Kick it Out:
Mama Kicks goes out on a high note
It's time to take a break.
That's what Lisa Guyer said when asked why Mama Kicks, a rock band that has become a New England fixture for the past 20 years, had decided to perform their last show on Saturday, June 29, 2013, at Whippersnappers in Londonderry.
It's time for this band of gypsies to wander in new directions but to never, ever stop playing music. Unlike the typical band breakup story where a disagreement drives members apart, this one has none of that. In fact, it's not really a break up at all. It's simply a chance to try new things as individuals and see where the journey might lead.
We caught up with the two originals, Gardner Berry and Lisa Guyer, and decided to reminisce about days gone by, talk about current projects and find out what the future will bring. Lisa, the dynamic front-woman of the band, has a lot to say. She has recorded a unique record and toured with Sully Erna from Godsmack, developed her own music program and continues to earn a living playing music full-time.
NewHampshire.com: Why did Mama Kicks decide to hang it up now?
Gardner: It seems like it's time. We do play music as a living and the bar-band business isn't as lucrative as it used to be. It's easier to find work as a solo or duo entity than as a full band. We have side things going on that hold our interest and help put dinner on the table.
Lisa: All of my posters say we're taking a break. Obviously, none of us are like, "Oh, I hate that guy." It's just time. We're all still playing together. We're just giving "Mama Kicks" a rest. You go out on a high note. It's not forever. We could play New Year's Eve every year, who knows? We're just on an indefinite hiatus.
NewHampshire.com: Where did the name Mama Kicks come from?
Gardner: We had a brief Tuesday night residency at Spatt's in Manchester, and one night a friend at the end of the bar shouted out "Mama Kicks" as Lisa finished a particularly rousing version of a Melissa Etheridge song. We laughed at the time, but soon adopted it as the name of the duo when several venues thought we should have a name that didn't sound so 'acousticish.'
Lisa: (Laughing) Yeah, the drunken guy named us! He was in the front of the club and we had finished with a big number to end the set so he looked up and yelled, "Mama Kicks!" We thought it was really funny. Shortly after, we started playing at the Woodstock Station and we started booking ourselves out. People were saying they loved us but weren't crazy about the name "Lisa and Gardner." That's when Gardner came up to me and said, "we should call ourselves "Mama Kicks." It was such a funny story. I couldn't see myself every night saying, "hey, welcome to Woodstock Station. We're Mama Kicks!" But it totally stuck. Everybody loved the name.
NewHampshire.com: How did the band get started?
Gardner: In late 1987 I was hired by Paul Labbe to assemble a house band for a new place he was opening in Manchester which was to be called CLASSICS. The plan was to have a house band with a parade of rotating feature vocalists. I had crossed paths with Lisa during our time on a mutual cover band circuit and she was the first call I made. I felt her presence was what we needed to put us on the map. I believe I made a sound choice. Classics, to this day, remains one of my favorite performance experiences. It was a perfect venue for both performer and audience.
After three years as The Classics' Showband, the nightclub closed due to family health issues. We were fortunate to move the entire band down the road to the Yard, where we became The Wicked Big Band. Differences between management and myself arose, and I got wind that we were going to be let go. As a safety net, Lisa and I had put together an acoustic guitar and piano duo just using our own names "Lisa Guyer & Gardner," and had performed a few shows with varying levels of success. One of the places we had played was PLAYERS in Salem, NH. It was a new place and the owner hadn't really booked any entertainment, so when the axe did fall at the Yard we became sort of a "house duo" until we were able to fill our schedule. Gratefully we were never out of work one week, and we met some awesome people at Players, including Sully Erna. (Photo Above: Lisa Guyer/photo by Lisa Martineau)
NewHampshire.com: Did you ever have intentions on becoming an original band?
Gardner: We did toy with original material briefly. We had one song called "Wild Party" that was on a limited release CD that Daddy's Junky Music put out. A compilation of New England Bands that they sold in their stores, back when they had stores.
NewHampshire.com: Who was in the band at that time?
Gardner: Initially it was just Lisa and I and a drum machine I named Al. We found ourselves subject to a degree of "duo prejudice." Despite the fact we would pack houses as successfully as a band, we would only be paid "duo money." Patently unfair, in our opinion.
