Women's History Month: Etta James - Security

A favorite performance from the greatest female vocalist of all time...
  |   Comments

It's nigh impossible to get consensus on The Greatest Of All Time in any discussion of music and that's just the arguments I have with myself. There are a few where the question has been settled. One of those concerns the greatest female vocalist of all time. There are scores of qualified applicants for that particular title but no one has ever done it better than the legendary Etta James. 

Etta James is likely best known for her incomparable command of torch songs like the perfect and impossibly gorgeous "At Last." That's where she shined brightest and her complete command of those beautiful ballads of the mysteries of love are enough to put her among the greats but she did so much more. She was a brilliant song interpreter and could move from blues, R&B, and jazz, and soul as well as injecting new life into timeless standards. There are many greats but no one ever did it better. 

I nearly turned this into a playlist rather than highlighting a single song but geography helped me narrow down her canon. I went to college at UNA in Florence, Alabama and it's there I learned the deep, beautiful musical heritage of Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Many of the greatest artists and bands who ever lived came to northwest Alabama to tap into the local talent who worked behind the scenes on some of the most revered records of all time. 

James came to Muscle Shoals to work with Rick Hall in 1967 backed by some of the great Shoals sidemen who helped create and define that inimitable sound. Those sessions produced the 1968 hit album Tell Mama and James proved she could stretch beyond lush string arrangements and carefully manicured vocals and sing piercing Soul and funk-infused R&B with the best of them. The entire album is magnificent and one of my favorite tracks is "Security."

"It was written and recorded by Otis Redding in Memphis for his debut Pain In My Heart backed by the legendary Stax house band featuring Booker T. & The MG's, one James turned into a Top 10 R&B hit. The rhythm track managers to be tight as a tick without strangling any of the groove. The horn chart is magnificent while keyboard, organ, and slinky guitars are the glue holding together the musical foundation for one of James' sassiest, most fiery vocals.