If rock & roll is rooted in teenage passion, teenage rebellion, teenage restlessness, teenage sexuality — then Etta James is a rock & roller to the bone. Starting out as a teenage phenomenon in, the Fifties, she sang with a raw, unharnessed energy that matched her male counterparts.
Her first hit, in fact, was an in-your-face reply to Hank Ballard’s “Work With Me Annie”; she was 15 when she wrote and cut “Roll With Me Henry” (aka “The Wallflower”). Etta's erotic audacity echoed the raunch of sisters like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, but in any era she would be considered a front-line feminist, a womanchild strong enough to dramatize the outrage of her gender, to break old chains and signify, “I don’t want a watchdog…I want a man.”
Photography: Kevin Mazur, WireImage