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Etta James enhanced 'Record Row' and 'Cadillac Records'

Richard Carter | 5/23/2013, 4:28 p.m.
"You thought you'd found a good girl, one to love you and give you the...
Colony Records was my place for original Black R&B

"Record Row' also told of rip-offs of young Black artists by some record companies, explained in detail by James, and discussed Vee-Jay's fabled Calvin Carter. According to Butler, he "didn't play anything, but could hear everything." The documentary also shed light on many other little known facts about the glory days of original Black R&B.

Happily, James paid homage to the Spaniels and their groundbreaking "Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight"-one of 200 songs written by Hudson-which introduced Black R&B to whites in 1954. Butler noted how the Spaniels' biggest hit was ripped off by the white McGuire Sisters' syrupy cover of Hudson's composition.

One of Hudson's last records, in 2005, was a stunning version of "At Last"-made famous by James in 1961. During our private, in-depth 1991 interviews in Gary, Ind., for my authorized biography, "Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight: The Story of the Spaniels," Hudson disclosed intimate details about his liaisons with James in the old days. Musically, he liked her rollicking version of "Tell Mama" more than "At Last."

Two years prior to his death from cancer, in January 2007, Hudson called to tell me he was about to record "At Last" with the Spaniels as a special tribute to James. He also reminded me of our conversations about the two of them during my research.

Although James' "At Last" was much better known, tears come to my eyes every time I listen to Hudson's moving version. His unmistakable, smooth voice and precise, Frank Sinatra-like phrasing-backed by the unparalleled Spaniels' background-is the peak.

So the great James is gone, joining Hudson, Fuqua, Faye Adams, Johnny Ace, La-Vern Baker, Hank Ballard, James Brown, Ruth Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Gerald Gregory, Ivory Joe Hunter, Bobby Lester, Frankie Lymon, Clyde McPhatter, Billy Preston, David Ruffin, Sonny Til, Tony Williams and many others. But helped by James, fine documentaries such as "Record Row" leave a lasting memory.