Spotlight interview: In the cabaret ‘She Rocks,’ Catt John channels 8 women legends
And now, for something a little different: cabaret.
A good cabaret singer is a distinctive breed. Catt John, who twice a month performs a show titled “She Rocks” at the DiCicco’s bar in Clovis, loves singing her heart out in a small venue, connecting with audiences both theatrically and musically. She certainly has the musical-theater chops, with a degree from UCLA and time in New York performing in professional theater. And she’s always loved rock ‘n’ roll, particularly some of the great female legends – Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, Joan Jett, Pat Benatar, Debbie Harry, and more.
When Covid slowed her world down, John ended up back again on the West Coast, and she and her father, Dave, decided to collaborate on “She Rocks.” (She lives in the Bay Area; her dad lives in Clovis.) They hired two other singers, Karen Tesi and Kari Edwards, designed costumes, figured out choreography and put together a show with lots of theatrical touches and a strong focus on women empowerment. The result is a nostalgic evening in a small space and some big voices.
The next performance is 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 23. The show performs alternate Thursdays. I went to see “She Rocks” and talked to Catt John via phone and email.
Q: From the start of your show, one thing was clear to me: You love to sing. Think way back. What are your first memories of singing?
A: I do love to sing! My first memories are being the “guest star” on my older brothers’ pretend radio show when we were all quite small, I was maybe 4. I actually still have a cassette of me singing “You Are My Sunshine” on one of these shows. I’m pretty sure my parents insisted my brothers include me, but I still remember having fun anyway.
Q: Singing is something we all do. Do you remember when you realized that you’re better at it than most people?
A: I realize I’ve been blessed with a natural gift, and I guess I’ve known that since I was pretty young. But singing is also something I’ve put a great deal of time and effort into as far as training and education, to be able to control my voice, as well as training for performance skills. I think that’s what really has given me that “little something extra” factor that I get in feedback from people who see me perform. So it’s a mixture of natural talent and also working really, really hard for many years.
Q: You started singing in retirement homes when you were 10 years old — singing lots of golden oldies music, like Frank Sinatra. That experience seems like it would be good practice for doing cabaret. What do you think?
A: I used to have pretty intense stage fright when I was a kid, but I fought through it because I loved to sing. The experiences at the retirement homes gave me a huge burst of confidence, especially from the welcome and gratitude I got from the audiences. Not only for my voice but also for the style of music I sang , those golden oldies, which was a nostalgic experience for them. They would often sing along with me and they knew every single word of these songs! I think that confidence I gained from the years of these performances definitely translates into my cabaret performance style, since cabaret is a style of theater that really encourages people to be their authentic selves and put themselves into every aspect of their performance.
Q: You were on the musical theater track for a while — lots of community theater, going through the UCLA musical theater program, a three-year stint in New York. What do you consider the biggest successes of that part of your career?
A: Growth as an artist. Every step of my theater journey has challenged me in different ways and helped me choose what kind of performer I wanted to be, what was important to me in my career. I also found a lot of things that didn’t work for me, which is often as important as finding things that do work, and helped guide me toward being the performer I am today.
Q: You also performed on cruise ships. What line was it? Can you give us a secret that most people don’t know about working on a cruise ship?
A: I worked for Carnival Cruise Lines. Working on a cruise ship is a lot of fun, you get to travel, you get to meet people from all over the world– not only the guests, who were mostly from the states, but actually my coworkers. From the friendships I made while working on the ships I was able to backpack all around Europe from Serbia to London and stay with friends instead of in hotels. I was lucky to get an authentic taste of the places I traveled to by meeting so many locals. I guess not only in show business it’s “who you know”! One other fun secret is that the crew have their own bar, and the drinks are a LOT cheaper than the guests pay. A perk of the job for sure!
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Q: How did “She Rocks” come about? You live in the Bay Area; what’s the Clovis connection?
