Etta James March 17, 2007
The One and the Only Etta James at a Cerritos
By Glen Creason
The Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts can boast the appearances of many a living legend and a few national treasures standing in their footlights over the past decade and a half. Sometimes you just have to pinch yourself to fully realize the performer in front of you on that stage. The names Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, Sonny Rollins, Judy Collins, Tony Bennett, George Jones and Leontyne Price come quickly to mind. Add one more to this illustrious pantheon of greats in the name of Etta James, America’s greatest living R&B singer. In an historic visit to our humble climes the great “Miss Peaches” came, saw and conquered Cerritos on a sparkling Saturday evening with an utterly sensational evening of song and blues shouting. The many degrees of greatness she possesses in her limitless vocal chords were demonstrated for a power-packed ninety minutes in which she wasted no breath or time, belting out everything from paint-peeling blues shouts to ethereal ballads that sent the audience to their hankies to daub away tears.
A seasoned veteran who takes it way back before the Beatles and Motown Etta James is wise enough to assemble a fine band, this one the “Roots Band” who warmed the crowd by slicing off several juicy slices of funky blues roots before Ms. James ever hobbled to center stage. The band is anchored by two talented lead guitarists in Bobby Murray and bandleader Joshua Sklair along with the showmanship of keyboardist David Matthews and a rhythm foundation provided on bass and drums by the Jones sons Sarmento and Donto. Etta may have bad knees that reduce her mobility and force her to sing while seated but there is nothing wrong with her glorious ten-story building of a voice. There seems to be no note she cannot reach but she sings plenty that others can’t. At seventy years of age she seems to have lost nothing in range and expressiveness which she demonstrated from the first bars of “Teach Me Tonight” and steamrolled through “I Want to Ta-Ta You Baby,” “I’d Rather Be Blind,” “Damn Your Eyes” and the funkiest, grittiest and tastiest “You Can Leave Your Hat On” you will ever hear. The band was slamming and Etta James used every note in the human vocal chord during this opening burst. She slowed just for a minute in the sultry “A Lover Is Forever” demonstrating every nuance in the lyric then gave the packed house what they begged for in the rocking “Something’s Got a Hold On Me” and the exquisite “At Last,” the song she will own eternally. Seemingly spent, Etta James tried to leave the stage but was cajoled out by the adoring crowd for a trio of winners including “”My Dearest Darling,” “All I Could Do Was Cry” and an absolutely intoxicating “Love and Happiness” that achieved one of those rare moments when the entire hall became one, joyful whole, rocking in fully focused rhythm. The lady seemed to love her time on the Cerritos stage and the audience seemed also to feel it was a genuine privilege to hear her sing in person at last.