April 12, 2016

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Roc-A-Jets "Side" Story

Eddie Berman on sax, Edie Lippincott, Jo Kellum, Jan Morrison.
Little Patuxent Review's Audacity issue is out this week. You can read a preview of some of the wild and wacky pieces in the issue here.

While we were working on the issue (LPR #12, my third as editor), I was pursuing a side project. I'd heard the most audacious story on the radio -- about a 1950s all-girl band called the Roc-A-Jets. They performed in standard rockabilly outfits and, since there were no other all-girl rock bands, that meant dressing like Buddy Holly. This was well before the Stonewall Uprising and gay rights.

You can read part one of my series on this audacious Baltimore band at LPR online. The series has three parts but, even so, there wasn't enough room to include all of the facts and stories Jo Kellum (lead guitar) told me about the Roc-A-Jets.

I love this photo, taken at one of the clubs where the band played. Jo still complains about the Elvis-style curl that lead singer Jan Morrison made her wear... fifty years ago.

What I like best, though, is the story behind this shot. On the left is Eddie Berman, a friend of the band's. Eddie was a professional musician -- formally trained, whereas Edie, Jo and Jan had taught themselves to play. None of the women could read music.

Eddie was supporting a family. Could he pick up some gigs with the Roc-A-Jets to make some extra cash? The band was famous as Baltimore's girl-trio. The city's gay women flocked to their shows. But they were as known for the friendly atmosphere they created, as they were for their music. Typical of the women's good-natured inclusiveness, they invited Eddie could join them. He ended up playing with the band for a few years.

Jo told me a favorite Eddie story. One night, someone in the audience requested the fast-moving jazz standard "Caravan." Eddie played the melody first and Jo quickly picked up the tune. He couldn't believe it. "How'd you do that?" he asked her.

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