At Last: The Etta James Story


Etta James 2Vika Bull has been amazing audiences on the east coast with her performances in ‘The Etta james Story’. She tells OUTinPerth that pulling off the diverse range of tunes that James found fame with is a challenge, but one she is enjoying.

At first you might think that you don’t know many of the songs the Amercian singer Etta James sung during her career. Yet her cry of “Oh Oh, sometimes I get a good feeling.” was the vocal sample of two of last year’s biggest dance floor hits from Flo Rida and Avicci.

Bull notes that some of the young faces in the crowd are surprised when she sings the line from James’ 1963 hit ‘Something’s Got A Hold Of Me’.

 “Isn’t it amazing, for someone to finally use one of her songs in that way, I don’t think anyone else has done that with her songs.” Bull shares on the phone during a break from the production, “Young people who come to the show and don’t know anything about her will be like, ‘I didn’t know that was Etta James’ and then they will go and check her out.

Etta James had a huge string of hits in the fifties and sixties, and she kept recording through the seventies, eighties and beyond. The singer had her biggest hits in the blues and soul genre but also recorded many different styles of music, something the show aims to capture through 24 diverse numbers.   

“I’m finding it a bit of a challenge but it’s a good one”, says Bull about representing the revered singer, “It is a bit intimidating; she’s got such a massive voice. She sings so many different styles, so that’s really the hardest part of the show. It’s not the belting them out, it’s the different styles she sings. It makes it really interesting and makes for a really enjoyable show.”

Embracing diversity and variation in material is something all singers should embrace argues Bull,

“It’s interesting, I’ve been watching ‘The Voice’ and they’re up to the battle rounds and so many of the singer’s are saying ‘It’s not what I’d usually sing, or it’s not my style’ but I think it’s good for singers to have to sing different styles. If you want to be a singer your main thing is to tell a story and get it across to people. You’ve got to be able to do a few things.”

Now celebrating her third decade in the music industry Bull knows that diversity is the key to long term success having spent much of the ‘80s as one of Australia’s most sought after backing vocalists alongside her sister Linda. The two were long serving members of Joe Camileri’s Black Sorrows before releasing their own series of successfull albums in the ’90.

Bull says she learned a lot about the singer in preparing for the role with James, life provides an engaging narative to present the songs through. Bull notes although the singer was known to have had periods of addiction and rehab, she was a stong woman.

“It was not boring, it was a very colourful interesting life, sad at times, but she rose above it all and lived to seventy four years of age, and finally made up with her mother, who she had an interesting relationship with all of her life. She was one of those people who were tough, or put up that front, because she knew she had to survive.”

Vika Bull stars in ‘The Etta James Story’ at the Regal Theatre from 21 May  to 26 May, more information here.

Watch Vika Bull take on the Etta James classic ‘At Last’ whilst on 3AW Radio below.


Graeme Watson

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