Thursday, June 5, 2014
"I'd Rather Go Blind" - Etta James (Live at Montreux 1975)
"I'd Rather Go Blind" is one of my favorite all time songs. Just listen to the lyrics. This woman is so in love with her man that she would do anything to keep him; but if she can't, she's not gonna keep him from someone else; no. Instead she would rather go blind than see him walk away. The song was written by Ellington Jordan with a co-credit to Billy Foster.
In reality Ms. James co-wrote the song with Mr. Jordan when she was visiting him in jail. She credited Foster with her share of the work for tax reasons. It is unclear whether or not she received any royalties from the film version of the song by Beyoncé. You can read about this in Ms. James autobiography “Rage to Survive.”
David Hood, the bass player on the original recording, which has been used many times over the years in films and on TV, has not been paid for those uses of the song. He is quoted as saying; after hearing the song on an Episode of “Law and Order”; "I said, 'I cut that. That's me playing.' And so we have written it down, and now I'm going to go through whatever process it takes to try to get paid on that. Because when they make a show and they put music in it, the producers of the show have to pay to use that song. And if they can't find the people who played on it, that money just sits with the Musicians Union or wherever it goes. Someplace there's a lot of money stacked up."
This version was captured on video at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1975. The original record was released in 1968. If you have seen the film "Cadillac Records" then you are familiar with the story of Leonard Chess and his affair with Ms. James; who was reportedly the illegitimate child of Minnesota Fats, the pool player.
Her struggles in her attempts at a relationship with her father; who spurned her; and her love for Leonard Chess; who was already married; both contributed to her heroin addiction. By 1975 Ms. James was still struggling with her dependence on drugs, but her voice remained perfect; as it would for the remainder of her life.
An interesting thing to note about this video is the similarities in what Ms. James was actually doing on the road, compared to the efforts of Janis Joplin, who was already dead several years at the time. This band is what Ms. Joplin was striving to emulate on her own with the Full Tilt Boogie Band and her last album, the posthumously released "Pearl." She just about had it down at the time of her death.
In many ways I have always considered both Ms. James and Ms. Joplin to be the female versions of James Brown. Don’t laugh until you watch a bunch of their videos together in one sitting. Etta James' music will be with us for a long time coming. Her searing vocals and performance style, along with the sweetness of her face, will haunt the airwaves for a long, long time.
To hear the original recording and compare how well Ms. James voice stood the test of time, hit this link;