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The one and only Kim Lenz belts out 'billy music

By Jon Johnson, October 1999

Kim Lenz and her band have just spent three more hours on the road between Flagstaff and Phoenix, a blues tape keeping them company, as they look for an antiques store to kill time before the evening's show. "We're going to go down a ways. I'll tell you when to get off. The road is going to curve," says Lenz to the driver. Reaching their destination, the band piles out of the van to search for bargains while Lenz stays behind to do another interview.

Just another moment in the lives of Kim Lenz and the Jaguars, touring on the heels of their second Hightone album, "The One and Only."

It wasn't that long ago (1995, to be precise) that Lenz headed down a different career path, studying psychology at the University of North Texas with plans to eventually go into private practice.

"I almost got finished before I met a bunch of people at the University of North Texas who were musicians, so they said, 'Hey, let's start a band at your house.' It was a funny little band, but it was fun. It was called Rocket, Rocket. Six different people were in the band, and everybody had different musical tastes. I sang three songs, and mine were rockabilly songs. And once I got up in front of people and started singing, it kind of hooked me."

Lenz was no stranger to music, having grown up playing piano, singing in a choir and playing a little guitar as a teenager. It was also as a teenager in the San Diego area in the late '70's and early '80's that she was exposed to bands like The Blasters and X, both of which incorporated rockabilly influences. Lenz also credits her father's record collection as a big early influence on her musical tastes.

After playing together for less than a year, the members of Rocket, Rocket went their separate ways. "It was a very loose alliance of people, and I decided I wanted to try to do something on my own, and I got some guys together, and we started playing around Dallas."

From that point Lenz's career started gathering steam quickly. In 1997, the group released an EP (produced by Deke Dickerson) on the Denver-based Wormtone label. "Kurt (Ohlen, owner of the Wormtone label) kind of put us on the map. He was really good about sending (the EP) around to everybody. It went out of print pretty fast."

Word about Lenz and her band eventually made its way to Larry Sloven of the California-based Hightone label, who signed Lenz to its HMG subsidiary and released "Kim Lenz and Her Jaguars" in 1998, with a front cover that was a clever - and uncanny - homage to the jacket of the second Gene Vincent album. Produced by Fly-Rite Boys bassist Wally Hersom, the album combined Lenz's original songs (including rerecordings of two songs from the Wormtone EP) with a few covers, including the Miller Sisters' "Ten Cats Down" and Johnny Carroll's "The Swing."

Unfortunately, the original Jaguars lineup fell apart soon afterwards, the result of roadweariness.

Lenz quickly recruited a new lineup consisting of guitarist Nick Curran, drummer Scotty Tecce, and, later, bassist Shawn Supra, who play on the new album.

Along with åHersom's return as engineer, the new album features contributions from two other Fly-Rite Boys: pianist Carl Sonny Leyland, who contributed "Comin' Back Strong" and production by Robert "Big Sandy" Williams, who also wrote two songs, one with Lenz.

"I really wanted to find somebody who could be an artistic-type producer, who could be there with me and help me with pre-production. Robert is a friend of mine, and I called him up to ask his advice and he said, 'Well, I'd kind of like to do some producing someday.' So I asked him and he said, 'Yeah, I think that'd be fun.' He's got so much experience, and he's such a talented person. It really worked out great."

"The thing that I really wanted to do on this record was to feature some other songwriters writing original material and some of the people who I respect a lot as songwriters. It seems like there's this pressure today to do everything. Back in the '40's and '50's there were songwriters. Now you've got to be the singer, the songwriter, (and) the guitar player."

In addition to Leyland's and Williams' contributions, the album features "Crawlin' Back" by Sage Guyton of the California-based western swing band the Lucky Stars, and Don Carter's "If You Don't Like My Peaches (Don't Shake My Tree)," which has an interesting history.

"He wrote (Gene Vincent's) 'B-I-Bickey-Bi Bo-Bo-Go,' and he also wrote (Ronnie Dawson's) "Rockin' Bones.' I got this phone call from him, and he said that he had a couple of songs that I might like to hear. I talked to him for a while, and it turns out that he wrote this song at the same time he wrote 'B-I-Bickey-Bi.' He sent (both songs) off to the publishing company, and Gene picked 'B-I-Bickey-Bi' and was going to record the other song, but it never got recorded. He said that he'd been following my career in the newspaper. I went over and talked to him, and he's just the neatest old guy."

When asked about the changes she's seen in rockabilly over the last few years, Lenz says her perception is that it's growing in popularity. "On the west coast especially there's a lot of kids getting into rockabilly right now. Now that the swing (revival) is out of fashion, a lot of the younger kids are turning to rockabilly because it's a little more dangerous, and it's got a little more energy. I hope it doesn't turn into a big fad, like with swing."

Finally, Lenz says that she would like to see more women playing rockabilly, a genre dominated by male artists like few others.

"To me, it's really just a positive thing (to be a woman in rockabilly). Because there really aren't that many people doing it we're able to get more exposure. I wish there were more women doing it. I think it's a really great type of music for women to be singing, especially in the nineties."

"The road is really set up more for men than women, though. It's just the four of us in our van, driving around the country all the time."