NewHampshire.com: So Al never received a stipend? It does seem unfair that you were being paid less despite filling the clubs.
Gardner: Al never received a dime!! It is true, you were paid to some extent as to how big your band was. I don't think that's true now, in fact so many weekend warriors are willing to go out and play for next to nothing it's nearly impossible to make a living in bars anymore. Quality takes a back seat to the bottom line. It's part of the reason we're taking a break.
NewHampshire.com: The band was a full-time job for you. Did you play weddings, in addition to regular shows at local clubs?
Gardner: We did have a rotation of regular clubs, The Woodstock Station, The Derryfield, Players among others, and we did do quite a number of private and corporate parties and weddings as well. A life altering booking for us was when Billy MacDonald granted us a Wednesday night residency at the newly opened Black Brimmer. We stayed there for almost 13 years.
NewHampshire.com: When did drummer David Stefanelli and guitarist Chris Lester come into the picture?
Chris Lester (photo: Lisa Martineau)
Gardner: After a couple of increasingly successful years at the Brimmer, the club gave us some extra money to bring in guest performers, spice up the stew so to speak. One of our early guests was David Stefanelli. The addition of a real drummer as opposed to the machine made a palpable difference and as David was up for something new we added him as a full time member in autumn of 2001. Chris was another guest at the Brimmer, he had been our bassist at Classic's and had left for California. He was an outstanding bassist, but he came home from L.A. transformed into one of the best lead guitarists around. In 2007 he became a full-time member.
Lisa: When we decided to add Chris, we were playing the Black Brimmer pretty regularly and I started doing the 'guest appearance' where I would feature a guitar player/singer every Wednesday. So I would get to front the band because there would be a guest guitar player. I didn't have to play guitar! So it was so fun for me, and I decided it was time to add another player. I wanted to be freed up, to be able to dance around. So that's why we added Chris.
NewHampshire.com: What were your musical influences early on? And who do you listen to now?
Gardner: As a child I listened to whatever my parents listened to. I enjoyed the songs that were hits back then, a lot of Classic country. But the first time I played out in a rock & roll band was Feb 1964, the same month that the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan. That changed everything for me. Up until then the band I was in had played mostly surf instrumentals, hardly any vocals at all. Of course the Beatles drastically changed all that.
Now I listen to almost everything. I'm not a fan of the new wave of country singers, and I have no patience for the Idol/Voice/X-Factor/Talent influenced melisma-laden pop vocalists that saturate the market. But I have an extensive collection of blues, jazz, classic rock, oldies pretty much everything, even quite a bit of contemporary music; Adele, Bruno Mars, Civil Wars, Mumford & Sons to name a few. I have over 7500 songs on my iPod always on shuffle, so every drive is a listening adventure.
NewHampshire.com: Lisa, did you always have aspirations to be a singer?
Lisa: I was very blessed. I was born in 1963 - a very different time than now. I was very blessed to be born into my father's family, which was very musical. My father was an amazing singer and a charismatic human being. He was the baby of eight children and they all played an instrument, they all sang. Again, it was a very different time. There wasn't even a lot of TV then, that's what you did at home. They were all very gifted so they put on little town shows. They were all very musical and into the community and they would put these shows on as a family and go out to old folks' homes or the V.A. or whatever, and by the time I was four years old I could sing and dance. I became a featured performer. So I started to sing with my father; it was like an old softshoe with my mother and father. I was four the first time I did that. So when did I know? There was never a moment that I didn't know. It was what I wanted to do. I got out of high school as quick as I could as a C student because I wanted to be in a rock and roll band and go. I knew what I was going to do.
The guitar came in solely because I just wanted to sing and there was no karaoke or anything like it (at the time). For some reason a guitar ended up in our house. I've never had a lesson in anything. My father knew a few chords and he started me out with a few chords. I got some guitar books and I taught myself. I'm not a great guitar player. I basically just learned enough so I could sing. It was an avenue for me to be able to go out and sing. If I would have put my mind to it, I could have become a really good guitar player. Singing was always just easy for me - and joyful - that's what I concentrated on. I didn't get super serious about playing guitar until Mama Kicks.
