BETTER THAN BOOK CLUB: It's mom's rock bandIt’s the same old story: Rock ‘n’ roll band sets up shop in the basement family room. There’s a tower of gear against the wall with amps, music stands, microphones and wires crisscrossing the floor.
By: Christa Lawler, Forum Communications
DULUTH — It’s the same old story: Rock ‘n’ roll band sets up shop in the basement family room. There’s a tower of gear against the wall with amps, music stands, microphones and wires crisscrossing the floor.
Twice a week, the band gets together for three-hour practices that make the floor upstairs vibrate.
But this isn’t a wild pack of rowdy teens dreaming of hotel destruction and the kind of fame that requires keeping reptiles as pets. This is, literally, parents’ rock ‘n’ roll.
“I believe we’re all over 50, and one of us is on Medicare — for a couple years,” said keyboard player Dorthea Diver.
The Grrrl Band is a collection of six musicians, one of a few all-girl rock bands in the area, and one that formed after its members were well beyond those introspective “emo” years. They all have careers — though one member is retired — and they all have adult children.
The 2-year-old rock ‘n’ roll and blues cover band plays songs from the 1960s through today. They’ve played Bayfront Festival Park during an art fair, a couple of shows at GB Schneider & Co., fundraisers and private parties with friends. All in all, it’s been enough gigs to fill out the Grrrl Band World Tour T-shirt that guitar player Cheryl Husby wore during a recent practice.
“We used to rehearse around a pool table,” lead singer Diane Winkler said.
Aside from Husby and Diver’s stint in a jug band almost 20 years ago, none of the musicians had been in a band before Husby started collecting her musically inclined friends about two years ago.
According to band lore, Husby wanted players she could count on to perform at her annual summer party. So she started making phone calls.
Since then there have been a series of milestones the band mates joke about — for instance, learning to play while standing up.
First they learned five songs. When they learned a few more, they threw a party.
“We were so proud we had eight songs,” said Becca Lindquist, lead guitar player. “There was so much curiosity about this Grrrl Band that 85 people showed up.”
The group meets twice a week in drummer Janet Bissell’s basement for three-hour practice sessions. There has been an accumulation of gear: an electric tuner, Lindquist’s first electric guitar, Winkler’s microphone — which was a gift — and Husby’s microphone for her harmonica, which was tested for the first time recently.
Off-stage, the band has a mix of self-deprecating humor and pride at accomplishment. On stage, they now have enough music to easily headline a gig and enough of a following to draw a decent crowd. They have a sound that would play well at a street dance, or anyplace with a dance floor.
Joanne Piper-Maurer can bounce from electric bass to keyboard to flute and back again. Husby has a natural guitar stance. Bissell is quiet and cool behind her drum set, Winkler’s all charm, smiles and spontaneous dance, and Lindquist and Diver handle solos with ease.
Why so long?
So, why did they wait so long to start a rock band?
“No one ever asked me before,” said Piper-Maurer, whose only other experience was in marching band.
The Grrrls met recently to run through the set list for a fundraiser for Safe Haven, a shelter for battered women. The practice session included Winkler’s stage banter and a few seemingly involuntary yelps from the band when things really get cooking.
Upstairs at the Bissell house, Janet Bissell’s husband John and daughter Jennie Price were able to hear the band jamming.
John Bissell said he always wanted to start a family band, even bought Janet a drum set years ago, but that it never happened.
Downstairs, the Grrrls gave each other constructive feedback on the pacing of songs, compliments on harmonies and had a quick conversation about Bonnie Raitt — whom they cover.
Winkler kicked off to her friends for solos:
“Play it, Dorthea!” she said into the microphone and Diver took off on the keyboard.
The Grrrl Band covered “Hi-Heeled Sneakers,” “Summer in the City,” “Love Potion No. 9” and “Chains,” which features almost the entire band on vocals.
“We’re the only band to play this song with a kazoo,” Husby said as they shifted into “Bad Moon Rising,” Winkler with her kazoo up to the microphone.
Lindquist said band practice has become an important part of her life.
“It’s the highlight of my week,” she said.
“It’s a commitment,” Husby admitted.
“But it’s way better than book club,” Winkler added.