A Romp With Etta James

Etta James passing revived a memory of my misspent youth. In the fifties when her recording of “Roll with me Henry” hit the airwaves, it caused such a raucous the religious leaders in our community pressured the local radio station to stop playing the song. A song that requested a roll from Henry had to be bad and would lead to dancing the dirty bop.

It was rock and roll, and I was a teenager, so naturally my friends and I were wild to hear the song. Our excitement peaked as we pondered discovering some huge sexual secret. If church officials felt the word “roll” was not fit for young ears there simply had to be more to the song. Sex Ed covered by the gym instructor was scanty and perhaps this ditty would fill in the blanks.

Pooling our resources, my friends and I proceeded to the only record shop in town. Our fear that the owner would not sell us the record vanished. He felt no responsibility for our character development. Once again, adolescent ingenuity prevailed.

We raced home, tore off the wrapper and held our breath while the record began its twirl around the turntable. What a monstrous let down. It was about dancing, nothing more. It would have required a huge leap of the imagination to provide the kind of information we wanted.

Her blockbuster recording of “At Last” is a standard for special romantic occasions. The lyrics mention heaven, so I hope, even in a small southern community, Etta got an ecumenical pass.

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