – (Don Covay) 2:06
  4. “The Love of My Man” – (Ed Townsend) 2:37
  5. “I’m Gonna Take What He’s Got” – (Covay) 2:32
  6. “The Same Rope” – (Leonard Caston, Jr., Lloyd Webster) 2:39
  7. “Security” – (Otis Redding) 2:44
  8. “Steal Away” – (Jimmy Hughes) 2:19
  9. “My Mother In-Law” – (George David, Lee Diamond) 2:20
  10. “Don’t Lose Your Good Thing” – (Rick Hall, Spooner Oldham) 2:26
  11. “It Hurts Me So Much” – (Charles Chalmers) 2:34
  12. “Just a Little Bit” – (Rosco Gordon) 2:11
  • Etta James — lead vocals
  • Gene “Bowlegs” Miller — trumpet
  • James Mitchell, Aaron Varnell — saxophone
  • Floyd Newman — baritone saxophone
  • George Davis, Spooner Oldham — keyboards
  • Carl Banks, Barry Beckett — organ
  • Marvell Thomas — piano
  • Jimmy Ray Jenkins, Albert Lowe — guitar
  • David Hood — bass guitar
  • Roger Hawkins — drums
  • Charles Chalmers — background vocals

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