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A Stage Full of Women Sunday, June 24, 2012 09:06 AM
Rachel Lions had always been a musician, from her earliest memory. Whether it was her mother's operatic singing voice or her father who was a Radio DJ and Newscaster, music and entertainment was always around her.  She was born in San Francisco, daughter to a family of first generation immigrant sisters who come by way of Germany from Kazakstan in the central Asia portion of the former Soviet Union.  Most of her aunts had Americanized their names as they made the crossing and like many immigrants from that area settled on Russian Hill, near the world famous winding Lombard St.

As a young girl she'd moved with her parents to Westwood in the early 60's where her mother worked as a script writer at CBS Television City and her father pursued radio work until their eventual split, afterward she moved to Orange County with her mother who then began working at the Musicians Union.  By her middle teens she was working there part time as well, and after high school attended Cal State Fullerton with the intention of studying music.  Unfortunately she found that the direction of musical instruction there was mostly aimed at the creation of chamber music for other academics, not the general public.

Rachel wanted to learn how to make a living playing music and unfortunately a University wasn't the place to learn how to do that.  She eventually graduated with a degree in sports medicine, with cautiously optimistic intention of continuing on that career path, it being the early days of Title IX, but having a degree made her mother quiet down. 

Right now though none of that was on her mind. Right now she was missing a singer for her band, who were about to go onstage at Gazzari's on the Sunset Strip in five minutes.
She'd been with her band Chemistry for a couple years now on bass.  She hadn't originally been a bass player, she had first played guitar as a young girl until a horse riding accident that smashed her right hand, giving her a compound dislocation and shoving the bones through the skin.  It had been a long slow recovery, and the doctors had told her she'd never play guitar again.

But she didn't listen.

She'd found an old electric bass and used tape to hold a pick in place for her right hand while her left pressed the frets to select notes.  Anything just to be able to make a sound.  Eventually she grew fond of the bass and become a fan of some of the more florid and imaginative players in 70's Rock such as John Entwhistle, Chris Squire and Geddy Lee.

As the 80's rolled around she began playing with cover bands performing the very same songs that she'd love listening too.  There was the band Leading Edge and then there was Galadriel both of which leaned toward the meat and potatoes rock of bands like Styx and Journey to the more progressive strains of Rush.  Now she was with Chemistry with her friends Laura on guitar,  Vanessa on drums  and Merri, who sang half the leads and played guitar and keyboards, who began as a cover band and had gained a good following, good enough that they were now doing originals and playing on Sunset.

The problem was that the club had told them they were going on stage at 11pm, but now the stage manager was telling them a different story.

"You're going on a 10 O'clock, Ok"?

"What!??" Laura exclaimed.  "But Merri thought we were playing at 11, so she went off to have dinner with her boyfriend..."

It was time to panic.  They had a band, but they had no singer.  At least not until 11.

"You need to start loading your gear on stage, NOW", the manager said.

"What are we going to do?" Vanessa wondered.

"Just get everything on stage, I have an idea" Rachel responded. 

They'd been playing the Strip for a while and many of the clubs were actually within a few blocks of each other.  Gazzarri's was actually the last one in West Hollywood before you entered Beverly Hills.  Two blocks down was The Roxy, right next door The Rainbow  Another couple blocks down on the same side of the street was the brick red Whiskey A-Go Go.  Another two blocks and you had Sunset Tower Records, where many a local musician had taken a day job, and many fans would go to find rare vinyl. A couple miles away to the east just two blocks past the entrance to Chateau Marmont where John Belushi had spent his last hours on earth was the Coconut Teaszer, which used to be the Starwood. On Friday and Saturday Nights the north side of Sunset was packed with Rock Fans and Band members streaming back and forth from club to club, from the Rainbow to the Roxy, to Tower and back again checking out this band or that band.  Many of the musicians spent their time waiting for their chance to go onstage listening to other groups at one of the other clubs, and Rachel thought she'd seen some familiar faces among the crowd on the street.

And she was right.  Not a half block or so away she found a couple members of Spellsinger.

"Hey you guys were in a jam, can you help us out?" Rachel begged desperately.

"Yeah, sure Rach - what's up?"

"We're short a singer, we need someone to come up onstage for a couple songs?"

"Yeah, sure - we'll do it. We've heard your set a couple times - we can fill in."

"Thanks, you're a life saver."

They rushed back and arrived just as Vanessa and Laura were done getting their gear onto the stage, which was no easy feet at Gazzarri's.  Unlike most clubs it's size, the Gazzarri's stage was literally 4 feet above the main floor. It was almost the height of a stadium stage, only the Whiskey was nearly as high. 

"I brought the cavalry, this is Kate and Jen from Spellsinger." Rachel stated mildly relieved.

"They know our songs?" Vanessa asked still concerned.

"We're willing to give it a try." Kate said.

Laura's face and palm decided to have a one on one meeting.

"Are you kidding?" Vanessa said, growing more agitated.

"Well, what other choices do we have?" Rachel shot back.  "We could try to sing it ourselves, but you know it's not the same without Merri."

Vanessa considered for a minute.  They all three had at one point or another acted as lead singer for the group.   As they did their cover songs different members own voices were better at certain ranges.  Laura had tended to sing lead on many of the Genesis songs, where as Rachel would tend to sing the Journey.  When they'd played Gazzarri's before without Merri, it had thrown the sound guy for a loop.

"Ok, which one of you is the lead singer?" he'd asked back then.

"We all take turns singing lead", Rachel responded.

"No, which one of you is the Lead Singer"?

"We all do it, sometimes I sing lead - sometimes Laura, sometimes Vanessa" Rachel said pointing to each of them for emphasis.  The sound guys eyes grew wide in panic.

Rachel had then turned to the other girls, "We are so, so screwed,".

Now things were different. they'd entered an entirely new world when Merri joined the band and they'd moved from covers to originals.  She was the real deal with a voice that was rich and strong.  The songs just didn't have the same punch without Merri.

"Fine, Whatever. They can sit in." Vanessa finally conceded.  This better work.

They finished setting up and did their "line-check" to make sure all the microphones were operating.  With a headlining group the sound technician would go through and adjust every individual microphone bit by bit, the ones either in front of our plugged directly into the amplifiers, the drum mics and vocals mics would all be tested before the entire band would perform part of or all of a song in a full "Sound Check".  But at Gazzari's unless you were a touring major act, you didn't get that kind of luxury treatment.  You had to have your instruments, guitars, drums and keyboards all balanced on your own or you would just sound ridiculous as you began your first song.

So as they began their first song, they were a little more edge than usual - but surprisingly Kate really did know the melody and lyrics to their songs.  She really had been listening during a previous gig when Chemistry and Spellsinger had performed together the previous month, plus she had a decent voice herself.

Rachel felt herself finally start to relax, even daring to begin to enjoy herself.  Up to this point tension and worry had been knotting in her stomach like a vice.

That's when Kate started to wave up some of the other members of her band onto the stage.

"Oh no, what's this?" Rachel wondered, the knots beginning to return a bit.  But she needn't have worried, most of them just began to dance along, some had brought a tamborine.  By the time they finished that song the Gazzarri's stage was literally packed with girls from one side to the other.

Even the owner Old Man Gazzarri himself, a white hair gentlemen in a trademark white fedora, was out on the floor and having  a good time with so many women on stage at once.  He was grinning from ear to ear.

Just as they finished the song, Merri came up on stage.

"What's Going ON???" she exclaimed.

'We had to go on 45 mins early and you were gone, so we improvised" Rachel said.

"Well, this is MY BAND - My Band.." Merri was now circling around the stage and lifting her leg like dog marking her territory.  "MY BAND!". At which point everyone started to break out laughing.

The other girls stayed and jumped in here and there on backing vocals as Merri took her lead vocal role back for the next song.  By the third song Chemistry was back to it's normal four member self, and finished the set without any further incidents, tamborines or leg lifting.

As they unloaded their gear Laura lamented, "Playing this place is a pain in the ass. There's always something going wrong, we have to pay the sound guy out of our own pocket and then he only does a half-assed job.  Is it really worth it?"

"It gets us exposure, people get to see us - just like Spellsinger did." Rachel responded.

"Yeah, but the club was only half-full - if we'd gone on in our original slot it would have been packed" Vanessa chimed in.

"Well, at least we made Old Man Gazzari smile." and that's worth something.
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