NewHampshire.com: So you're totally self-taught?
Lisa: Yeah, I've never had a vocal lesson in my life. I don't even know how to read music. It's like Chinese to me.
NewHampshire.com: Who was your musical inspiration?
Lisa: I always loved Bonnie Raitt and Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders).
I loved those two particular women because they played guitar. I respected that about them. I try to teach that - especially to young girls - play an instrument! I make the majority of my living playing solo. If I didn't play an instrument, I wouldn't be playing music for a living.
That's my story and I'm stickin' to it!
Sully Erna (Courtesy photo)
NewHampshire.com: At some point you met up with and befriended Sully Erna from Godsmack. How did that come about?
Lisa: I met Sully 20 years ago, before he was "Sully/Godsmack" and I met him through a mutual friend of his sister's, at the place called PLAYERS in Salem. He was from the area at the time. And, me and Gardner - when we were still a duo, played PLAYERS every week for three years. He would hang out there and we just hit it off. We are kindred souls and I remember him coming to me and saying, "I'm starting this new band. I'm not going to drum in it. I'm going to be a lead singer. I love your voice. I'm a huge fan of yours, of your attitude, how you handle the crowd. Can I come in and hang out and pick your brain?" I said, "of course." That band he was putting together was Godsmack. Apparently I gave him all the answers to success because he went off to become famous! We are all proud of him.
NewHampshire.com: How did you get involved in his Avalon album project and subsequent tour?
Lisa: Well, ten years later (after Sully Erna's enormous success with his band, Godsmack) he had a solo record contract with Universal Records. We had remained friends while he was on the road. He'd come see me play. He tells a story on stage now, on Godsmack IV, he wrote this song called "Hollow" and he knew he imagined a female voice. I came to mind and he flew me out. We wrote the parts together and laid them down. That's when we both realized, "Wow, our voices are kind of magical together." I would have never thought those two voices would ever work. They just DO.
He got to the point where he decided to utilize the solo record contract. He came to me and he said, "I want to do my solo record with you. Let's do this and see what happens. Let's write like the old school. Let's write like Pink Floyd did, where you put the first song on and you listen until the end and it's a complete experience." I said, "I'm in."
NewHampshire.com: What was it like to work on this album, what was the songwriting process like, and how did it feel to be a part of that tour?
Lisa: Well, I started to get a little frustrated because it was taking a long time. Different people - Nuno Bettencourt to name one - was supposed to play on it. So, Chris Lester was the first one I brought in. And then I said, "Tim Theriault is amazing." He siad, "Ok, he can come to the rehearsal but he doesn't have the gig." They fell in love with each other. We talk about this in "The Journey to Avalon," which is a DVD documentary. It just fell into place. The songwriting was the same way. Sully came in with songs already. But the songs that we all wrote together, pieced together, were like this. Somebody would start a djembe beat and Tim Theriault would start playing a cool guitar thing and Chris Lester would go over on the keyboard and that's how it organically happened, and those songs came about. It was really a cool experience. It was outside-the-box for all of us. We're all so proud of it.
The live show - that's all Sully and Sully's amazing vision. He brought it to life with video. We realized that we had something. It was something we always talk about which is how powerful music is, the energy of it. Music is just energy. That's why it effects us as humans, 'cause we're energy.
NewHampshire.com: You're so different on the Avalon stage than you are with Mama Kicks.
Lisa Guyer onstage during Avalon
Lisa: I try to explain to people that when you're inside being an artist you want to be as open as you can, always to all aspects of it. And I pride myself on one of the things that was a gift that my father passed down to me was that, I'm pretty well-rounded, right? I got lucky and I can sing heavy metal craziness or I can sing really pretty. I can go somewhere else. So that was partly Sully and I saying, "we gotta have a look. How do you want to dress?" And I said, "well the music is so vibey, I don't know, gypsy-like?" We were thinking the same thing. So the movements and the way I move is not anything I planned. I really believe it happened because I decided to be barefoot in it. I didn't plan any of it. I just got inside of it - which is what you're supposed to do - and I just let it move me. I'm inside the music.
NewHampshire.com: So you mentioned that you were touring with Sully again. Did you just get back?
