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'One day what you cry about, you'll laugh about’: Part Two of Felix Hernandez’s interview with Etta James

Etta James
Etta James

Felix Hernandez: You were doing the pop ballads that were closest to your heart, right?

Etta James: Yeah, they were very close to my heart. I was so young at that time, and I was in love with Harvey Fuqua of the Moonglows. I had this big crush on going on. “All I Could Do Was Cry.” Harvey Fuqua was at that time leaving Chess, going over to Motown to get married to Gwen Gordy, Berry Gordy's baby sister. And matter of fact, Berry Gordy and Gwen Gordy's ex-fiancé wrote the song, “All I Could Do Was Cry,” and that's how I ended up doing it.

All I Could Do Was Cry

Leonard Chess loved those songs that had three things going on in it, like a triangle. So it seemed like I did a lot of triangle songs, like “Stop the Wedding,” “All I Could Do Was Cry.” (This guy’s leaving me but first another woman. Stop the wedding, I'm sitting here looking at them walk down the aisle, I felt like killing somebody.) (Laughter.)

Were you disappointed that Harvey went with Motown?

Oh yeah, I was very disappointed at that time. I remember my manager telling me, “Oh, don't cry so much. One day what you cry about, you'll laugh [about].” So then finally I ended up laughing about it. But yeah, I was very disappointed because I was only 16, maybe 17, when I started. I had this big crush on Harvey when he was this dynamic Moonglow that was smooth and doo wop. Harvey liked me, but it was more of a like a young girl's sister kind of a thing.

You recorded a number of songs with Harvey, duets like Etta and Harvey. How did they come to be? Was it just a product of the infatuation or was it more than that?

No, it was a little bit of both. By us working, he had his piano in his room and I used to go to his room certain times a day and we would just work on songs. Matter of fact, Harvey was responsible for me recording stuff like “At Last,” “Trust in Me,” “A Fool that I Am.” Because he had a book of 100 standards. He didn't know that I knew some of those songs. But I knew some of the songs because of what my mother liked to listen to in California with me as a young teenager.

Fool That I Am

Then when he brought this book out, he used to play these triplets. He wouldn't put the glorious changes of “At Last” in there or those Cole Porter, George Gershwin stuff. He just played rhythm and blues changes and I would sing those songs to that. And that's, he's really responsible for that.

And the result is magnificent music. In fact, I'm sure most of our listeners have seen the Jaguar commercial with “At Last.” Did you know about that? Did that catch you off guard?

Oh, yeah, it did catch me off guard, but that was good because all of a sudden one day I was looking at television and there it was. Because nobody came to me to say, “Hey, we want you to do this Jaguar commercial.”

What were some of the other standards that you did?

“Sunday Kind of Love,” “Trust in Me,” “The Fool That I Am,” “Stormy Weather” and “Prisoner of Love.” Just a whole great gob of them.

Our interview with Etta James will continue.

Listen above.

Stop The Wedding

Recommended Tracks

“Stop the Wedding”
“Trust in Me”
“Fool That I Am”
“Sunday Kind of Love”

Deep Cut

“If I Can't Have You” (with Harvey Fuqua)

Felix Hernandez started his career as a producer and radio journalist while in college. In the 1980’s, Felix independently produced the award-winning radio series BluesStage, which had a 6 year run on over 200 NPR stations. He also worked extensively as a journalist with WBEZ in Chicago, and NPR.