The 10 Greatest Los Angeles Rhythm and Blues Stars

Etta James
Etta James

Los Angeles has always been a volcanic music town, with a steady series of eruptions that have launched a horde of rhythm-and-blues-informed talents to well-deserved prominence. Characteristically of their hometown, their styles span a wild spectrum, from pop to soul to rock & roll, but each uses the blues as their elemental foundation, and every one of them has made this sick, square world a far better place to live.

10. Blind Boy Paxton
Twenty-seven-year-old Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton is a glorious anachronism, a musician who exclusively trades in the purest of traditional blues, rags and hot jazz with unmatched mastery and authenticity. “I got into old music as a kid growing up in South Central Los Angeles,” Paxton said. “They had the new music and the old music, and I just did not like the new music.” His performances are chronically brilliant; his skill, choice of material and vocal delivery are nothing less than mesmerizing. And he’s no simple nostalgia buff. In Paxton’s hands, these old tunes come roaring back into full-blooded, arresting life, providing indisputable evidence that L.A. still produces the tops in blues.

9. Eddie Daniels
Better known by his high school "Ghetto Baby" handle, Eddie Daniels began his career in 1954 a pianist for South Central doo-wop outfit Vernon Green & the Medallions, signed his own deal with Ebb Records in ’57, hit Gold Star studios with drummer Earl Palmer and guitarist Jerry Cole and began turning out some strikingly incendiary rock & roll 45s (“I Wanna Know,” “Playin’ Hide Go Seek”). He soon fell in with Eddie Cochran, who cut Ghetto Baby’s “Little Lou,” and Cochran also contributed guitar to the Daniels-led vocal duo Jewel & Eddie. Although Ghetto Baby seldom saw any royalty money and never got any traction as recording artist, he remains a badass, blues-informed powerhouse with indisputable bragging rights as this town’s first black rock & roll star

8. Mel Walker
As lead singer for the Johnny Otis Orchestra, Los Angeles’ most significant, trend-setting musical troupe, Mel Walker, born Melvin Lightsey, found himself at the center of the R&B universe. With Otis, the soulful blues crooner recorded a series of Top 5 R&B hits circa '51-'52 and a memorable series of duets with Little Esther Phillips. Walker’s confident, relaxed vocal style was loaded with an appeal that exemplified mid-century California’s icy hot blues methodology. But roped in tight by Otis and working up a fierce heroin habit, he was unable to parlay success into a sustained commercial presence. Following an apparent April 1964 overdose, his corpse was found dumped in an alley near Jefferson and Vermont.
7. Brenda Holloway

Soul singer Brenda Holloway was born 200 miles north in Atascadero, but her family moved to Watts when she was 2, where grew up singing in church with her parents and siblings. By 16, Holloway was a formidable stylist with preternaturally exquisite vocal abilities, as her first record, “Hey Fool,” a hard-edged R&B rocker issued by Bob Keane’s Donna label, emphatically demonstrates. A subsequent chance meeting with Berry Gordy, when he was out here hustling at a DJ convention, resulted in the teenager becoming Motown’s first non-Detroit-bred voice. Holloway declined Gordy’s invitation to relocate to Motor City and remained in L.A. to record a string of stone soul classics; she went on to score numerous hits, toured with The Beatles in 1965, proved herself to be an accomplished writer (the inescapable “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” is hers),  but eventually extricated herself from the Motown factory to concentrate on spiritual songs.

6. Darlene Love
Possessing perhaps the most sublimely dynamic, gorgeously expressive set of pipes this city ever produced, Darlene Love built an early lifetime’s worth of gospel singing into a intoxicatingly declarative style that codified the '60s rock & roll "girl group" sound. After she joined local teenage female vocal group The Blossoms in the late '50s, studio work quickly followed. When Phil Spector heard Love’s irresistible voice in 1962, he added The Blossoms to his hit factory and quickly gave Love her first No. 1 record, “He’s a Rebel,” which made her a highly prized, in-demand session singer even though it was falsely credited to another Spector group, The Crystals. Her rich tone and range has graced records by everyone from Elvis to Aretha, and the Spector-produced "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" cemented Love’s status as one of American pop music’s essential voices.

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