A: “She Rocks” was born from the minds of myself and Dave, who I have worked with on many, many musical projects in the past. We were slowly coming out of the Covid pandemic as far as heavy restrictions and quarantine, and I was hungry to start performing again as venues were starting to be open to live entertainment. I’m a big fan of classic rock, and it’s coming back in vogue in pop culture as we have seen in the last few years with projects involving Tina Turner, Janis Joplin and Stevie Nicks, among others. So Dave and I decided it’s a great time to do a classic rock show, and I got to pick all my favorite female singers. It was a huge win for me to be the creative director and together with Dave, producer and technical director, create something close to my heart as well as a show that is very catered toward the audience having a fantastic time! Dave moved to Clovis several years ago so it was a natural place to start for the show.
Q: You don’t impersonate these rock legends, but you’re trying to capture their essence. It’s really an acting thing. Who comes easiest to you? Who is the most challenging?
A: All of these women have been a challenge to emulate, because each of them is not only massively talented, but they are authentic personas with huge personalities. Because I’m not trying to impersonate them, the work has been to infuse my own personality into their music, while also doing justice to their musical and performance styles. In their own ways, each of these women have taken their songs and made them their own, and most of these songs have never been done better or even as well by other performers (in my opinion). So it was a big project for me to take on and I did a lot of research on each performer. I think the one I knew the best already was Janis Joplin, as she has always been one of my favorite singers. And the one I knew the least about, and got to learn through my research how truly impressive her career has been, was Annie Lennox. I didn’t know she had crossed so many styles, and her list of all the awards she’s won is jaw-dropping! Did you know she won an Oscar??
Q: Desert-island question: You only get to have one of the singers you feature in the show on your iPod. Who would it be?
A: For me it’s a really tough choice between Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin. Both of them changed music, changed history, and shaped me as a performer. Aretha had an incredible career and every single song she sang, she did it with all her heart and soul. And she sure has a lot of music! Janis, with an unfortunately short career, still has an impressive list of songs that I could loop over and over and find some new nuance every time. Am I overthinking this? Should I just flip a coin?
Q: Two talented singers perform with you in the show. Tell us about them.
A: Karen Tesi is a joy to perform with, and brings 150% to everything she does, and boy is she a busy lady! She owns a med spa, is a hairstylist, tap dances, plays the trumpet…and performs in this show! I don’t know how she finds the time, but I’m sure glad she does! Kari Edwards joined us a little later in the process and had to play a lot of catch-up with Karen and I, but her work ethic and enthusiasm shined and she was able to join us on stage in no time, completing our little trio and bringing her own unique talent and charm. Besides making some great music together, working with them both is just a ton of fun.
Q: What do you see as the future of “She Rocks,” both in the Fresno area and beyond?
A: “She Rocks” is really just at the beginning of what I hope is a long run. Our current venue at DiCicco’s Old Town Clovis was an opportunity to bring the show to life after working on it for the last year and a half. Now that it’s up and running, we want to share the She Rocks experience with as many people as possible. As our audiences grow, we will be looking for a larger venue and a regional tour is planned for the near future. Long term, as much as I love the Broadway theater scene, and a jukebox musical would certainly fit in there, I think that She Rocks is really well suited for Las Vegas. That’s the place that this show would really fit in and shine. Yes, I could definitely see us all on stage at Caesars Palace, or why not the New York, New York Casino? The best of both worlds!
Q: Getting back to the idea that you love singing — can you explain in words what it’s like to connect with a live audience, especially one that is as close to you as at DiCicco’s?
A: I have always loved intimate audiences, because theater to me is an exchange of energy between audience and performers. I like to read faces and respond to the emotions I see there, and let the audience help guide me in my own performance. Even though I sing the same songs every show, every time I perform them is full of different nuances, and the audience helps define the feel of every show. Don’t get me wrong, I also love performing for thousands of people, what a rush! But the intimate aspect of performing at DiCicco’s is just delicious for me as a performer.
Q: Anything else you’d like to say?
A: As much as “She Rocks” is about great music, singing, choreography, multimedia, and so much more in the experience of the show, I think it’s just as much about the culture of the ‘60ss and ‘70s. This show is a celebration of the feminism that exploded during that era and the effect it has on society to this day. As I say in the show, it’s a nostalgic journey that we all get to take together. But for us performing, for those behind the scenes, and hopefully for the audience too, the most important thing is that it’s nothing but fun.