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SISTER ACT : 'P.A.R.T.Y.' Girls Janet and Judy Make It Their Business to Sing From Child's Point of View

October 13, 1994|CORINNE FLOCKEN | Corinne Flocken is a free-lance writer who regularly covers Kid Stuff for The Times Orange County Edition.

You never know what's going to motivate kids. One day, they'll get all charged up by a handful of milk caps. Another day, they think they need a second trust deed to wipe their feet.

Compared to a lot of parents, the mother of children's pop singers Janet and Judy got off cheap.

"Mom's our mentor; she's really musical, and she loved to hear us sing when we were kids," explained Janet, the older of the thirtysomething twins by six minutes. (The sisters prefer to use only their first names. "We're like Madonna and Cher," they quip.)

"Mom had a deal with us. After dinner she'd say, 'If you practice, then I'll clean up the kitchen,' " Janet continued, laughing. "To this day, I can't stand cleaning the kitchen, but I'm always happy to practice."

The arrangement with their mom, a music teacher, didn't just save them from dishpan hands. With hits like "P.A.R.T.Y." and "M-i-s-s-i-s-s-i-p-p-i" receiving heavy air play on the nationally syndicated Radio Aahs and a loyal audience garnered from years of school and public performances, the sisters are firmly entrenched in the children's entertainment field.

On Sunday, backed by a country trio called the Hotbilly Boys, Janet and Judy kick off Brea's new Kids Culture Club series, a five-show season of family music and entertainment sponsored by Radio Aahs. (The season continues through April with performances by the Happy Crowd, J. P. Nightingale, Jim Gamble Puppets and Caren Glasser in the Curtis Theatre. Subscription tickets are available.)

Though well known in some circles, the sisters--who have performed professionally since 1970--haven't achieved the household name status Raffi, Joanie Bartels or Craig 'n Co.

They don't do national tours (preferring to stay close to their San Fernando Valley homes), and they don't record on a big label. And, unless they're out together, they're rarely hounded for autographs in the supermarket. Which is the way they like it. "When we first started, we were doing adult-oriented music, and we were performing for kids in schools, too," Judy recalled. "We'd get home from a day of school shows, go out and play a club, then get home at 1 in the morning and start all over again."

Eventually, they decided to concentrate on children's music, a move that helped them professionally and personally.

"Now," Janet said, "we work 'normal people' hours and make a living as singers and songwriters, which is pretty amazing."

The twins still spend a lot of time in school. They'll be in Huntington Beach, Westminster, Garden Grove and Anaheim elementary schools the week of Oct. 24--performing shows with such themes as geography, fitness and earth science.

The shows are liberally sprinkled with comedy, with the sisters portraying characters ranging from a ditsy Valley girl to Jane Fondue to Nutritia, a 105-year-old fitness freak.

The pair have released six albums, two of them winners of Parents Choice Gold Seal Awards, and a seventh is due out by Christmas. They produce and market their own recordings, selling their tapes at their concerts and operating a mail-order business from their Burbank office.

In the past few years, the sisters have added family concerts to their school repertoire. With bass player/comedian Ritt Henn, they developed "Janet and Judy--Trio," a folksy music and comedy act inspired by the early Smothers Brothers routines.

When they play with the Hotbilly Boys, they switch to a high-energy country sound, mixing Western swing, rockabilly, Cajun and bluegrass--styles picked up from an old Canadian fiddle player when the family vacationed summers on a rural island off Ontario when the twins were growing up.

With Henn, the sisters taped their first concert video this summer at San Juan Capistrano's Coach House, attracting a standing-room crowd of 500 children and adults. They plan to release that tape this Christmas, about the same time the two videos they've made for the World Pog Federation will come out. Producers hope the videos will translate into a Saturday morning television show for the duo. (And, yes, Judy and Janet have their own line of Pogs.)

Graduates of the University of Illinois, Urbana, in music education (Janet studied violin, Judy classical guitar), the performers have played together since they were 5. At 18, they were co-directing their minister-father's church choir. A few years later, they moved to California and started doing their school shows with help of their older sister, Kathy Lucey, a Laguna Hills music teacher.

Janet and Judy write most of their songs. "One person gets an idea and writes it," Janet said. "The other person rewrites it, then we scream and pull each others' hair out and eventually come up with something good."

And whether the musical style is pop, country or rock, they say their lyrics are always written from a child's point of view.

"We always try to hone in on what kids love . . . being a couch potato, going to birthday parties, that kind of thing," Judy explained.

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