By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
The Wolverines are at once one band and several bands. Since they started playing together in the 1970s, they've undergone a number of changes both in personnel and the style of music they perform, so that their history seems more like a narrative of multiple groups. Even the steadiest member—Jendeen, who's been keeping tempo as the Wolverines' drummer for all but the first couple of months of their existence—has her own multi-tiered past, fractured and filled, one imagines, with enough drama and memories for not one lifetime but (at least) two. What's remarkable is how closely the life stories of Jendeen and of the Wolverines resemble each other.
"When I did this gender thing—not to make a big deal out of it—I would say the band became kind of nonfunctioning," she says. As a six-foot-something blonde who's not afraid to show a little (or a lot of) cleavage, Jendeen is difficult to miss. Not to make a big deal out of it, but until 1996, she was a boy. "Basically, my peer group went south on me, except a few of my inner circle," she says. "I was surprised that, as in-command of my instrument as I was, I suddenly found myself without any income. It was a bit drastic."
For more than 20 years prior, the Wolverines had been gigging constantly. Jendeen cites 1973 as the year of their genesis, and she says they spent the rest of the decade touring the country. Already they were anachronistic, drawing their influences from then-obscure jazz combos of the '20s and '30s, transcribing by ear arrangements of primarily black bands. "No one knew about them then," Jendeen says. "I'm talking about like Fletcher Henderson, Clarence Williams, Don Redman, Chick Webb." Later on, the Wolverines broadened their range, incorporating big-band music—both retro and contemporary—into their repertoire. "We had a spectrum that, decade-wise, was quite massive," Jendeen says.
Then she did her "gender thing," and suddenly the gigs stopped. After three decades of drumming, though, Jendeen couldn't just quit. In a sense, she had to find a new musical personality as well.
"I said, 'Fie on you, all you jazz posers, I'll go over to rock 'n' roll.' The first band I'd seen growing up was the Doors. That's the era I grew up in. The Doors, Hendrix, Cream, the Who, Zeppelin, Black Sabbath—those are the bands I saw live. So I thought, 'I'll play that again.' But for goodness's sake, the music had advanced quite a bit. Now we were in the era of Tool and Slipknot, and things like that. I was like, 'Yikes! These are amazing drummers! What the heck?'"
The themes here seem to center on reinvention and reintegration. The Wolverines didn't exactly create any new genres of music when they decided to mix jazz and big band within the same set, but on some level they had to develop new methods and talents to play what they wanted to play. On a more personal level, Jendeen had to find a way of reconciling different genders within the same body. Musically, she had to reinvent herself as well, transitioning from the breezy, improvisational riffs of jazz to the somewhat darker, more rigid practice of death metal. Nevertheless, she adapted.
Before long she joined All the Pretty Horses, and after that, Harsh Reality, with whom she still plays. Some of the press photos show Jendeen in a bikini top, kissing another woman in bed. In more modest poses she simply pushes her breasts together, a dollar bill stuffed into her pink bra. A drum solo featured on Harsh Reality's MySpace page, while definitely a bit harder than her jazzy Wolverines stuff, still retains a musical sensibility softer than one would expect from a death metal band. Somehow, Jendeen is able to coax melody from sheer percussion.
Now she's back in the seat for the Wolverines as well, having scored a house gig at Hell's Kitchen after the Times, the band's home for 18 years, shut down earlier this year. Occasionally she's still heckled for how she looks, but it seems like, so long as she's drumming, Jendeen can take anything in stride.
"I'm old enough, I've heard it all, and I'm relatively comfortable in my skin. Plus, without sounding arrogant about it, I play rather well. People might see me and think, 'This is really creepy,' and say mean stuff and talk some shit. But then when you play, you want them to say, 'Wow, you look like a freak, sort of, but what an f'n player.' And that works great for me."
THE WOLVERINES play every WEDNESDAY at 8 p.m. at HELL'S KITCHEN; 612.332.4700