SHAKIN’ SOME ACTION
JENNY DEE & THE DEELINQUENTS
by Julia R. DeStefano
“I’m fascinated by the fact
that you guys are doing material that’s inspired by the things we
did with Phil Spector in the ‘60s. I think it pays tribute to a classic
sound which will always be fresh and which will never become dated over
time.” ~LaLa Brooks of the Crystals
is no wonder that Jennifer D’Angora was honored with the title Female
Vocalist of the Year at the Boston Music Awards this past December.
Her newest endeavor, Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents, is organic, rooted
in pop, early R&B, and doo-wop. Through a style that is reminiscent
of empowering, early girl groups of the ‘60s, D’Angora demonstrates
that this is the music she was born to sing. Her commanding vocals
and authoritative stage presence are spotlighted amid talented players—Ed
Valauskas (bass), Tony Goddess (guitar), Eric “Salt” Saulnier (guitar),
Phil Aiken (keys), Eric Anderson (drums), Rebecca “Beka” Dangora
(background vocals), and Samantha Goddess (background vocals)—along
with diverse special guests. Combine the aforementioned ingredients
with synchronized choreography and matching ensembles. The result is
something that Ed Valauskas enthusiastically refers to as an “instant
Noise: In the beginning, what
led you to pursue music? Was there a catalyst?
Eric Salt: Billy Squier
Phil Aiken: After having played
piano as a young child, I did not pick it up again until after college,
and didn’t start playing seriously until my mid-twenties when I was
teaching college math and had a lot of time on my hands. I knew it was
what I wanted to do, so I ended up making it my main pursuit.
Ed Valauskas: I was a little
late to the party, not picking up an instrument ’til I was 16. I had
some friends in bands in high school, most of them guitar players and
drummers. I thought that if I picked up a bass, I could be in a band
in a week or so. That theory, as it turns out, was correct.
Jennifer D’Angora (Jenny Dee):
I have been interested in music since I was a little kid. There was
always music playing in the house and I asked my parents for musical
instruments, as well as toys. I was first clarinet in my high school
Beka Dangora: While growing
up, my family was very big into music, mostly listening to all kinds.
My sister, Jen, was the musician at the time. She was (and is) a huge
inspiration. I started singing and doing some dancing in elementary
school, and continued to enjoy it from then on.
Noise: Can you share your musical
history, including your involvement in past bands?
Phil: After playing in a bunch
of relatively unsuccessful, though locally popular bands, I ended up
putting in a five-year tenure with Buffalo Tom as a hired sideman. Subsequently,
I played with Bill Janovitz and Crown Victoria, the Blizzard of ’78,
tons of other one-offs and fill-ins, and have done studio work with
a slew of local and national bands. I’ve also released two albums
under my own name; front a band called the Phil Aiken Army, and am just
about done with my third solo release.
Ed: In the early ’90s, I joined
a band in New Haven, Connecticut, called the Gravel Pit and migrated
to Boston in 1995. We made a handful of records that I am really proud
of and toured a bunch up until the early ’00s, when we took on an
infinite hiatus. Most of that band, along with Mike Gent of the Figgs,
started another fairly popular band called the Gentleman, which was
pretty active in the ’00s, winning the WBCN Rumble in 2004. That band
is also on a fairly infinite hiatus. Aside from those two “full-time”
bands, I have toured as a gun-for-hire bass dude over the years with
Juliana Hatfield, Graham Parker, and Wheat. In my spare time, I have
been lucky enough to produce some great local artists’ music: Eli
“Paperboy” Reed, *AM Stereo, Ryan Schmidt, and the Rationales.
Jenny: Besides the high school
marching band, I was in an all-girl band out of high school called the
Boolaberries, but my first “real” band was the Downbeat 5 and proudly,
we’re still together. I was also in the first formation of the Other
Girls and the Dents.
Beka: I grew up performing with
choirs and show choirs. I also performed in musicals throughout high
school. I joined a couple of small bands, but they were brief experiences.
I took a break from singing while I was serving in the U.S. Navy for
almost eight years. I was excited to be offered a place in Jenny Dee
& the Deelinquents after being out of service for a couple of years.
Noise: How did the formation
of Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents come about?