Lisa: I think we're done for now - September, October we may be doing something - but that's not definite. This show is really cool because it's almost like a "Storytellers" for him and it's a side of him, again, that his fans have never seen. And it's cool - he tells stories. He tells a story about meeting me. So how we do it is he goes out, acoustic, all by himself, with video behind him, and he does 4-5 Godsmack songs, and he talks about his career and how he wrote these songs, very "Storytellers" - and we're not onstage at all. And he goes into "Broken Road" from Avalon, into the chorus and the band kicks in and we all walk out. Then we do a bunch of Avalon stuff. It's just the five of us. It's not the whole Avalon band. In the midst of it, there's a lot of talking going on - he talks to me - we talk about our relationship and how we met - then we add everybody. Then we do a tribute to Pink Floyd. We do a little Pink Floyd in honor of the 40th Anniversary of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, something like that. It's a very cool show.
You can get "The Journey to Avalon" DVD, which is the documentary of how it was made. And, "Avalon Live at the Wilbur Theatre" on DVD and Blu-Ray. It's on Amazon. It's in stores. You can get it anywhere and I suggest to people to get the Wilbur Theatre DVD. It's really - Sully brought in some amazing people - and they edited it so beautifully.
NewHampshire.com: If you could sing with anyone, who would it be?
Lisa: As musicians, we sometimes talk about "who's your favorite?" But it's so hard to do, especially at this point in my career. I've been influenced by so many in so many different genres that it's hard to say. But I do have to say, I would - you know - for males, I would kill to sing with Paul Rodgers from Bad Company. He's one of my all-time favorites. But, of course, I would die to sing a song with Bonnie Raitt. I don't know. She just touches me. She's always with me since I was a little girl. And Bonnie is the influence in me that people aren't super-aware of. I love that side.
NewHampshire.com: She's a little folky.
Lisa: A little bit. I'm not a big folky person; that's where I don't really go. She's tough to label. She's almost a little bluegrass-y at times. She's almost folky but she's so blues-influenced. I don't know. She vibrates at my energy. She always touches me with whatever she does.
NewHampshire.com: She's got a little bit of rock/blues and a little bit of the "gypsy" Avalon thing going on, actually.
Lisa: You know, I never even thought about that. That could be why, because it's kind of like what I do. She's got a little rock-ier side to her and a little earthier side too. I think I admire that.
NewHampshire.com: What is the future going to bring?
Gardner: I'll leave the musical part of our future plans to Lisa. For my part; in the past year I started a part-time courier/errand business called RELAX…I'LL GET IT, which has been doing surprisingly well on a small scale. I was fortunate to hook up with a local online auction house called RR Auctions and they send me all over the place to pick up or deliver collectibles and memorabilia. I enjoy the drives and I'm constantly astounded by the history I hold in my hands.
NewHampshire.com: Okay, then tell me about Lisa Guyer's Music Empowerment Program.
Lisa: I have one coming up, which will be the week of August 12-16; it's a Monday through Friday. This program actually came into my consciousness because of Avalon. Because we started talking about, "What is Music? Why do I like this and you like that? What is this?" If you pick up "The Making of Avalon" you can see how we all talk about what music is, and Sully talks about it a lot. It's just energy. So I started thinking about how my industry right now, in my opinion, is just awful. There's very little of - there's the Adele's and Bruno Mars is amazing - but there is no more "IT" Factor. The two that I just mentioned have that IT factor.
I think what's happened in our society - I believe - is as I said before, I was born in 1963, there was barely television. So as kids you were bored all the time. Mom's did this: "Go outside. Make something up." Your parents forced you to be creative even in playing. So you created more as a kid. And, there was always a piano in someone's house because that cures your boredom. You sat and played that. Or a guitar came into the house and you played that. Whatever it was. You were less distracted. Then there was my industry just going downhill and record labels being all about business, and about just carbon copying success, whether it's good or not, just driving that into the ground. And it's fake - it's horrible. Why are the classic rock stations the only ones doing well? Because that music has heart and soul to it!
