IN THE EYE OF THE STORM: THE CHERRY BLUESTORMS GROOVES ON, BABY! By Sandra Castillo
After listening to the latest gem on extended replay from L.A.-based band The Cherry Bluestorms, it gave this writer great satisfaction in knowing that truly relevant music has never waned. It just seems that-for what feels like an eternity-the deluge of nonsense ascribed for much of today’s recorded output is nothing more than Auto-tuned piffle, thinly disguised as brilliance or the most “exciting” thing since Drake decided to part his lips to exhale. Not so, if you choose to unharness your undivided attention in the direction of Whirligig!, the latest album from TCB overflowing with some of the best psychedelic/power pop/rock musings of yesteryear.
One of the most lush, divine slices of aural nirvana to emerge since David Gates of 70’s soft rockers Bread composed the beautiful “Everything I Own” all those eons ago, the number six track on Whirligig!, “Seven League Boots,” is introspective, profound and has been elevated to the highest standard of excellence by way of Deborah Gee’s command performance and vocal styling, which sounds eerily reminiscent of The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde. She and her husband/band mate, Glen Laughlin, are the founders of The Cherry Bluestorms.
The Cherry Bluestorms have rightfully carved out their place in a niche that nobly honors musical nostalgia wrapped up in heavy reverb and experimental indulges echoing throughout many a session. Their stirring ballad pays homage to an important time in Rock history that witnessed some of music’s most seminal talents waltz over the thresholds of recording studios throughout L.A., New York and London, during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, to release masterpieces that remain relevant in 2019. This song will certainly hold that esteemed title one day.
RG Magazine spoke with Gee and Laughlin to get the lowdown on Whirligig! and the reason they teamed up to make beautiful music together. The couple, who reside in North Hollywood, have toured extensively throughout California, the great Northwest, Canada and the UK. They have graced many a venue, including stops at Make Music Pasadena Festival, Half Moon Festival and the famed International Pop Overthrow. About those groovy, retro-funky threads they wear while making all that beautiful noise, the musicians were glad to divulge the back story on that one, too. Here’s what the melody makers shared with the publication-
Let’s go back to the beginning, where memories of how it all began for you the moment it proposed itself through the desire to express yourself in song. When did that happen and how did it commence?
DG-I always loved singing and performing as a small child. In fact, I was encouraged to by my parents and extended family. (A bit about my musical past begins with this segment)
I played rhythm guitar and shared lead vocals in a five-piece band in high school, age 16; at 17, I was part of the backing band for a 17-piece madrigal group. There was a long break before I returned to music. I returned to music in 1994 with my first solo gig at Molly Malone’s, three days after the Northridge earthquake. I was backed by a couple of friends of mine, who were in Susanna Hoffs’ band at that time. Alan Myers (Devo) started playing with me in 1994 for three years. 1998 until 2000, I recorded and then released my debut album, Portal. 2000 to 2002, I played with various musicians. 2002 to 2007, Glen Laughlin/The Pawn Hearts. 2007 to present, The Cherry Bluestorms.
Certainly, there were moments that gave you pause to question your decision to pursue a career in music. If those voices of doubt echoed throughout your psyche, what did you do to push them out of the way and carry onward?
DG-My inner voice would remind me that if I stopped I’d be more unhappy than to move through whatever was troubling me.
Who are some of your personal influences, who’ve helped shape, mold you as a singer?
DG-Grace Slick, Chrissie Hynde, Karen Carpenter, Sarah McLachlan.
You have a great flair for fashion, simply by the way you dress and present yourself onstage and off. It’s funky, classic, seemingly reflective of an era known for its appreciation of crushed velvet, pageboy caps and low-heeled, pointy-toed boots by way of Carnaby Street. How does your love of such accoutrement play into the visual aesthetic of who and what Deborah Gee is all about?
DG-Thank you. People listen with their eyes. I love sixties fashion! It’s groovy and makes a statement.
How would you describe your music?
DG-My solo music conveys more of a lyrical vulnerability/playfulness than the lyrical content from The Cherry Bluestorms. My songs have more of a personal spin in one way or another. I continue to write lyrics in a universal way as best I can. Musically speaking, I still throw sixties/nineties influences into the songs. Glen writes most of the material for TCB. He is well read and makes reference to iconic moments of that era. That comes through in his lyrical abilities, not to mention his vast knowledge of music. If you listen to the band’s first album, Transit of Venus, it is fairly balanced with songs he wrote, songs I wrote and songs we wrote together. You will observe the difference there.
