Etta James: “Roll With Me, Henry”
A very bluesy birthday day — not only is it the birthday of Florence Mills and Sleepy John Estes, but also Etta James (Jamesetta Hawkins, 1938-2012). Born to a teenage single mom, she was raised mostly by a succession of foster parents. She began singing publicly (in church) at age 5. She formed her first (secular) group the Creolettes in San Francisco (where she’d moved from her native Los Angeles) in the early 50s.
At the age of 17, she co-wrote “Roll With Me, Henry” with Johnny Otis and recorded it in 1955. The song riffs on an existing song “Work with Me, Annie” by Hank Ballard, and was released as “Dance with Me, Henry”, because “roll” was thought to be too vulgar. (The phrase “rock and roll” originally referred to sex, in case you didn’t know!) The song was subsequently released under the titled “The Wallflower” as well, just to confuse things. The part of “Henry” in the song’s intro is sung by Richard Berry.
To find out more about vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
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