Girl Gang finds age no barrier to playing music

After the drum machine kicked on, Beth Caurant leaned over her electric guitar and began hammering the full-throttle chords that open the song. Grace Edwards, at a small keyboard, added some swirling organ-like notes, while Kasen Koehler weighed in with a heavy undercurrent of bass.

Then it was singer Ann Creely’s turn, and standing before her microphone, she did her best imitation of Deborah Harry’s growling vocal on “One Way or Another,” the Blondie hit from 1979 that Harry wrote about being stalked by a former boyfriend: “One way or another, I’m gonna find ya, I’m gonna get ya, get ya, get ya, get ya …”

As Caurant, Koehler and singer Tammy Bringaze added their vocals to the mix at selected points, the hard-rocking song swelled to fill the modest-sized room in Northampton where the five musicians clustered amid a small forest of amps, mixers, cables and microphone and music stands. The energy was palpable. 

It was rehearsal night for Girl Gang, an all-women Valley band that loves to play a wide range of rock, pop and even old disco tunes from the 1960s through the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, while mixing in some newer country-flavored songs as well. They like to play the music they grew up with — and to show age is no barrier to older women playing rock and roll.

With an average age of about 64, the women of Girl Gang have been playing music in different forms, and with different people, for decades. And if some of them faced barriers to playing rock when they were younger, today they’re making music on their own terms — and having a blast doing it.

“It’s so much fun to play a song that everyone recognizes after just the first few words, the first few chords,” said Koehler. “What we really like to do is take people back to a time that they remember, better times, with the music that was part of it.”

Girl Gang, which plays at the Luthier’s Co-op in Easthampton on Saturday at 7 p.m., got its start 10 years ago when Koehler, of Easthampton, and Caurant, of Northampton, met at a dance and starting talking about music; both had extensive backgrounds in it. 

Caurant was the founder, in the early 1970s, of Lilith, one of the first all-women pop bands, which enjoyed success first in the Valley and then in the Boston area. The group once opened for Bonnie Raitt and also played at the NOW (National Organization of Women) convention in the late 1970s. Koehler, meantime, played bass in a number of bands in northern New Jersey (where she befriended Clarence Clemons, the late saxophonist for Bruce Springsteen) and then worked in record production in New York City.

“Beth and I had both been looking for a way to get back into music,” said Koehler, 65, who’s now retired from a job as an x-ray technician at Cooley Dickinson Hospital. “And in particular, we wanted to play rock and roll … but we’d had a hard time finding other women to be a part of it.”

The duo did find two other band members for a time, but both those women lived outside the Valley — one was from Boston — and eventually the difficulty in finding time all four could rehearse and play gigs brought the arrangement to an end, though not before the band had played both for the annual Pride parade and festival in Northampton and for one in Boston.

But looking long-term, “We really needed to find a way to have a band with members here in the Valley,” said Caurant, who’s 66.

About five years ago, a chance encounter between Edwards, of Sunderland, and Koehler brought the former into the band. Edwards, 70, says she had plenty of previous musical experience — she’s a veteran French horn player for various classical groups, and an accordion player — but she took up the keyboard for the first time to be part of Girl Gang.

And just earlier this year, the two lead singers, Bringaze and Creely, both of Northampton, signed up. Creely is a longtime acoustic guitar player and a songwriter who says she’d long thought it would “be fun to be the singer in a band — I just never thought it would be a rock and roll band!”

And Bringaze, the “baby” of the group at 56, was relatively new to music — she’s been a member of the local community choir Rock Voices for a few years — but she said she welcomed the chance to sing with a smaller group. “It just clicked,” she said.

Playing what they like 

At the group’s recent rehearsal, at Creely’s home, Girl Gang worked through a string of pop and rock hits spanning some 50 years, from Burt Bacharach’s “Walk on By” from the early 1960s to “Girl Crush,” a Grammy-winning country song from 2016 (one co-written by Lori McKenna, the Boston area singer-songwriter who made a number of her early records with Northampton’s Signature Sounds).

Also in the mix were The Pretenders’ “Brass in Pocket,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” the 1970s disco hit “Shame,” and “Fire,” the slow soul-rock number written by Bruce Springsteen that became a big hit for the Pointer Sisters, also in the late 1970s. Fighting off a cold, Bringaze sang lead on “Fire,” with Caurant, Creely and Koehler joining her on the song’s chorus.

“That one felt a little better,” Bringaze said afterward, before taking a swig from her water bottle. “I did a lot of talking today, so that probably didn’t help my voice” (she’s the director of the student counseling center at Westfield State University).

“I think you sounded good,” said Koehler.

Band members say they get a lot of satisfaction from choosing their repertoire together and giving each member a chance to stretch or challenge herself, whether singing or on an instrument. Though some of their songs are those made famous by female singers, they also enjoy covering seminal male rock bands and artists: The Beatles, The Kinks, Neil Young, Prince, and others.

“We play the songs we like, especially the ones that get people up and moving,” said Koehler, who says the group also hopes to record some original music.

Koehler noted that when she was in her 20s and first playing in bands, her male bandmates would tell her she couldn’t sing lead on songs written or performed by male singers. “I was always ‘the chick with the guitar,’ ” she said with a laugh.

Here, though, Koehler kicked on the drum machine again — she calls it “Ringo” — and the band launched into “What I Like About You,” the bouncy pop rocker by The Romantics circa 1979-80. As Caurant sang the lead, Creely, Bringaze and Koehler added background vocals, Edwards threaded her way past coils of cables to play a harmonica solo at a microphone stand, and the group kept the song pulsing — then ended it on a dime.

“Alright!” said Koehler.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

Girl Gang will open the Saturday show at the Luthier’s Co-op, 108 Cottage St. in Easthampton, at 7 p.m. Swimming Bell follows at 8 p.m. and Wild Yawp at 9 p.m. The show is free, but tips are appreciated.

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 



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