When and where did you and Glen first meet? What kick-started your friendship to include making music together?
DG-Glen and I met in the spring of 2001 at a coffeehouse. I was looking to replace my guitar player. A mutual friend said he knew the perfect guy for that. He said, ‘He had a hand injury and plays in a lot of different tunings. He has a unique style of playing, as you have a unique voice and presence.’ I wasn’t looking for a relationship, just a guitar player. Glen knew otherwise and did not commit to play my music until after we were already a couple.
Who came up with the band’s name?
DG-Glen did. He took it from a Bill Nelson (Be Bop Deluxe) song called “Futurist Manifesto.”
The Cherry Bluestorms’ Whirligig! has some extraordinary treasures on it, namely this writer’s favorite, “Seven League Boots.” Talk a bit about that song and what it means.
DG-I really like that song, too, because it was inspired by a folk tale about a damsel in distress. Her lover hears her call and comes to her rescue. We all need to be rescued from time to time, and I think Glen’s perspective on the subject is clever. I also love the musical influences he draws from-The Troggs, The Rolling Stones and Donovan.
What would you like inscribed on your tombstone, Deborah?
DG-I will be cremated. If I were to be buried, it would say–“Light a candle to shed light when you’re in the dark. Things work out the way they are supposed to in spite of our own thoughts raging.”
It’s noted that you were born in Hollywood, California but spent your formative years elsewhere.
GL-True. They were spent in Van Nuys, California.
Your resume is quite impressive with a litany of bands you’ve immersed yourself with. Ready, set, go!
GL-The Blueberry Waterfalls, 1970/1971; various garage bands, 1971-1978; Lallie Flooke, 1978-1980; The Dickies, broken periods; The Skin Trade, 1986/1994; Buffalo Springfield Again, 1995/1996; The Thorns, 1997/2000; Deborah Gee/The Pawn Hearts, 2002/2007; The Cherry Bluestorms, 2007-present.
Who are some of your musical mainstays?
GL-The Beatles, The Kinks, The Who, The Small Faces, The Rolling Stones, early Pink Floyd, The Byrds, The Lovin’ Spoonful, Genesis, Steeleye Span, XTC, The Skids, The Stone Roses, Supergrass, Oasis, The Charlatans.
How would you describe your music?
I tend to think of it as “post-Beatles.”
You compose most of the songs for The Cherry Bluestorms, with the occasional song or two that credits Deborah as co-writer. How do you both collaborate, artistically, to bring the songs to life?
GL-Deborah sometimes comes to me with an idea for a song, and I develop it into a finished piece.
Talk about the moment you first met her and how this coalition of talent came to fruition.
GL-I saw Deborah through the storefront window of a coffeehouse I frequented. She was with an acquaintance who motioned me in. She was looking for a guitarist. I felt an immediate connection to her, which is why I turned her down. I invited her to my studio, and after collaborating on her solo material, things developed into a band.
How do you know when a song is “just right” and ready to be recorded?
GL-I think that my experience influences my immediate response to musical ideas and of course, my innate intuition affects my pragmatic and professional path and choices.
Who have you worked with over the years?
GL-As a musician, The Dickies, Dewey Martin of The Buffalo Springfield, P.F. Sloan, David Swanson of The Pop, Steve Allen from 20/20, Peter Case and Jack Lee of The Nerves and The Plimsouls, producer Jeff Lord-Alge, Eden Everly, The Howlers, with Burleigh Drummond (Ambrosia), Garth Hudson (The Band) and Floyd Snead (Three Dog Night). As a producer, too many to mention here.
Where has music taken you in your journey as a guitarist/singer?
GL-Most States in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, UK and Japan.
Any stand-out moments in your career you’d like to reflect on?
GL-I think St. George’s Hall in Bewdley in England with The Cherry Bluestorms was a high point. We were treated like royalty and had a great show in the lovely Georgian hall.
For more information, please visit www.thecherrybluestorms.com
Photos of The Cherry Bluestorms by Michael Kurtz