At Last: The Etta James Story with Vika Bull

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At Last: The Etta James Story with Vika Bull

Vika Bull has enjoyed an extraordinary career. Although she is probably best known for creating unforgettable harmonies alongside her sister Linda as part of The Black Sorrows, she has been making waves in the Australian music industry for almost 30 years. “I’ve been very lucky in my life – we’ve done some amazing things,” she smiles.
Together Vika and Linda have worked with just about every Australian musician worth their salt and toured with countless international artists. She was invited to perform for Nelson Mandela and for the King of Tonga’s 75th birthday. Over the years Vika and Linda have set the benchmark for professionalism and raised the bar for ‘backing singers’ everywhere. Add to that, recording with Iggy Pop and performing inside the bullring at Pamplona, and you could be fooled into thinking that absolutely nothing could faze this incredible lady – that is until she was asked to portray her idol in At Last: The Etta James Story.
“At first I thought, ‘OK, how am I going to do this!?’” Vika says candidly. “She’s one of my favourite singers to begin with, and now she’s definitely number one. She has influenced so many people with the sheer power of her voice. The way she sang, that’s how she expressed herself, so for me the idea of telling her story was kind of scary!” she laughs refreshingly.
Vika is the lead narrator of the story that chronicles the life of the iconic wife, mother and soul singer born Jamesetta Hawkins, in the wake of the Great Depression in 1938. Etta James, as she became known after being taken under the wing of Johnny Otis in the early ’50s, endured a long and successful career but was tragically plagued with ever-growing addiction problems.
“She had such a different life to me. Very interesting and fascinating – but a pretty hard life too. We start from birth and go right through until she passed away three years ago. When you listen to all her material you can hear how her voice has developed and changed over time and you can hear her life experience in her voice when she’s singing. She was very real and honest and that’s what I like about her.”
Vika will be joined by some of Australia’s consummate musicians: “John McAll – he’s our musical director and he plays piano in the show. Dionn Hirini plays guitar and we do a duet together because Etta did a few duets. Anton Delecca is on saxophone and Davey Porter on the drums – he plays in another band called Electric Mary. Ben Gillespie plays the trombone and also duets with me, and Chris Bekker plays bass. They’re all fantastic, amazing musicians and very supportive.”
Etta’s best loved songs all have their place in the show – ‘Tell Mama’, ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’, ‘Something’s Got A Hold On Me’, and Vika’s personal favourite ‘Sunday Kind Of Love’. “That song is featured when her husband Artis Mills comes back into her life,” she sighed. “This show is an emotional ride, especially when you see people out in the audience crying – but people cry for different reasons both happy and sad. So many people have ‘At Last’ as their wedding song and they get pretty teary and I think ‘Oh god, you’ve got to hold it together!’ It’s difficult,” she says, “but I love it!”
When&Where: GPAC, Geelong – March 26
Written by Natalie Rogers, Photo by Lightbox Photography