Jenny: After the Dents broke
up; I wanted a non-rock outlet to write and perform. I was thinking
about the musical styles I wanted to do, and always had a love for girl
groups of the ’60s, so I wrote some songs and told Ed about the vision
I had for a band consisting of local musicians that he had just played
with at a Nick Lowe Tribute. For the backup singers—I knew my sister,
Beka, would jump at the opportunity, and one of my coworkers at the
time was the first backup singer. After she left the band, we recruited
Tony’s wife, Samantha. We have since added Paul Ahlstrand on saxophone
and Andrew Jones on percussion.
Noise: Who were (and are) some
of your influences? In what ways (if any) do you incorporate them into
your music, live performance, choreography/clothing, etc?
Ed: On bass, I am pretty much
attempting to rip off a combination of the following at all times, with
varied degrees of success: James Jamerson, Duck Dunn, Graham Maby, Bruce
Thomas, and Pete Donnelly of the Figgs.
Jenny Dee: The Ronettes, Gladys
Knight & the Pips, Ike & Tina Turner, the Crystals, Brill Building
songwriters… the list is really too long. There are so many ways to
incorporate the influences of these artists into our songwriting and
approach to songs, the way the lead vocals and backups sound separately
and together, and the use of space in the music. For instance, guitars
are used very differently in this style than in the rock music I have
been involved with.
I always loved singing to Bonnie Raitt, the Andrew Sisters, Aretha Franklin,
Etta James, and the list goes on. I have watched many ‘60s girl group
videos for ideas on clothing and dance moves.
Noise: How do you write your
songs? Is there a particular process that you go through?
Jenny: A lot of ideas come to
me when I’m walking, usually vocal melody lines. I also sit down with
a guitar and just start playing something, and recently I started screwing
around on an old keyboard that we have. I don’t know how to play keyboard
at all, so it’s fun to make up chords and come up with ideas.
Noise: How has your songwriting
progressed lyrically and stylistically since the days of your previous
bands, the Dents and the Downbeat 5?
Jenny: It’s just as fun and
song ideas come the same way, but I’d say it’s progressed because
I think of more challenging changes for vocals and the music. Plus,
I think I’m in a better frame of mind these days, so my lyrics are
less resentful… okay, not always.
Noise: Do you have a favorite
track or perhaps one that resonates with you the most? Why?
Eric: “Big ’Ol Heart,”
it sums up our sound.
Phil: “Love in Ruins.”
Ed: “Love in Ruins” is the
oddest of the bunch and probably my favorite in terms of production.
The producer, Matt Beaudoin, just killed it, and Paul Ahlstrand’s
string arrangement is just beautiful.
Jenny: “You’re The Best
Thing” is a love song to my husband, the first actual love song I’ve
ever written, so that’s close to my heart. They all mean something
to me, really.
I love the groove and sound of “Big ‘Ol Heart.” It’s the one
that gets me really pumping on stage. “Love In Ruins” is a beautiful
song, and I can really feel the emotion when we perform it.
Noise: How did you feel when
asked to open for Aerosmith and J. Geils at Fenway Park this past summer?
How about New Year’s Eve at Symphony Hall opening for Bettye LaVette?
How were the experiences for you?
Phil: Both were thrills. The
Fenway show in particular, due to the scope of it, and also the fact
that the J. Geils Band was involved. Ed and I play “Hot Stove, Cool
Music” twice a year with Peter Gammons, Theo Epstein, and assorted
other musicians. One of those other musicians is sometimes Seth Justman
of the J. Geils Band. Opening for them was wonderful. Plus, Aerosmith
was my favorite band in junior high school, and hey… it was Fenway
Jenny: I honestly didn’t think
we’d get the Fenway gig, not because I don’t believe in the band
but because it was a dream come true. Both experiences were pretty unreal
and I was incredibly honored for our band to be asked to play both.
Then to see J. Geils, Aerosmith, and Bettye LaVette… come on, I learn
so much from these legends.
Noise: What is next for Jenny
Dee & the Deelinquents? Do you foresee another album? Are
you perhaps planning a tour, playing any festivals, etc?
Jenny: We’re putting songs
together now for our second record and we’re thinking SXSW again this
year, as well as our second tour of Spain. Who knows what else?