Cheap Chick
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(Courtesy Cheap Chick)

Interviews:

Robin Beacham

Kristi Callan

One of the most ironic, yet most successful, of the acts who are a part of Los Angeles' thriving tribute band scene is Cheap Chick.

The irony is multi-faceted. Cheap Chick is an all-female tribute to a band whose muscular, energetic power pop sounds contrasted highly with the flowing-maned, leather-clad, occasionally self-indulgent swagger of late 1970s stadium rock.

Also ironic is that the members of Cheap Chick are all seasoned professional musicians who had at least one swing at major success with original music, but fell victim to the unexpected (and often unexplained) ebbs and flows of the music business. Record companies were interested, and then not. Managers were supportive, then combative.

Further, in the 70s, when Cheap Trick, perhaps arguably, had its greatest impact, the band consisted of two guys, lead singer Robin Zander and bassist Tom Petersson, who easily fit the role of dreamboat rock stars, along with a drummer (Bun E. Carlos) who looked about as rocking as a bank teller on a lunch break, and lead guitarist Rick Nielsen, whose fine chops were belied by his appearance, best described as just plain goofy.

With Cheap Chick, those roles are played by four attractive women, without a goof in the bunch.

Cheap Chick's story begins with Pam Moore, known as "Pam Cheatersson," the band's 12-string bass slinger.

Pam had worked a variety of "day jobs," including teaching junior high, serving as a drag-racing journalist and even as a head elf at Macy's department store.

Unsatisfied with such "lofty" positions, she and two friends formed a surf-rock band, the Neptunas (following the demise of another surf-rock band, the Bomboras), and their exploits got them included in Music Connection magazine's list of top ten unsigned bands. The trio - nicknamed Pamita, Leslita and Toastita - were hailed by the Los Angeles Times as having "enough twangy guitar and camp for a half dozen Frankie and Annette flicks."


(Courtesy Cheap Chick)

Yet, the major-label deal the band sought never materialized and the band folded.

Then Pam experienced the surrealism of tribute band nirvana when she attended a show by a group of Led Zeppelin imitators.

"I saw all these people that day just going nuts," she told L.A. Weekly. "It was one of the freakiest things I'd ever seen."

A truer epiphany, she said, came when she saw an all-female AC/DC tribute band.

"In 2002, I saw Whole Lotta Rosies," she told The Whitewolf Zone. "And it was fun, and they had a packed house. And I thought, 'Great! I need to do an all-girl tribute band.' But I was thinking, 'What kind of band can I do, that's interesting and visual? So I thought, Cheap Trick! Because if you saw them, you'd know it was Cheap Trick. And I wanted something that was really visual, and had great music, too, so Cheap Trick was the one that would work for me."

Cheap Trick, she said, had been a favorite in junior high and a band whose music she had rediscovered in recent years.

"I saw Cheap Trick at the L.A. County Fair in 2000," she said. "And I went out and got the CDs, got the first five albums, and that renewed my interest in them."


(Courtesy Cheap Chick)

Recruits were found very quickly ("in four days, I had a band together," Pam said), although Cheap Chick got off to a somewhat slow beginning in the fall of 2002. "We had one member who was working in Las Vegas and she could never play," Moore said, "and then we had another one who wanted to go into the military, so we didn't get off to such a great start."

Within a few months, however, Cheap Chick had secured a stable lineup and a full plan of attack.

Judy Cocuzza had established a reputation as one of L.A.'s most respected drummers and had played in a number of bands, including those with such names as Borax, Bobsled and Stay at Home Bomb. A band called Butt Trumpet evolved into Betty Blowtorch, whose four-year history was filled with national recognition, touring and even a movie, but dissolved into a mess of lawsuits and even the death of a bandmember.

She joined Pam in Cheap Chick in December of 2002 as "Bunni Carlos."

Kristi Callan, aka "Robbin' Zander," moved to L.A. via Texas, Oklahoma and New York, and spent a decade as lead singer/writer/rhythm guitarist of Wednesday Week, a band often described as a cross between early Bangles and the Pretenders.

Despite good reviews, plenty of touring and some TV appearances, Wednesday Week fell apart in the early 90s, and Kristi spent the next decade singing backup with several artists and playing in an original country band, Lucky.

She was initially somewhat reluctant to be a part of a tribute band, considering such as a "joke," but changed her mind when she met Pam. The two found that they were both mothers of two and had both been huge Cheap Trick fans as teenagers, and Kristi, as she told Village Voice, actually wanted to "be Robin Zander" when she was a teen.

"'Cause he had this pretty blonde hair," she said, "and nice clothes, and sang really nice. So I wanted to be him."

Completing the lineup was lead guitarist "Chick Nielsen," Robin Beacham. Robin had played in two popular bands in her native Texas, XOX and the all-female Velvet Hammer, but sought greener pastures and a major label deal, so she headed for Los Angeles in 1991.

Working with such acts as Majenta Jets, the fame she sought did not materialize. Disgusted with the music business and eventually "hitting the wall," she stopped playing guitar for a time.

Then, like Moore, she was inspired by seeing Whole Lotta Rosies, and met Cheap Chick shortly thereafter.

With its lineup solidified, Cheap Chick then went to work on building its reputation through rock-solid live performances, even, on occasion, performing Cheap Trick's landmark Live At Budokan album in its entirety, and Moore's uncanny gift at marketing.

"Well, because of Whole Lotta Rosies and the Iron Maidens and Exit (U2 tribute), there were already some all-female tribute bands working," she said, "so that path was already open to us. And I already, from the Neptunas, knew all the indie bookers in town ... And I definitely have a gift of gab, yes, and I do know a lot of people, and I guess that has helped. But there is a whole lot of work that is involved in it."

"Pam should really be working for one of those big PR companies," guitarist Beacham said. "I really don't know why she hasn't been tracked down by those companies."

"Pam is amazing," Callan added. "She knows everybody, and everything we've been able to do is because of her."

"After a certain point, though," Moore said, "it takes on a life of its own. And I can't believe how wonderful we've been received. It has gone completely beyond my wildest dreams."

One important factor in Cheap Chick's success, on a personal level for the members, has been the approval from the band whose sound and style they emulate.

"Cheap Trick has been wonderful to us," Moore said. "I mean, if my 13-year-old self had any idea that I'd actually be meeting them, and going backstage and hanging out with Bun E. Carlos. Hanging out with Bun E.! How cool is that? And to have breakfast with Rick Nielsen and going to Japan and playing in Rockford? If my 13-year-old self had known any of that, it would have absolutely blown my mind."

Another ironic twist is that, for a 2005 issue of DRUM! magazine, Bun E. Carlos was interviewed by Judy Cocuzza, or "Bunni Carlos."

Moore has been able to secure numerous endorsements for Cheap Chick, helping to take care of what she calls "gear acquisition syndrome," or "GAS," for short.

Cheap Chick has played in L.A.'s largest clubs, taken part in a compilation CD featuring all Cheap Trick tributes, traveled to Japan and even, in 2005, played Cheap Trick's hometown of Rockford, Ill.

And, in the process, established themselves in a field of tribute bands largely dominated by all-male acts, perhaps most of which are solidly based in the heavily testosterone-soaked arena rock of the 70s.

How ironic.

(Courtesy Cheap Chick)