The New Old Rockabilly

davinaWhen I lived in Long Beach, California in the early 2000s, I was determined to walk to as many services as possible. When it was time for a haircut, I stopped in at a little bungalow on Redondo Avenue run by two very cool women.

I had no idea what these women were up to, and was always too intimidated to ask. They wore vintage (or imitation vintage) dresses from the 1940s and 1950s, cotton patterned wide-skirted dresses that were mostly strapless, bright red lipstick and their hair tightly curled and piled on top of their heads. They were also covered with tattoos, which was, for me, an odd combination. They were in their late 20s, I’d guess, both with small children. The photos showed one of the husbands in fresh work clothes, also looking both tough and sweet.

I now realize they were part of a rockabilly subculture that is going strong on the West Coast and has made its way, in a very small way, to Central Minnesota. This summer we saw the band “Davina and the Vagabonds” at an outdoor show, and we liked what we saw. Davina is a Minneapolis singer, and with “the boys” she sings and plays music that is part old-timey rockabilly and part bluesy Amy Winehouse-style stuff. She pounds on the piano like Jerry Lee Lewis and belts out a tune like Bette Midler, and has both attitude and a great set of pipes.

Last night in St. Cloud, we were treated to a new Minnesota band, Lola Cherry. A newbie to professional singing (she said this was the first band she’s ever been in), Lola was utterly charming with her thick Minnesota accent and effusiveness about the size of the audience: “This is so awesome! Thanks for coming out guys, this is awesome!” She also told the story of how the band came together, after she was ranting on Craig’s List about the lack of a rockabilly scene in “this town” (Minneapolis? St. Cloud?).

Our friend, stand-up bass player Joe Meyer, was having some music gatherings in his barn over the summer and invited her to come and join in. She did, and that’s where she met a talented lead guitarist named Leon and our friend Joe. They picked up a drummer and a tremendously talented older trumpet player who would look in place in any Chicago bar, and they had a band.

Another friend who was there called it, “good, unpretentious entertainment,” and that is exactly what it is. The songs are irresistible, energetic and theatrical, and the musicians were amazing. Lola made for great fun, with her singing, her flirty dancing (work that dress, Lola!) and her interludes. But by far the best was when she talked about the rockabilly subculture.

“It’s not just music; it’s a lifestyle,” she informed us. “In Portland there is a huge rockabilly culture. The women all dress like pin-ups from the 40s and the men all have these great pompadour hairdos. Someone would call at any time and we’d get like 20-25 classic cars just going around cruising! When I got back here to Minnesota, I was like, ‘Where’s the rockabilly scene in this town?’ I was so bummed!”

Right away I flashed back to my hairdressing gals. It had not seemed right when I saw the look on Katy Perry, or Amy Winehouse, or even Project Runway designer Kenley Collins. They all had part of it but not the whole package. It took Lola to bring it together for me.

And if it can engage some of the great musicians around here and keep delivering so much fun, I say, “Rock on!”

photo of Davina Sowers by Chuck Ryan Photography, from the blog

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