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Aug. 18, 2005

The Hum



Photo and headline -- Etta James

JAMESETTA HAWKINS WAS JUST 14 YEARS OLD when she met an R&B bandleader/record producer/rib joint operator by the name of Johnny Otis. Jamesetta had already gone from precocious gospel-singing tot to part of a rockin' vocal trio called The Creolettes. Otis renamed the group The Peaches, brought them into the studio to record a song Jamesetta penned called "Roll With Me Henry," then flipped the lead singer's name around, dubbing her Etta James [photo at right]. "Roll With Me Henry" went on to top the R&B charts in 1955, launching Etta on the road to musical fame, but as she relates in her autobiography, Rage to Survive, her hard knock life before and after that was not an easy one.

By 1960 she was recording for Chicago's Chess Records mixing rockers with ballads like "At Last," a heart-wrencher with a lush string arrangement. She headed south to Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals to record her 1967 hit, "Tell Mama," along with one of my favorites, "I'd Rather Go Blind," a song that she tore apart when I saw her at the Jambalaya in the mid-'70s.

There were down times, stretches when the drugs got the better of her, but Etta kept coming back, turning to jazz in the '90s and following her 2001 induction to the Blues Hall of Fame with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003.

More recently she's been touring with a band that includes her sons Donto and Sametto on drums and bass. Last year saw her getting back into the deep blues with Blues to the Bone, a collection of Etta-fied versions of classics by Elmore James, Howlin' Wolf, Lightnin' Hopkins, Willie Dixon and Robert Johnson.

"You can't fake this music," said Etta, describing the recording session. "You might be a great singer or a great musician but, in the end, that's got nothing to do with it; it's how you connect to the songs and to the history behind them. This is music that sharecroppers sang when they were out in the fields working. That's a proud legacy and I'm proud to be a part of it."

Etta James returns to Arcata next Tuesday, August 23, with The Roots Band to sing the blues and more at the Van Duzer as part of an impressive start to the 25th CenterArts season.

As always, CenterArts has a star-studded array of shows to choose from, including appearances by comedy legends John Cleese and George Carlin, folk divas Joan Baez and Judy Collins, jazz giants Pat Metheny and McCoy Tyner, sitar master Ravi Shankar, the Indigo Girls, Amy Goodman, the list goes on. And new shows have been added since the catalogue came out: Blackalicious (Sept. 1), Gillian Welch (Oct. 10), Flogging Molly (Oct. 13) and Bonnie Raitt (Nov. 15). Meanwhile, Associated Students have booked Bright Eyes (Oct. 31) and Michael Franti (Nov. 14), two shows that will surely sell out.

First up for CenterArts, the groundbreaking South African musician Johnny Clegg, bringing a show to the Van Duzer Sunday, August 21, featuring music from his years with Juluka and Savuka. Clegg began his exploration of traditional African music while growing up under apartheid in South Africa. He eventually joined forces with a Zulu musician, Sipho Mchunu, to form Juluka; later they added rock elements to the mix in Savuka. Those who love the electrifying sounds of mbaqanga should not miss this one.

Things keep rolling at the Van Duzer Wednesday, August 24, with Medeski, Martin and Wood, who last hit the Duzer stage in 1999 for an amazing show that veered from way-outside jazz to grooves augmented by DJ Logic. I'm sure Logic will be elsewhere this time, but don't worry -- after 15 years playing together, MMW have refined their jazz mix to a point where they seldom stray from the groove.

Friday, August 19, catch a family reunion of sorts as Michael Moore and his brother Gregg return from Europe to play with their dad, Jerry Moore, a former CR music prof, who has been a mainstay of the local music scene for decades. Gregg left home for college in the '70s and eventually made his way to Amsterdam, where he got involved in an avant-garde musical theater troupe. Michael followed him there and became a major figure in the wild Dutch jazz scene. Gregg has since moved on to Portugal to teach and play music. The show on Friday at the Unitarian Fellowship Hall in Bayside is somewhat historic: It's only the second time Jerry Moore and Sons have played in public, and it's the first time they've played in the USA.

You have a myriad of musical choices on Saturday, August 20, starting in the morning where you can once again hear the sweet strains of steel band music by Pan Dulce during the Farmers' Market. Warbling chanteuse Sari Baker hits the Chill Zone at Jambalaya that night for the first part of a two-Saturday run. Moontribe DJs return to Muddy Waters with some thumping house music. Spudgun brings arty blues and rock to Old Town Coffee. Rumours has dreadlocked reggae rock by Vegitation, up from Ocean Beach in SoCal. At The Alibi, Humboldt Free Radio presents local alt.folkies Strix Vega plus the Portland, Ore., duo Plants, who tell me they are "a psychedelic folk act that blends ethereal acoustic textures and sad lyrical beauty."

Nicoll Brothers Band is Stickin' to the Blues at Six Rivers Saturday night, playing gritty tunes from a CD by that name, recorded at Big Bang. The show is also a homecoming of sorts for bass player Larry Nicoll's boy, Alex. Larry tells me, "My son lost his leg fighting in Iraq, but he is doing better now. He will be home for a big celebration "

Looking for something unusual? How about devotional singing by "the Jimi Hendrix of kirtan masters," Bhagavan Das, Saturday at the Community Yoga Center above the Plaza? Originally from Laguna Beach, B. Das' travels in the '60s in India and Tibet led him to Eastern ascetic teachings. Back in the USA, he shared what he learned with folks like Allen Ginsberg, Alan Watts and the guy who became Ram Das. According to Bhagavan Das, the title of Ram Das' famous book, Be Here Now, came from one of his mantras.

Two quite different string quartets play Sunday afternoon on the Arcata Plaza: Cuckoo's Nest plays Gypsy jazz and bebop; Good Company offers their take on traditional music of the British Isles.

That night at Six Rivers Brewery, it's Al Howard and the K23 Orchestra, a jamming sextet out of San Diego blending hip hop, rock, Latin, jazz-fusion and spoken word.

If the Jimi Hendrix of kirtan masters was not different enough for you, try the show Monday, August 22, at the Accident Gallery in Eureka. Local filmmaker Mike Sargent is showing his found-footage sci-fi film-in-progress with a live soundtrack supplied by the noise orchestra Pubic Zirconium. Then there's Vladmasters, a ViewMaster performance, which is to say everyone in the audience watches custom ViewMaster reels created by the artist Vladimir, while The Apt Ensemble offers appropriate musical accompaniment.

For a blast of female fronted rock, hit the Alibi Wednesday, August 24, where Crimson Sweet, a trio from New York City, plays raw, no-holds-barred guitar rawk. The Buffy Swayze opens with somewhat smoother synth-driven music with an electro-beat.

The Thursday concerts on the Eureka Boardwalk are drawing to a close. The all-woman California Girls play surf music August 18, then on August 25, it's the final duel in the Power 96 Battle of the Bands with Somewhere North vs. Stereo Chromatic. Blood may flow, but that's rock `n' roll.


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