Saturday, January 21, 2012

Johnny Otis and Etta James - The Soundtrack of my Life

This week two icons passed away within days of each other. Johnny Otis and Etta James...As they play their music on KPFA, I find myself sobbing. I always adored "With Every Beat of My Heart". My preference was for the version by the Royals. I didn't know Otis wrote it! This morning I heard the story of why.
Johnny was one of those people who just kept going. Present and steady, yet ever-changing. A truly unique man who was not afraid to walk his talk or step out of the box.

I only saw him  once in person in Santa Rosa playing with his family members. I was confused! He looked White! I thought he was Black! His kids were clearly of mixed race. It didn't matter, of course, it's just that after years of hearing a voice...and making an assumption, I was surprised. But then, that was the nature of the man. He encouraged you to look at your assumptions, change your attitudes. It was empowering.

Who would expect a band leader, musician - a guy who hung out in nightclubs and bars to make a living, be an organic farmer and cook?

Or to be such a family man? The fact that he performed with his children and grand-children was a testament to his success as a parent. I could hear his love for humanity in his voice on the radio. He will be missed.

Etta James..Otis discovered her - died 2 days after him. She sang another one of those songs from my childhood that affected my ideas about love - "At Last". I didn't know much about her except that I liked her music. We didn't get all the details about people lives like we do today.

Listening to their music in the last couple of days, I realize how much it affected me. I have always found it interesting that people get imprinted with the music that is popular when their sex hormones kick in. Somehow, that becomes the 'soundtrack' of love, sex and intimacy. And it was no different for me.

No matter how old and senile someone gets, they still know all the words to those songs. It's amazing really. They become embedded at a deep level in our hearts and souls.

The fact that these two died within days of each other, he at 90, she at 73, shows that their souls were connected. I can see Johnny leading the band, while Etta stands at the mike in the great nightclub in the sky. Keep singing....