ThundHerStruck - Stephanie Leigh



(Courtesy Stephanie Leigh)

Stephanie Leigh, native Californian and (we assume) natural blonde, was practically born with a drumstick in her hand.

Leigh's father, a drum corps director, was an early role model and inspiration. Taking up the drums herself at age ten, she began playing in bands and high school, and, after some time away from California, returned home and started an all-female band called Damzel.

Through happenstance, she met Tina Wood, guitarist of a British band, No Shame, who were in need of a drummer just as Stephanie was in need of a band. It proved to be a good fit, and Leigh and Wood reteamed several times over the years.

In the 90s, Leigh kept the beat with several bands, including Fair Game, Flesh 'N' Bone and the Leigh Cates Band, and actually served as the model for a sci-fi comic book character called Rock Can-D. She also produced, wrote and performed in a music video for the character, with her friend Wood supplying guitar work and Dyna Shirasaki on bass.

At the end of the decade, Leigh, Shirasaki and Wood teamed up as The Party Girls, a band hired by famed brewery Anheuser-Busch to perform at corporate events and pregame activities before one of sports' biggest events, the Super Bowl.

In 2001, Leigh, Wood and Shirasaki became members of the AC/DC tribute band that evolved into ThundHerStruck. Since that time, the band has played across the U.S., including several major music festivals, and internationally. Among her proudest moments with ThundHerStruck are their trips to perform for members of the U.S. Armed Forces, in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and other points.

"The Rudd-Ster," who is, by her own admission, rarely at a loss for words, took time to chat with The Whitewolf Zone in July, 2006.

So, you are one of those true freaks of nature, a native Californian?

(Laughter) I am. I am a native Californian, as is our bass player, Andrea. We're both that type of wild child .. I was born in Orange, and raised in the Orange County area. "The O.C." (laughs)

And your dad was a musician, correct?

Yeah, my dad was a drummer. He was actually involved in DCI, which is Drum and Bugle Corps International, which is kind of a different area of music. Some people may not be that familiar with it, but it's actually a pretty large industry. Anyone that has been to the NAMM show or anything, (manufacturers) cater to that line as well. But yeah, I was raised with a little stick in my hand, and my dad taught the drum line and I was three years old and used to go to practice with him. And my dad taught the drum line for the Velvet Knights and the Kingsmen, and they both went to the nationals, in the '70s. It was great to grow up with that as an inspiration.

So it was all atmospheric for you, you were basically born with a drum stick in your hand.

Oh, yeah; basically. The girl's got rhythm (laughs).


Modeling for comic character Can-D
(Courtesy Stephanie Leigh)

So there was never any other instrument for you?

No, but I didn't really ... I had a stick in my hand, but beatin' on the pots and pans, I didn't realize that wasn't normal, so by the time I hit ten, our school was having a band class and, obviously, that's where it all begins. And so, everybody'd go ahead and pick an instrument, but they wouldn't try out drummers, because they figured every ten-year-old is going to want to bang on the drums. So they wanted to check out who had the rhythm and who just wanted to bang on the pots and pans.
So, basically I tried out and had gone for the old saxophone, and they tried me out on drums and I came hone with a drum and my dad was an awfully proud man (laughs). And then my brother, of course, swiped the drum, and he started playing drums, so the whole family ... I had two older brothers and they played the drums as well, and it's ironic that it came and went for them and stayed with me.

Any other drummers who influenced you?

Yes. Growing up, I looked up to my dad, more than any rock drummer. But, hitting my teenage years, believe it or not, it was Phil Rudd from AC/DC. And the band Saga, I don't know the drummer, and Neal Peart from Rush. And once I got a little older and started to understand stuff, it was studio cats like Terry Bozzio, Dave Weckl, Steve Gadd. Just amazing players. And from that point on, it was different drummers from different styles. Dennis Chambers is incredible. I should mention Simon Phillips, an amazing drummer.

Did you say Saga?

Yeah, yeah. (Sings) "Tonight we're on the loose ..." I don't even know that poor guy's name.

A Canadian band, that was a hit in '81. The drummer's name was Steve Negus.

You're Googling! (laughs)

No, I'm looking up the album at CD Universe, who have that CD for $9.75. I remember that song, I'm afraid I don't remember much else about them.

