Etta James: The Montreux Years

New collection of the singer's performances at Montreux counters the accepted wisdom that her live work was inconsistent


Etta James’s personal problems have been well documented over the years, leading to the belief that some of her live and recorded output was patchy, the quality of her performance dependent on her coping mechanism at any one time. Consequently, it is worth noting the consistency surrounding this material taken from 18 years of appearances at the Montreux Jazz Festival.

This is typical James’ stuff, encompassing songs from the soul/R&B canon which the singer was so comfortable with, although at one point she insists to the audience she is a blues singer, whilst at the start of the At Last medley her reference to the unnamed who insisted on the jazz singer tag is possibly a little contemptuous.

Her delivery is mostly powerful, containing that degree of rawness we associate with the better blues performers and this approach is common to all the tunes, whether they be an Otis Redding composition like I Got The Will or Jimmy Reed’s Running And Hiding Blues.

As one would expect, there is plenty of interaction with the audience who warm to the singer’s onstage persona and if her entrance in 1975 receives a slightly subdued response, by the time we get to Stormy Monday she has the assembled throng in the palm of her hand. The differing personnels are of interest and include rock musicians Rick Wakeman and John Paul Jones – representing the peculiarities that occur on occasion at festivals.

Apart from one or two tunes stretching beyond their natural life, this will be regarded as a pretty decent representation of James’ art. And who could resist the enthusiastic harmonica playing of the late Montreux supremo Claude Nobs?

The Montreux Years is also available on a double LP (BMG CAT460DLP) containing fewer tracks.

CD1: (1) Breakin’ Up Somebody’s Home; (2) I Got The Will; (3) A Lover Is Forever; (2) Damn Your Eyes; (4) Tell Mama; (1) Running And Hiding Blues; (2) Something’s Got A Hold On Me; (3) Beware; (1) Come To Mama; (2) Medley: At Last / Trust In Me / Sunday Kind Of Love; (3) I Sing The Blues For You; Baby (5) What You Want Me To Do (Encore) (77.13)
CD2: (6) Respect Yourself; Drown In My Own Tears; W.O.M.A.N; Dust My Broom; I’d Rather Go Blind; All The Way Down: Baby What You Want Me To Do; Rock Me Baby; Stormy Monday (81.37)
James (v) with:
(1) Herman “Roscoe” Ernest III (d); Ronnie Buttacavoli (t); Bobby Murray (g); Josh Sklair (g); Bobby Vega (b); Kraig Kilby (tb); Richard Howell (ts); David Matthews kyb); Donto James (pc|); Claude Nobs (hca). Casino Montreux, 19 July 1990.
(2) as (1) but omit Matthews and Nobs and add Jimmy Pugh (org, p). 12 July 1989.
(3) as (1) but omit Howell and Ernest, add Donto James (d). Auditorium Stravinski, 15 July 1993.
(4) Klaus Doldinger (ts); Lew Soloff (t); Rick Wakeman (kyb); David “Fathead” Newman (as); Brian Ray (g); Richard Tee (kyb); Steve Ferrone (d); David Lowrey (b). Casino Montreux, 9 July 1977.
(5) Brian Ray (g); Cash McCall (g); Tony Cook (d); Gene Dinwitty (ts); Fred Beckmeier (b); Bobby Martin (kyb); Keith Johnson (t); Claude Nobs (hca). Casino Montreux, 8 July 1978.
(6) Brian Ray (g); Richard Tee (kyb); Frank Abel (elp, org); John Paul Jones (b); Doug Hammond (d); Arthur Young (b); Gene “Mighty Flea” Conners (tb); Pony Poindexter (ss); Klaus Doldinger (ts); Howard Johnson (bar, tu). Casino Montreux, 11 July 1975.