Live at Montreux 1975 – 1993 DVD
Eagle Rock Entertainment
BluesWax Rating: 9 out of 10
Etta Roars And Her Band Kicks Ass!
From 1975 through her final 2008 performance, Etta James made numerous appearances at the Montreux Jazz Festival. The main focus of this DVD is from 1993, but there are also segments from 1975, ’77, ’78, ’89, and ’90 that are welcome additions. For the record, Etta also won three Grammys, is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Blues Hall of Fame. Sadly James passed away earlier this year, but watching this video and hearing her preach at full throttle will leave you with many lasting memories. All in all this DVD clocks in at a chunky one-hundred and sixty minutes, of which ninety minutes are bonus material from the previously mentioned years at Montreux.
The 1993 segment starts with two band instrumental warm-ups, “Funky Good Time” and “Hold On I’m Coming,” where it’s readily apparent that this band is ready to roll; they’re a tight unit that is very well prepared, yet loose enough to change course at a moments notice. They fit so tight in the pocket that it hurts. Etta Time kicks off with a hard-rocking version of “I Just Want To Make Love To You” that’s find Etta in outstanding vocal form that matches perfectly with her dynamic band. Switching gears, James brought tears to my eyes with a riveting take of “I’d Rather Go Blind.” Conversely, “Hard to Handle” is expectedly funky and fires on all cylinders. Etta’s heartfelt vocals on “Just One More Day” is further enhanced with a Spanish-tinged vamp by the band and by one of her un-credited guitarists. You better believe it here when Etta demands that you “Come to Mama.” The 1993 portion of this DVD appropriately closes with “Why I Sing the Blues” and it’s a knockout punch that also includes an un-credited harp player (Etta calls him “Claude”), who seemingly is making a guest appearance that’s not memorable.
We get four tunes from Etta’s 1975 performance (her first time in Europe), where video quality is poor (looks like it was recorded from a TV with vertical lines and all the usual suspected items), but the audio is pretty okay. Kicking things off is a sanctifying and somewhat lengthy “Respect Yourself,” where it’s sweet to see Etta so youthful and energetically dancing around the stage. This band is not as professional as the ’93 unit, but they are no slouches; the horn section also offers some jazzy fills and solos. Etta’s very animated and prances around the stage on a pretty good version of “Drown In My Own Tears” that meanders on for too long. “W.O.M.A.N.” is a little rough and finds Etta at near her raunchiest self, but this tune also rambles for too long. 1975 closes with another version of “I’d Rather Go Blind” that’s not as gut-wrenching as the ’93 take, but serves well as a earlier take that took place nearly twenty years from 1993’s.
From 1977 there’s a medley of “At Last,” “Trust In Me,” and “A Sunday Kind of Love” that finds (unbelievably un-credited) musicians Herbie Mann and David “Fathead” Newman in the horn section (they must have been on the same bill), but, Wow!, it’s so cool to see these two greats on board for this jazzy exploration where Etta really delivers the goods. Hard to believe both Fathead and Herbie are gone.
Moving onto 1978, there’s just a cover of the Eagles‘ “Take It To the Limit” that’s pretty good and closes with gospel-like and screaming vocals from Etta and other members of the band that eventually evolves into a down-home jam. There are five tunes from 1989 featuring Etta behind another powerhouse/professional band that has longtime Etta guitarist Bobby Murray firing smoke bullets throughout. “Tell Mama” kicks, Etta’s on fire, horn section is right on, and the rhythm section is exactly where you want them to be. “Something’s Got a Hold On Me” will blow a hole in your soul as Etta and this crack band storms from end to end. “Breaking Up Somebody’s Home” is extremely convincing and will have you thinking about it. They blaze and close with “I Got the Will,” but encore with a gorgeous rendition of Kiki Dee’s “Sugar On the Floor.” Etta’s extremely moving here and seemingly in tears (me too!); it’s a very emotional performance and serves as an stirring way to close Etta’s set. Now that I have my tissues in hand, the last track is from 1990. It’s just one song: Isaac Hayes’ and David Porter’s “Your Good Thing Is About to End’ is also convincing, but not as powerful as previously mentioned tracks the 1993 version of “I’d Rather Go Blind” and the 1989 “Sugar on the Floor.”
I thoroughly enjoyed at least ninety percent of this DVD, where my only complaint is that where are the musician credits? Long story short, if you need your fix of live Etta on your screen and in your ears, look no further, this is it. I’m sure I am speaking to the choir here. Etta James was a rare talent that in one moment could bring you to tears yet within a blink of an eye she could have you dancing and partying like a cool fool. Which all the more makes owning this DVD a near necessity, that also makes me (and probably you too) miss the soul and power of the one and only Etta James.
Bob Putignano is a senior contributing editor at BluesWax, a contributing writer at Blues Revue, and the heart and soul of Sounds of Blue.
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