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Coastal Commuter

Rock-and-roll women

It’s time to appreciate the many women shaping the rock world, from their roles as DJs, singers, managers, producers, and more. Photo: StockSnap

On my way back to my place in Los Angeles after a night that included watching the terrific young roots-rock group American Mile at the Farmers Market, a familiar song came on the radio. The station was and is a favorite of mine: KCSN, known for playing a beautifully balanced mix of new and old pop music — rock, folk, soul, and more. In this case, the piece was “Rock and Roll Woman” by Buffalo Springfield, the influential ’60s L.A. folk-rock ensemble that featured Neil Young and Stephen Stills before they moved on to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, solo careers, and such. And this particular number — Stills’ lilting up-tempo ode to the self-possessed female performer of the title — struck a chord, so to speak.

The person who booked the show I had just attended at the Farmers Market — and, in fact, runs a weekly series of free concerts there — is a woman named Kim Crain, whose love of rock music is borne out by her enthusiasm and devotion to her responsibilities as producer of these gigs. Plus, she’s a fine singer and plays a mean harmonica as a member of the rock and roll band U.K. Invasion, which is dedicated to the classic British rock of the ’60s and ’70s as well as the R&B that influenced that music. For the record, her cover of the Kinks’ 1964 evergreen “Stop Your Sobbing” (by way of Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders’ version) is a beaut. Kim does all of this, despite a day job in high-end retail, because she loves the music and wants to bring something to the local scene. If ever there was a rock and roll woman, it’s Kim.

Female performers — including a considerable wealth of remarkable singer-songwriters — have long been a force in the music industry. But I am more concerned with giving props to the women I know who have worked behind the scenes and, like Kim, continue to do so. For many crucial years, including the ’80s when new wave and grunge hit the mainstream, Queenie Taylor was a booking agent for Bill Graham Presents and the South-of-Market nightclub Slim’s. In that capacity, she was a canny, savvy tastemaker for Bay Area audiences, and she mentored at least a couple gals who followed her into the career, becoming respected club and concert bookers.

RAVING ON AND ROCKING OUT

Speaking of impeccable taste, San Francisco radio DJs Bonnie Simmons and Beverly Wilshire were among the handful of women whose broadcasts were must-listens for fans of progressive and alternative rock in the ’70s and ’80s. The two of them turned thousands of listeners into fans of music they might have otherwise not heard. Where the club and rave DJ world was once the sole domain of men, there are now renowned woman DJs who can rock Coachella or a rave, as well as their sisters working in discos and lounges where they dazzle the dancers with idiosyncratic tunes from any and all eras. A few years back before she relocated to Georgia, you could hear and enjoy the estimable Vikki Vaden spinning vintage 45s at loft and warehouse gatherings. More recently, Nikki Kreuzer and Becky Ebenkamp — the turntable team behind the regular “Bubblegum & Other Delights” show at www.dublab.com — provided a cheery soundtrack to a Sunday afternoon pool party at the Ace Hotel in downtown L.A.

It would be overwhelming to try to list all of the female journalists and publicists who have dedicated their lives to spreading the gospel of rock, but San Francisco and Los Angeles have had their fair share, some of whom were and still are friends of mine. As for distaff photographers who cover the scene, there’s the legendary Lynn Goldsmith, who I recently had the pleasure to meet, and numerous others, including my talented camera-toting buddy Ellen Berman. And I shouldn’t forget about the sound engineers, mixers, and even roadies who debunk male stereotypes on the tech side. For example, kudos to Nancy Kravitz, a former Bay Area fixture-turned-Kentuckian who is a producer, stage manager, and talent booker, in addition to being a musician herself. That’s a lot of hats to wear.

A BUSINESS AND A PASSION

Then, there are those who adore the sounds, but are deep into the business end of things. Take Leslie Kogan, widow of the prodigiously talented singer, musician, and tunesmith Andrew Gold. She toils long hours managing her late husband’s massive catalog of songs, which is headed up by the standard, “Thank You for Being a Friend,” pitching familiar and obscure compositions, and developing projects for screen and stage that will serve as proper platforms for his timeless material. Her commitment is extraordinary.

None of these women are groupies, although no disrespect intended toward those who love music-makers of any gender. Ultimately, it’s all about the music. And there’s no denying the pioneering, barrier-smashing efforts of rockers Joan Jett, Heart, and Ms. Hynde, and a handful of their peers who inspired many to follow in their footsteps. On that front, I can only say how gratifying it was to be invited to see someone I know get up and rock out on stage as the lead singer in a band that’s a side project for its members — and be floored at how good she was.

Kate Flannery works in video editing for reality TV shows, and it’s more than a full-time job. Still, she finds the bandwidth to front a Little Richard cover band with the sly and bawdy name Big Dick. Yes, she sings hits and deep cuts from the songbook of the flamboyant, hootin’-and-hollerin’ ’50s legend himself, and she does it in full-throated fashion while done up like a sophisticated cabaret singer in a black halter top and sequined bell-bottoms with a slit up one side. At least, that’s what she wore when I caught Big Dick late last month in a Burbank nightspot. Any trepidation I might have had was quickly dispelled. As Little Richard himself might say, she ripped it up. A true rock and roll woman.

Michael Snyder is a print and broadcast journalist who covers pop culture on “Michael Snyder’s Culture Blast,” via GABnet.net, Roku, Spotify, and YouTube. You can follow Michael on Twitter: @cultureblaster

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