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Chicago Blues

TBT – Etta James’ Spectacular “Blues to the Bone”

January 21
23:19 2016

TBT etta james sml 121114

Editor’s Note: Etta James left us on January 20th, 2012, and we sure do miss her! This week Throwback Thursday looks at her Grammy Award winning 2004 classic, Blues to the Bone. *Originally published 12.11.14

Born Jamesetta Hawkins in 1938, and known as “Miss Peaches,” and “The Matriarch of R&B,” Etta James was a force to be reckoned with. Some people seem larger than life as time progresses. They are complex human beings, full of great talent, even as they battle inner demons, all the while creating art that is far ahead of its time.

During a a career that spanned over five decades, James won six Grammy Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award, and 17 Blues Music Awards.  She was inducted into three halls of fame: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, the Blues Hall of Fame in 2001, and the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999 and again in 2008.

Released and recorded in 2004 on the RCA Victor label, Blues to the Bone contains 12 heartfelt performances running just under 48 minutes. The album won the 2005 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album. Produced by Etta James, and her sons Donto and Sametto James, the album is made up of the blues standards that were among James’ favorites.

Personnel on Blues to the Bone are Etta James – vocals, John “Juke” Logan – harmonica,  Josh Sklair and Bobby Murray – guitars, Brian Ray – guitar, slideguitar, and Mike Finegan on piano. James’ sons, played as well; Sametto James on bass and Donto Metto James on drums. The production here is as laissez faire as possible, and does not interfere with performances, while the minimalist mix enhances the proceedings all the more. What makes these cuts so special is the bare-bones sound of the music, with James’ wonderful gravelly, smokey vocals giving the songs life and awakening.

While all the tracks here are truly amazing, there are a couple that stand out. There’s the energetic “Got My MoJo Working,” and a delicious, Texas blues tinged take on John Lee Hooker’s “Crawling King Snake” that is off the hook! James gives us a striking, monstrous  rendering of the Elmore James classic, “The Sky Is Crying” that sends shivers up and down the spine. Her reading of the Willie Dixon / J.B. Lenoir standard “You Shook Me” really simmers even though it has a lighter touch than many of the versions folks are more familiar with. James and company have a good time with Roosevelt Sykes’ “Driving Wheel,” and it is apparent.

Blues to the Bone breathes new life into these time honored songs, and then some! None of these well traveled standards sound antiquated here. Not a one. Do yourself a solid and bring this home. Just do it.

Etta James


About Author

Barry Kerzner

Barry Kerzner

For as long as I can remember I have loved music, especially Blues & Jazz. Now I write and share that love of music with others. To see my photoart, visit

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