Me neither, I just remember that drum, just that techno style, that was there.

You started playing with bands in high school?

Yeah, I had a rock band in high school and, you know, usually played with the guys. And once I graduated and took off, went on to different endeavors, but came back to California and moved my drums here and started playing again. And, ironically, I had a band called Damzel, and a lot of the girls were out of Phoenix, and we started playing in Hollywood. And we went in to do a demo deal, and it just didn't work out, let's put it that way.


No Shame, from its CD cover (Courtesy Collectables)

It happens.

So I just went with my bottle of tequila to drown my sorrows, and as I came back to the studio, with my empty bottle of tequila, I met up with a friend of mine who was producing No Shame, and apparently it wasn't working out with their drummer. I was complaining that it didn't work out with my band, and, ironically, Tina was there, so I met up with her and started talking with her. I don't think she realized how ... intoxicated with tequila I was at that time, I'm just thankful there wasn't a drum set for me to try out on right then.

Right.

So I woke up next morning with tape in hand, and learned it, got back together with the girls and ... they had asked me to learn three songs and I learned 11 songs, and it was great. And that's how Tina and I started our endeavors.

When exactly was this?

Oh, God! Dare I say the date? That was in, late '88. And we were young chickens.

Compared to this grizzled old wolf, you're still young chickens.

She had just gone to college for guitar building, you know, she's a luthier. And she got a record deal out of England, and so when they came out here ... all the girls from that band were from England, you know?

Right.

I was the only American. And so, with that band, we did an album called Good Girls Don't Last, and (laughs) you can actually find that on Amazon.com right now.

So the album lasted much longer than the band.

Yeah. And after No Shame, Tina and I actually moved out of Hollywood and got a house in the valley, and met up with Ron Keel. And we formed Fair Game with him. And we recorded and did an album and toured with that. And that was very fun. And we just piddled about after that because our manager, Joe Godfrey, passed away. And then you just kinda ... hang. It was hang time (laughs).

What happened next?

After that, Phantom Blue came along, and that was Tina's deal. I played in the Leigh Cates band, which was like a ZZ Top-styled, laid-back, Lynyrd Skynyrd-styled southern rock thing, which was really good for me to do. Because I love all different styles of music. I'm just a "music slut" when it comes to that. I love, from Elton John, Dave Matthews, Santana - I mean, I love the salsa - and reggae. And it's just a mood thing for me, you know?

Right.


Fair Game
(Courtesy Stephanie Leigh)

Nine Inch Nails, bring 'em on! I mean, I absolutely thrive on different styles of music at different moments. And I like playing techno. I like progressive music a lot. But this (AC/DC) stuff is so fun, it's just so physical, it's the dynamics that make this AC/DC tribute what it is.

We'll get into that more in a bit, trust me.

(Laughs) Then I played in Flesh 'N' Bone with Jeff Young from Megadeth.

Right.

Flesh 'N' Bone was with Jeff Young, former Megadeth, and it was Alan Hearn, the bass player, now he's the bass player with Powder. And Debbie Holliday was on vocals. That's Jimmy Holliday's daughter, you know, "Put A Little Love In Your Heart" and all that kinda stuff. An amazing lineup. And we actually did, like, an EP, and it just got shelved - it didn't get released. There was a lot of tension in that band (laughs), but that was an incredible band, and Jeff was an incredible musician, and they were all incredible musicians.

And the next step was ..

After that, I just kinda laid dormant for a year; I had to kick back. And the next call I got was from Dyna, regarding the Bud Light gig. She knew the guy from "Ladies Night," you know, all those commercials.

Right.

I don't know if you remember those, but for eight years Bud Light had those commercials with guys dressed as girls, and they'd turn around (to the camera) and they had these moustaches and say, "Who you calling ladies?" So, we actually got the gig through them. And we became Bud Light's band, called The Party Girls, and we went to play the pre-dates, for like Fox (Sports) and all that, for the Super Bowl in '99. Which was really a blast. We did a lot of things for them, but that stands out in my mind because we were flying home, and the Super Bowl was being performed, and we were like, "What happened?" (laughs) We got to play all the parties but we didn't get to go to the bowl.

You didn't get to go to the game, after all that?

