Happy Birthday Etta James: Grateful Dead Sit-In On New Year’s 1982

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Acclaimed vocalist Etta James was born on this day in Los Angeles in 1938. The golden-voiced performer died in 2012 days before what would have been her 74th birthday, bringing to an end her Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame career. Known for such classic hits such as “At Last,” “I’d Rather Go Blind,” “Something’s Got a Hold on Me” and “Tell Mama” James’ sang alongside a diverse array of musicians during her time in the studio and on stage, including Harvey Fuqua, Dr. John, B.B. King, Chuck Berry and many others. For what would be Etta’s 78th birthday today, we’re looking back at the time she joined the Grateful Dead for a performance on New Year’s Eve in 1982.

In 1982 the Grateful Dead rang in the new year with five shows at the Oakland Auditorium Arena on December 26, 27, 28, 30 and 31. On December 30 the band treated fans to a special encore, busting out a cover of “Hard To Handle” for the first time since 1971 and debuting “Tell Mama” – both with the aid of Etta James and the Tower of Power horns. One night later on New Year’s Eve they dusted off more classics last played with Ron “Pigpen” McKernan acting as frontman, as the Dead’s entire third set featured a return of James and the horns for “Turn On Your Love Light,” “Tell Mama,” their first “Baby What You Want Me To Do” since 1969, “Hard To Handle” and a bust out of “Midnight Hour” which the group had last played in 1971.

Below is footage of the full third set from December 31, 1982 featuring Etta, Tower of Power horns and the Dead. It also includes the band’s “Brokedown Palace” encore performed that night. Watch James sitting-in courtesy of YouTube channel LoloYodel: