“THE MAKING OF THE MUSICIAN” by Dave Good…
“We all have heroes in our lives,” says Play Like a Girl Records founder and recording artist Roni Lee. “Sometimes, it’s a moment, or sometimes it’s a person. And we can all look back and find that moment, or we can remember that person.”
For Lee, it’s all of the above – a head full of memories of a specific time and place, and of the people who became her friends and mentors.
But in a larger sense, Heroes on Sunset, Roni’s forthcoming release is about a homecoming. Lee began her career in Hollywood, CA, as lead guitarist in a novelty rock band Venus and the Razorblades, created by the legendary Kim Fowley.
In the late 1970’s, Los Angeles was the epicenter of rock and roll and Lee and her pals, a tight circle that included Joan Jett, Lita Ford and Cherie Currie (the three would eventually become the Runaways previous to Lee playing in Venus and the Razorblades) were making music under the spell of a true legend – the Svengali himself, Kim Fowley.
“We were Kim’s little group of teenage musicians. He was always trying to evoke that teen angst and rebellion in us.”
He didn’t have to try very hard.
“Songs from the Sunshine Jungle was my first album,” says Lee. “It was released in 1978. It was all about Hollywood along Sunset Boulevard. That’s where most of my inspiration comes from. I was 17 years old – I’d been on my own since I was 15. My dad died when I was three, and my mom wasn’t able to care for me. I lived with my grandparents in Oregon for a while.”
That, she says, is where she fell in love with music. “My grandparents were very protective of me – social events were pretty limited . I played albums and 45s constantly, listening and ingesting everything I could. Music took me up and out of some bad places. It was comforting and gave me purpose.”
That’s also where she taught herself to play guitar. “My grandparents had a copy of Guitar Hootenanny book with pictures of guitar chords in it. The rest,” she says, “I learned from listening to records.” In that way, Roni Lee eventually learned her way around a fretboard.
“Which was kind of odd, because there wasn’t a single girl up there in my area that played music. I couldn’t get in a band to save my life. I’m not sure exactly where the inspiration came from. I just know that I felt absolutely driven to participate in that music explosion. I still feel that way today.” Roni Lee also feels gratitude to have come of age as a young rocker during the era when rock and roll was still important. “It wasn’t just a genre. It was a philosophy of life.”
I Want to Be Where the Boys Are, co-written by Lee and Fowley during that same late-1970’s time period in Hollywood became a regular feature of the Runaways’ live set. The song was included on the 1977 Live in Japan album, which has been certified Gold. I Wanna Be Where the Boys Are was also featured in the 2010 Runaways biopic and covered by the punk band F-13 on a Runaways tribute disc.
As a member of Venus and the Razorblades, Roni would team up with Van Halen as their opening act for a number of shows as well as the Motels, The Runaways, Devo, and many others. Van Halen later recorded another of Venus and the Razorblades’ songs, Young and Wild.
In a nod to Lee’s amazing past, Heroes on Sunset was recorded at the legendary Sunset Sound Studios. Tracks include Heroes, co-penned by Lynn Sorrensen (her bassist) and Laurie Beebe Lewis (singer for the Mammas and Pappas) a cover of an old Stryker hard rocker, “And a cover of Piece of My Heart. The night that Janis Joplin died, she’d been recording at Sunset Sound. I got to record in the same room as she did,” Lee explains. “She was one of my heroes. I also re-recorded Cherry Bomb. I haven’t decided whether or not I’ll put it on the album yet, but the Runaways are part of my legacy.”
Look for Heroes on Sunset to be released some time during this fall. “This new record was made with people I’ve always wanted to record with. They’re legacy artists, and I love them, but they are still currently performing.” Featured are Stryker keyboard artist Rick Randle, renowned drummer Kenny Aronoff, and her touring bassist, Lynn Sorensen, formerly of Bad Company. “This record represents and exciting time in my life – honoring the legacy artist but moving forward in the present. It’s the musical answer to the question I get asked all the time,” she says, namely, “Why did I get into music?”
The short answer is this: “I’m a performer. I get a kick out of playing. Rock music gives you a strength and power and control over your life – at least for the moment.”
“When you know you’re doing the one thing that you were put on this earth to do – that’s powerful. I’ve got a couple of things I was put on this planet to do. My kids are first.”
Play Like a Girl Records, Roni Lee’s own boutique label, “started as a lark, a Facebook page. Kind of a tongue-in-cheek thing that I thought would be funny. The response surprised me. So, we set a bar, and then we went looking for artists. My first artist was a 14 year old girl named Kaedyn Kashmir. Yes, that’s her real name. She’s a singer, and a prolific writer. Her first album, Sliding Doors, is out now.”
“I signed country artist, Alaina Blair right after Kaedyn. The label isn’t just interested in rock, we love all genres and genders” she says, “I’m also looking for my first male artist. You don’t have to be a girl to play like one. It would be kind of disingenuous to exclude men after I worked so hard to climb that ladder myself.”
“Women were not developed for careers in music. In high school, I, like all other girls in schools everywhere had home economics classes. We were trained to be homemakers, to be mothers. The difference in me was that I wanted to play music. I saw rock stars, and I knew I didn’t want to be married to them or make babies with them (even though I managed to do that as well). I wanted to be them. I wanted to be the musician.” After all, Roni learned to shred on a musical instrument that during her adolescence was reserved for men only – the electric guitar.
Today, Roni’s vocals and guitar techniques span various genres. She has lent her talents to numerous recordings including gospel, funk and rock. Roni Lee’s voice is powerful, and her skills as a rock guitarist are beyond compare. In a word, she rocks.
Roni Lee truly plays like a girl.
— Dave Good