(Laughter) Exactly. You know, you play the parties, you play all the stuff, and then they're getting ready to do the game and you go home. But it was just absolutely a blast, really a wonderful chore.

How long did that last?

About, maybe, six months to a year. We were on that very last year of "Ladies Night." So we jumped onboard as that last hurrah.

I take it this was mostly corporate events you did for Bud Light?

Yeah, absolutely. We did several festivals, and that was fun, (but) there comes a time when writing and being stuck in a studio tryin' to, you know, write your own songs, and get your bands together - it's like being married to four different people, trying to create this sound and image and everything, and play your music. And it's such a struggle, just on that end of it, you know, to keep things together, and have four or five people going in the same direction.
So, it was nice to be involved in something that involved nothing but party, and just learn these cover tunes and just go out and have fun. And, with your friends! Because, Tina and Dyna, I've known 'em for years. How fun is that? So, we had fun with that.

And, sometime thereafter, there was another call?

Right. The next time Dyna called, it was regarding this AC/DC tribute band. And the first thing that hit me was, how busy I am, swamped with other things. But, how great that would be, and let's do it, it sounds like fun. And as soon as we started playing, it was amazing how ... because it was just going to be a fun, small thing for us, while we regroup and do other things, and it's just amazing how it picked up. Not just, of course, the popularity of AC/DC, but because all of us are skilled musicians, we play our parts very well. And not a lot of people are not accustomed to seeing five females up on stage, ripping it up and sounding like, you know, skilled musicians.

Right.

And, you know, there's a lot of room in Hollywood for a lot of different kind of bands, let me tell ya. And (laughs) there's a lot to be said for some of these bands out there in their fishnets doing what they do. But, again! You're in Hollywood. There's room for everything. But, we are definitely the unusual. So, curiosity brings 'em in, and we keep 'em coming back.

Which is a good thing.

If you go to Tribute City (website), and look under our stuff, that really says it all. We're really proud of that. There's write-ups from each and every show we've ever done, some in abundance. And it's great to read, especially the military ones. Those are extremely special tours that we do.


(Courtesy Stephanie Leigh)

This did not happen immediately after Party Girls, though.

No. We took a couple of years off. It started in 2001. So, I guess it was like one year off and then we were at it again.

But it wasn't ThundHerStruck in the beginning.

Yeah, well, we were called a different name, but we'd prefer to not even go there. Our old rhythm player still uses that name. So, we started performing as an AC/DC tribute in 2001, and in 2004 changed our name to ThundHerStruck.

I see.

Again, the same agents booked us, and it was the same thing, just a different name. It was a difficult transition to change your name, website, contact info, hotline, the whole nine yards. So we steer clear of the drama of those kind of things. But we also like to claim that we have done (an) AC/DC tribute since 2001. And we do some great tours and events.

Going back to the beginning, though, who had the idea for this?

Dyna got together with our old rhythm player ... and Dyna used to be a bass player. So, she never sang lead (laughs) until (just before) this band (NOTE: With a short-lived Heart tribute. - T.W.). So, when our old rhythm player met up with Dyna and said, "Do you want to play bass," Dyna said, "I know a couple of players, but maybe I won't play bass. Maybe I'll sing." So Dyna called Tina and me. And, of course, the three of us again, it was really fun. But Dyna was always strong (with) backing vocals, but to hear her doing leads ... We were just, "Wow! Where'd that come from, girl?" Blown away! Absolutely blown away. The pipes on that chick are just absolutely unbelievable. But it's incredibly fun, we all grew up on AC/DC.
So from that point on, we got a couple of different bass players, but once we got Andrea, she locked it in and it was awesome. We had Kim Nielsen with us for awhile, and she's an awesome bass player, and she left us for personal reasons. So, Andrea came along, and she joined the band and never looked back. We've kept her busy ever since, she doesn't have any other bands now. By the way, did you get our CD?

Yes.

Well, what happened was, we kinda coat-tailed on someone else's studio time, because you know how much it costs to do all that stuff, an arm and a leg, so we kinda coat-tailed on someone else. But when we got in there and started doing this, there were so many times that we'd just (do one take) and, "That's it!" So it has a very live feel to it, because we just played right through it. So we're really proud how that turned out.