"We're a rock 'n' roll band," Kathy Valentine stated plainly about her current group, the BlueBonnets, from her Austin studio last week. "Some of our songs might sound like pop, some like soul, maybe there's Motown and punk, too, but we're a rock 'n' roll band, straight-out."
Valentine and her revamped BlueBonnets are currently in the midst of a 10-show run as openers for the elegiac and celebratory UK/Irish band the Waterboys. The latest stop is Thursday at First Avenue. "While it's not new to me, it is new to us in its present state," Valentine said of the band she founded some years ago. "It's an evolving thing."
Many of the songs that will make up the Bonnets' set are from the band's second album, Play Loud. The title is an apt and suitable suggestion. From the sardonic and rifling opening track, "60 Punishing Minutes" -- which calls to mind some of the best lyrical and sonic musings of '80s Georgia band Guadalcanal Diary -- to the big and infectious chorus of "Have a Nice Day," the album unapologetically hammers through a series of playful, guitar-laden songs featuring bluesy hooks and strong vocal harmonies.
Valentine's musical partnership with Domonique Davalos from the Delphines continues here, with the charismatic Davalos doing most of the lead vocals, and playing bass in what is an immovable and no-frills rhythm section anchored by drummer Kristy McInnis (also of the Delphines).
Valentine, known primarily for her bass playing/songwriter duties in the Go-Go's, is an accomplished guitarist in her own right. But she defers equal credit for the band's live garage sound to the other side of the stage, where Austin guitar phenom Eve Monsees plays in seamless tandem with her. "We have two strong guitar players in the band," said Valentine, before quickly adding, "and so the 'BlueBonnets' name is super misleading. It sort of conjures up a bunch of girls walking around in bonnets. But we're playing with Scots, so maybe that makes sense."
Touring with the Waterboys came about with simply a handshake and a hug. "Mike loves the band," said Valentine, referring to Waterboys' frontman and longtime friend Mike Scott. "When they played in Austin, Steve Wickham (fiddle/mandolin) invited me onstage for a song. I'm not a really a 'jam' kind of person, but it was awesome."Valentine later joked with Scott that maybe the BlueBonnets could open for them, and Scott said, "You can play as many shows as you want with us." Simple as that. "We're not doing the entire tour because a few of us have other commitments," Valentine said. "And I didn't want to leave my daughter (12-year-old Audrey) for too long a time, so I didn't have to. That's one of the good things about not being a Go-Go." [page]
Coming of age in Austin, Texas, in the late '70s with a desire to play guitar would have been serendipitous for anybody, and Valentine's adjacency to some of the players of those days was not lost upon her.
"You could go out on any night to three or four different clubs and see completely different bands at each," Valentine said. "I loved Jimmy Vaughn and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and of course there was Stevie. And then later in L.A., it was like that, too. There was X, the Blasters. I was friends with the Plimsouls when they hit. It was pretty much just an extension of what I grew up with."
In the winter of 1980, Valentine was asked to join an upstart new wave/pop band called the Go-Go's as bassist. "We were all around 22, and by 25 we broke up for the first time. It was a whirlwind. Everything I had been working for or wanted, I got: good songs, maybe a line out the door waiting to get in. And aside from all that, it was like being a member of this exclusive club," she said.
The "breakups" were frequent, but the band's popularity among its fan base remained constant for many years. Then in 2013 it all ended for Valentine."I'm not in the band anymore. It was a messy and bad divorce," she said. "If you've ever been divorced, it was like that times four, divorcing four crazy women at the same time."
The standard "no regrets" mantra so often employed after the dissolution of a band -- once the smoke clears and the dust settles -- is more nuanced and pragmatic with Valentine. "Looking back on it, it was a good thing that happened to me. I'm grateful for 32 years of opportunities," she says. "And there's really no bitterness or anger now. And, I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything."
Moving forward, the BlueBonnets don't have a game plan, per se. While Valentine is completing her degree in English and Fine Arts, and eventually looking forward to a segue into writing and other musical ventures, she still has a keen focus on the band. "Just play," she said of the band's future. "Just follow up and play. If you disappear, you're gone. I know this."
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