Hers is an extraordinary story – her mother was a prostitute, she didn’t know her father, for years she was a heroin addict. When I first heard her, I didn’t know anything about that. I must have been about 14, and a bit of a grunger, when in the jazz section of the HMV on Oxford Street, surrounded by musos, I bought two records in a two-for-a-fiver deal. One was by Ella Fitzgerald and one was by Etta James. I just loved the way she looked, really – her curves and her catty eyes, and one of my cousins was a hairdresser so I asked her if she’d do me an Etta James beehive.
By then, of course, I’d listened to her record as well, and that had a huge influence on me. Everything she sings – you believe her, even if she never wrote a word of it herself. I saw her live in New York not so long ago: extraordinary. There she was, at the age of 71, singing ‘I want to ta ta you, baby’ – almost groping herself, as if the meaning wasn’t clear enough already. She just has so much attitude.
I met her backstage after the show, very briefly. My mind went completely blank. I didn’t know what to say. Afterwards, I was crying my eyes out.