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MUSIC : Feeling Bad, Sounding Good : For rocker Melissa Etheridge, a love that has turned sour is definitely something to sing about.

September 20, 1990|BILL LOCEY

If it were the movies, rocker Melissa Etheridge would be what is called the strong female lead--perhaps Sigourney Weaver beating up those slimy "aliens." She's got a voice as big as all outdoors, sort of like Pat Benatar on steroids, and Etheridge rocks as hard as any of those guys in leather pants.

The Beatles may have sung ". . . all you need is love," but the love Etheridge sings about, nobody needs. It's angst with a beat, rocky relationships that rock. But you'll probably be too busy dancing to hang yourself. She has a hot band behind her featuring, among others, Bernie Larsen on guitar. Feeling bad never sounded so good.

From "Let Me Go," a sample line:

\o7 "Am I the snake inside your garden

The sugar in your tea

The knock upon your backdoor

The twist that turns your key

Am I the sweat you feel on your hand

The shadow on your face

The tune inside your head that put you

Here in the first place

Well I don't want to be . . . ."

Etheridge, from Leavenworth, Kan., is on a roll with two gold albums. The self-titled 1988 debut earned her a Grammy nomination. The second album, "Brave and Crazy," was released in 1989, also on Island Records.

Etheridge, 29, will make her local debut when she plays the tree-lined Santa Barbara County Bowl on Saturday night along with local rock heroes Toad the Wet Sprocket.

In a recent telephone interview, she had this to say:

When can we expect a new album?

Well, we're going into the studio in February. It'll probably be another year.

Will you be playing any new songs at the concert?

Well, that depends on the crowd--sometimes I do, sometimes I don't.

How did you get started in the music business?

I've been in the music business ever since I could walk. It didn't come from my family--it wasn't a musical family. I got into music from records I bought and from listening to the radio. WHB was our station in Kansas.

Who were some of your musical influences?

Most of it was pop music from the '60s--the Beatles, Tommy James & the Shondells and, later, Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin.

You've toured extensively the last couple of years; where are most of the Melissa fans?

Wow, Montreal, Canada, I guess; I'm a huge star up there. I'm also popular in Australia, New York, Colorado and California.

Is there a basic Melissa fan, and is it a serious, young female English lit major-type dressed in black?

Well, it used to be like that, young, female, between 20 and 30 years old, working or in college, but not so much anymore. I'm attracting everybody now and that's really exciting.

Was J. Geils right; does love stink?

Well, if you can't deal with it, it can. But it's not so bad.

Does bad love make good songs?

Of course, but it's my challenge to make a common experience into a good song.

Harry Nilsson once wrote a song called "Joy" in the early '70s. It had a line in it that said, "If everyone was happy, there wouldn't be any love songs. . . ." Do you agree?

That's true. As songwriters, we tend to deal with conflicts.

How would you describe Melissa music?

Well, it's rock 'n' roll. Hopefully, it's an intense performance of feelings and emotions that we all experience.

What do you say when people tell you, "Melissa, lighten up"?

I say now wait a minute, I'm not actually just complaining about things. I believe it's important to speak out and talk about things. That's the problem with the world today, we don't talk; we just push things under the rug.

Can music change the world?

I think it has, it can and it will. I want my audience to leave with more than they came with.

What's the best thing about being a rock goddess?

Getting free desserts at restaurants. Also, I'm able to do what I want.

What was your strangest gig?

Playing at a supermarket opening in Leavenworth, Kan.

You live in Los Angeles; how about those Dodgers?

Who?

How about those Royals?

Oh, yes, I do care about the Royals--they're my hometown team.

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