So I thought - what can I do? I'm 50 years old. So I didn't get the big record deal. That's fine. Hey, I've had a great life; I love the life I've had. But what am I going to do? There's more to what I need to do. I've always known it. But what is it? I don't have a teaching degree. I don't want one. I was talking to a really good friend who has degrees and has been teaching for years and he said to me, "you don't need a degree, Lisa. You have a Master's in Rock 'n Roll on the road. That's way better than any degree you could go get. You just have so much to offer people." That opened my heart and my eyes. But I thought, what is it that I want to offer? I came up with this thing, with assistance from friends and teachers that I know, because I had never taught anything or had a lesson, and they say 'surround yourself with great people,' so I did.
You can't teach "IT" factor but how can I - in my belief system I believe we are all born little artists, every one of us; and then there are choices made, whether you stay that way and you see the world through different eyes or you go the other direction. It's just a choice. Some people don't stay that way and others do. How do I hone that? How do I take that golden nugget and polish it like my father's family polished it for me?
We sang in the car when I was a kid - there was barely radio - today kids have their Ipods in their ears and don't even listen to the same song at the same time! So we had this community of singing songs. So with the help of some really great teachers and friends, it came to a point where I did a "pilot" program last June. I had no idea. I thought, this could really work or this could be garbage. I went for it and well, the magic happened in there. I loved it. I loved the energy that these kids gave me. They made me see these little artists. I know I wouldn't be able to breathe without music. I really do feel that way - I just don't remember that I feel that way, because I do it for a living. It made me realize I need to tap back into that more. It was a really great experience for all - the teachers, myself, the kids.
NewHampshire.com: Is there an age group that this is limited to? And, is it open to both boys and girls?
Lisa: The age range is age 13-18. And yes, it's open to both boys and girls. There were 17 lovely kids (last year).
NewHampshire.com: Where is the program held?
Lisa: It's like a gypsy thing right now. But this year, the week program that is scheduled is going to be held at a really cool place called Dreamsicle Arts and Entertainment (http://www.dreamsiclearts.com) in Suncook. Oh, and by the way, I have scholarships waiting to give out to kids. I need some kids to get on www.LisaGuyerMusic.com and sign up for these scholarships. It's run by Vinx, whose claim to fame is that he toured with Sting, and a woman named Jennifer. They have this great art space. It's a groovy thing.
NewHampshire.com: Is that what you see yourself doing exclusively, then, or will you still be playing live?
Lisa: I would love for this to be the majority of what I do, a thing I do on a regular basis, whether I'm an artist in residence and I go to ten different schools twice a month, whether it's after-school programs that I hold, and then in the summer and school vacations and the week-long intensive that I do now. My ultimate goal would be to have my own school, Lisa Guyer's Music Empowerment Program. And in the meantime, I could never stop performing live. I can't see it happening. I perform solo a lot so I will continue to perform every Wednesday at a place called Clark's Tavern in Milford. It's an awesome place. It's just a 65-seater and I play solo there and it's great. I will not stop doing that.
Gardner and I are ending Mama Kicks but just moving forward, I'll be playing in a band called Lisa Guyer's Gypsy Caravan, and we'll be playing out 4-5 times a month. I plan to try to do what we did at the Brimmer - to feature somebody every week - because it was just so awesome. People loved it. At this point in our career, you don't rehearse, you just invite someone to come up and they bring their material with them and you're just jamming with them all night. Everybody is seasoned enough that you can make it happen without too many train wrecks. That's kind of what "Lisa Guyer's Gypsy Caravan" is going to be.
Also, a really big thing that I'm really excited about is David Stefanelli and I have a record coming out, hopefully in early fall. We just finished the writing and we are doing the recording now. It's called Another Side. And it's - another side of us - sweet, soft, acoustic-y. David is playing amazing acoustic guitar, and it's a softer side of me. I'm really proud of that, really proud of the songwriting. I can't wait for it to come out. All that has to be done is my vocals.
For more information about this new record and to find out what David and Lisa are up to, visit http://www.lisadavidmusic.com/.
Lisa: I'll also be doing some touring with Sully as it comes up. We've started writing the second Sully solo record. We have a couple of songs done now so I'm assuming that throughout the summer and the fall that we will be trying to get the new record down. So, there's lots of stuff going on.
The final Mama Kicks show took place on Saturday, June 29, 2013 at Whippersnappers in Londonderry.