Cheap Chick - Kristi Callan



(Courtesy Cheap Chick)

Kristi Callan is fulfilling a teenage fantasy, to "be Robin Zander," in the all-female Cheap Trick tribute band Cheap Chick.

Kristi, born in Dallas, spent her childhood years in Oklahoma and New York City before moving to southern California. She began performing as a teenager, with her older sister, Kelly. The two worked together in various bands, and took a swing at national success in Wednesday Week, a pop/rock band that lasted for most of the 80s. The lineup fluctuated over its decade of existence, but included Kristi's husband, David Nolte, as lead guitarist, and sister Kelly switching from drums to bass at one point.

Following the demise of Wednesday Week, Kristi formed another band, Lucky, and toured and recorded with a variety of other artists in the 90s.

Kristi has also written and performed her own country-flavored music over the years, and, although she had never considered being part of a tribute band, changed her mind when she was given the opportunity to join Cheap Chick as "Robbin' Zander."

She released a solo EP, Feed The Kitty, in 2003, and returned to her country roots in recent years as lead singer, rhythm guitarist and principal songwriter in the Dime Box Band, a unit that also includes Cheap Chick bassist Pam Moore.

Kristi joined us for this chat in July of 2006.

Where did the interest in music start for you?

In Oklahoma, going to a radio station and thinking it was pretty darn cool, when I was like four or something. That was it! Sold! It just went on from there. I got a stack of singles, from a whole bunch of cool bands - the Byrds and stuff like that - and I was hooked.
Plus, they used to have a lot of hootenannies in my house back then, and that was pretty appealing to me, so it all started back then. How about you?

Somewhat similar. I had a few relatives who played music and would get together at the house for various "wing-dings," to use a southern term, and I had an uncle who was a very good pedal steel guitar player.

Oh, that's neat!

So, that's kinda where it started. And my older brothers didn't really play, but they had all the old records like Duane Eddy and the Ventures, Sandy Nelson, all the instrumental stuff, and some rockabilly. When did you actually start to play?

Late. Late in the game, being the youngest one, all the older ones got the lessons and they were tired of it when it was my turn, so I didn't start with lessons until I was around 11. But there was a piano and I was always tryin' to play it from the time I was little. I was always trying to figure it out myself. But I didn't get lessons until later.

How many brothers and sisters?

Just two and, well, actually three, because I had a stepsister, too. So they got the guitar lessons, and I wanted to, but I was told my hands were too little, so that's why I did piano, 'cause they couldn't say that about that so much. But, yeah; I was always into it. Getting my singles, listening to AM radio, you know.

Was there any one act that you saw or heard and said, "That's it!" That you wanted to do that?

Well, yeah. This might seem pretty cheesy, but when I was little, there was the Partridge Family and the Monkees, it was that kind of thing. Especially for me, the Partridge Family, because I thought they got to be with their family, and that sounded appealing to me. I just thought, "Wow! That's great! You get to play music and be with your family!" That was good. So I was into that.

But you didn't want to be Susan Dey, did you?

Oh, not at all. And I did not have a crush on David Cassidy, either. I just liked the whole concept of it. Because my parents were split, and it was my mom and the kids, and I thought that idea of the mom and kids kinda resonated with me, you know what I mean. So, no, I didn't want to be her. I wanted to play guitar.

And what about the Cowsills?

Yes! The Cowsills are great! One of them plays around here all the time, I need to go see him. He plays, like, every month, a couple of miles from my house.

Is it Bob (Cowsill)?

Yes, that's it, it's Bob, that's who I'm thinking of is Bob.

Did you start like so many of us with an awful acoustic, or did you manage to get a good one?

My acoustic wasn't bad. Actually, I had it until a couple of years ago and still would play it, but it was out in the garage with a bunch of junk and it got smashed accidentally. I was heartbroken. But no, it was good. My first guitar was a good one, actually.
My first electric guitar was pretty bad, and I got totally taken advantage of by the guy in the guitar store, which is so common. You run into that a lot as a female. People try to take advantage of you.

When did you move out west?

I was 13. And not too pleased (laughs). My dad lived in Connecticut and had horses and we had to keep 'em up, so I was not too pleased about (leaving). And in New York City, you can take the subway anywhere and do whatever you want. When we moved out here, you have to drive to do anything, so I was totally stranded, and not happy.
But, I got over it. It took me a couple of years. When my sister got her license we started going out to shows and we could go see music. I was much happier. But, before then ... (laughs) I was not too pleased. It was just a total culture shock thing, but music helped take care of that. And once I was able to go out and see stuff.

When was the first band?

I think the first performance was ... I was probably ... 16. It was with my sister playing drums and me playing guitar. We played in a shopping mall parking lot. The opening of a shopping mall. It was exciting (laughs).

Just the two of you?

Yeah. Just drums and guitar.

What was the name you used?

Oh, I don't even like to tell you (laughs). It was bad. She had just started college, and she didn't know what her major was, so we were called the Undeclared.

(Laughs)

Yeah; pretty bad. But, it was fun, and, you know, we just kept playing after that and we got ourselves a bass player and changed our name right away (laughs). And we started doing different shows and stuff. Actually, you know, one of our first bass players was Steve Wynn, you know who he is?

Steve Wynn? Yes, I've heard the name. He was in ...

From the Dream Syndicate?

Yeah; right.

And then, this guy that we had first, his name is Dave Provost. He was in a band with Kathy Valentine, the Textones, way back when.

Yeah.

So, we had a bunch of different people comin' through.

What time frame was this, late 70s?

I'd say - let me think - '79, I guess. Yeah, '79, by that point. And by 1980 we started getting a more solid thing happening, playing out more, and by '81 we had a more solid lineup. And that was all originals. Cheap Chick is the first thing I've done that wasn't all originals. So that was kind of weird to do that. That was always a kind of stigma in being a cover band or tribute band. But it was fun, so I decided to do it anyway.

So this was the beginning of Wednesday Week, around that time?

Yeah, that was right after we finished with Dave Provost, Steve Wynn and all that. We ended up changing our name and becoming Wednesday Week, and gettin' this girl Heidi (Rodewald) to play bass. It seemed to take forever, but I guess it was only a couple of years to get it going, but it seemed like forever back then.


Wednesday Week - David, Kelly, Kristi and Heidi, 1986
(Photo by Don Williams)

Were there a few players in Wednesday Week?

Yeah, there were a lot of different ones. We had a lot of different people coming in and out. The most stable, I guess, was me and my sister and Heidi and my husband David, who joined. That was the lineup that put out the record on Enigma, and did the studios and stuff. But we had Ilene (Markell) play bass with us for a little while, and a lot of different people. We had a girl from the Pandoras (Karen Blankfield) for a little while, playing bass, and ... a lot of people trotted through, actually, at various times (laughs).

Was there just the one album for Wednesday Week?

Well, I would say, officially, one. We did singles and we did compilations and we did another album after the Enigma one, but that we just put out ourselves. It didn't have very wide distribution whatsoever. So, I'd say one officially, yeah.

Was a Telecaster the main guitar for you in Wednesday Week?

Yeah, the black Telecaster. I love that one. I still have that one. I was playing that one a lot, and even in the country band, but now I mainly play acoustic in that band. That's why I don't play the black Telecaster so much anymore. I had the white one mainly as a backup, but when I joined Cheap Chick, and (Robin Zander) is "Mr. White," you know, so the white Telecaster became the main one.

Wednesday Week actually got a lot of good reviews, right?

Nice reviews, yeah. The critics liked us, it's just a shame, you know, that (laughs) not that many other people did. But at least the critics liked us.

Do you think some of that was just poor distribution, that the record didn't get out and get promoted as it should?

Oh, I don't know, Tom. Who knows? It's probably just a bunch of things. It's hard to get things off the ground. We were on Enigma, and there was really nobody else like us on that label. The guy who signed us, the president, he loved us, but no one else at that label cared for us (laughs). Enigma had a, sort of, different crop of bands, not at all like us, and I just think they weren't very into us. So, you know, one of those things. What are you gonna do?


Wednesday Week - Heidi, Kelly, Kristi and David
(Photo by Don Williams)

Right. But you did tour quite a bit with Wednesday Week, right?

Yeah. We toured and we made videos and we did ... you know, (the) Arsenio Hall (show) at the time - that was a long time ago (laughs). You know, we did MTV and MuchMusic, the Canadian thing, and things like that. We never got overseas, which was a big mistake, the label would never put any money behind us. We were supposed to go to Japan and that didn't happen ... they just never put anything behind us, you know how that goes.

When did that band end?

Oh, it died, and crawled and did stuff for a few years and didn't officially end until 1990. Those last couple of years were a little tricky.

What happened after Wednesday Week?

Um ... gosh, a lot of things. It was also flitter-flatter. I played with a lot of different bands. In fact, and you may think this sounds funny, but I actually did vocals on some Ventures stuff. They wanted some background vocals. I did this thing called Big Soul for a little while, which was an interesting kind of conglomeration. I played with the Crusados for a little while, just a little while.
I just played with a lot of other people for awhile. I decided to try it out and see what it was like to be in someone else's band, rather than just mine, you know? And then my husband was playing with this guy, this British guy, named David Gray, and so I played bass with them for a little while, and toured and stuff.

Right.

And I had a country band for awhile, I had a band called Lucky - we put out a CD and we toured a bit. That was me and my sister and David, my husband, and another guy. Just a bunch of disjointed things.
And then, I had kids, and that kind of slowed me down a bit. And I started playing solo. And my husband got this touring gig with David Gray, and was gone all the time, and I had these little kids, and it was just too hard to do my own solo thing, so I joined Cheap Chick, because I thought it'd be fun. And then, about a year or two ago, I sorta resurrected the country thing that I was doing before. So I now have a country band with the bass player in Cheap Chick. We play out almost every week, and it's really fun, and it's nice to do that.


Lucky - Mike Lawrence, Kristi, David and Kelly
(Courtesy Kristi Callan)