Over the last 50 years, with 1960’s “My Dearest Darling,” her signature 1961 ballad “At Last” and later her 1978 Jerry Wexler-produced comeback album Deep in the Night, Etta James – the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-inducted singer, who died of complications related to leukemia last week at age 73 – remained a signature staple of music’s great conversation.
And while the music world mourns the major loss that James’ passing signifies, her legacy lives on in a rather unlikely locale – the current Billboard Hot 100 chart: James’ vocal intro to 1962’s “Something’s Got a Hold on Me” provides the ear-catching hook to rapper Flo Rida’s chart-topping club jam “Good Feeling.” It also lays the groundwork for electronic dance music producer Avicii’s smash hit “Levels.”
To that end, the iconic singer has garnered a new generation of fans – although some may not necessarily know who they’re listening to at first. “[Fans are] very surprised,” says Flo Rida, speaking to people’s wonderment when learning who provides the smoky vocal hook on his hit single. “But I bring it to their attention [that’s it Etta James] immediately.”
Primarily known for his four-on-the-floor party-rap bangers, the 32-year-old rapper, born Tramar Dillard, surprisingly grew up quite fond of the late singer; he says that his multi-instrumentalist father was “very fond of Etta James” and that his sisters “used to sing Etta’s songs in high school.” The Florida-native became aware of the specific “Something’s Got A Hold On Me” sample, which he eventually used for “Good Feeling,” after his A&R representative at Atlantic Records played him Avicii’s “Levels,” which samples James’ “Sometimes I get a good feeling” vocal. Flo Rida was instantly intrigued; he felt using an Etta James sample in a rap song would perfectly combine a “very classic sound” with something “new-age.”
Avicii, it turns out, had come to sample James on “Levels” because of the generation-spanning quality he heard in her voice. “It’s timeless,” the DJ says. The Swedish DJ, born Timothy Bergling, had been specifically drawn to the “raw” nature of James’ vocals. “She really has soul,” he says, noting that he was specifically charmed by the “power of her voice.”
Both Flo Rida and Avicii were saddened to learn of the singer’s passing (It’s such a great loss,” Avicii says; Flo Rida adds, “Her passing away really touched me”). But for the rapper, in particular, James’ death represents a meet-up that was not-to-be. “I would have loved to have a chance to meet her,” Flo Rida says, “just to give her my congrats.”
The rapper however is pleased to see a new generation of music fans coming to embrace James’ profound musical contributions. “There’s always something great to come with tragedy,” he says. “I’m very happy for the fact that I got a chance to work with her.”