Wednesday, July 06, 2005

If this is Thursday, then it must be Altoona.

It was drums that got Youngstown, Ohio-born Zanne (pronounced "Zany") into the "biz" in the first place. Always an amateur singer---she received her Girl Scout merit badge in music by singing the entire soundtrack of A Star is Born a cappella!---in 1962 her new guitarist-husband consented to let Zanne go on the road with him. . .as a singer! But only if she would play drums. She agreed, he bought her a set Friday night, presented them to her, and said: "You start Monday." Up till then, she'd never so much as even held a pair of drumsticks in her life.

And so the couple hit the road as part of a trio that also included a pianist-synth player. Operating out of an Airstream trailer, as often as not they were on the road fifty weeks a year: "Sometimes we opened for big acts in places like Elko and Vegas for people like Bobbie Gentry. But mostly," she laughs, "we were our own opening act." In addition, the pair toured the country regularly doing clinics, classes and demonstrations; he for Gibson guitars, and she for Pearl drums.

Somewhere along the way, betwixt all the drumming and singing and road-running, Zanne even had time to give birth to a son, Trevor, who sometimes would sleep in her bass drums during down time in the day.

Ironically, the very thing that got Zanne into show business---"those damn drums"---was what she hated most about being an entertainer. "Playing cocktail drums, I always felt like I looked like some dumb Betty Crocker up there, whipping up a cake. Plus," she adds, "there was a singing style in my head that I wanted to develop, but drums held me back. I felt locked into the beat. Like chewing gum and walking."

Drums or not, it didn't really matter: by the late-1970s it all began to come to an end as solo synth keyboard singer-players aided by the dreaded Wurlitzer synth drum Sideman began to displace multiple member groups ("Will the last lounge combo please turn out the lights...."). It's now a lost world.

In addition, Zanne and husband divorced around this time, and by 1980 she found herself effectively out of the entertainment business. Between then and now, she has functioned in a number of "civilian" occupations. Occasionally, she stills jams as a singer in the Orange County, CA area.

Yesterday, at a 4th of July party, Zanne gave me a CD recorded “live” on the road, circa '75, by the group in question, Merle Lemon and the Lemon-Aides. Arriving back home, I popped it in the player. If this represents a single set, then the word “eclectic” hardly begins to describe the broad-ranging repertoire of this mostly “covers” band. Opening with the Four Freshmen, within the 16-song set there are stops along the stylistic way for polka (“In Heaven There is No Beer”), jazz, the Carpenters, Broadway (“I Don‘t Know How to Love Him“), acid rock, country, bluegrass and pop. All performed with an extraordinary degree of polish, especially considering the picaresque conditions under which their presentations were effected. Zanne turns out to be so much more than the “cocktail drummer” that she has always made herself out, to me, to be; instead, she is a full-bore drummer adept at playing, swinging (and singing at the same time) almost any style imaginable.

To judge from the less-than-whelmed applause at the end of each number, most of the music purveyed by the Lemon-Aides is either too hip for the house, the crowd was too tired from dancing, or else the Moose Lodge-type crowd has heard it all before. For, in the sixties and seventies the woods were chockfull of such journeyman outfits. The Lemon-Aides trio, which was constantly on the road for nearly a decade-and-a-half, was part of the wave of such lounge acts that played the Holiday Inn (and other similar hotel chains) circuit. Like most of the others, they trafficked in everything from Emerson, Lake and Palmer to the Carpenters, to the Beatles, to Jackie and Roy, to the Four Freshmen, and, well, just all over the crowd-pleasing stylistic map. But it’s doubtful that few other such musical missionaries were any more adept at putting on such a skillful vest pocket seminar of recent trends in American Popular Music. Take a listen to this
five-minute medley by the group and you'll hear what I mean. Hard to believe it was just a job, as Zanne seems to imply.

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