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MUSIC

Sister Act

The harmonizing Mr. Dyer's Daughters have found success on the club circuit.

June 05, 1997|ROBYN LOEWENTHAL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When patrons walk into honky-tonk cowboy bars like Mixer's in Simi Valley or Crazy Jack's Country Bar & Grill in Burbank, chances are the last thing they expect to see onstage is three young women belting out "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." And it's a good bet they'd be surprised to hear a female-fronted band perform "Kick a Little," that muscular hit for the all-male band Little Texas.

But such innovations have contributed to the rapid success of the Sunland-based Mr. Dyer's Daughters since the band's first gig last June.

With a mailing list of over 1,000 loyal fans, the band, which features the three Dyer sisters--Linda (electric guitar), Sonja (lead vocalist) and Elsa (rhythm guitar)--is in demand on the Southern California country music club circuit for its trademark tight three-part vocal harmonies, strong live show and original songs. The band also has three male members: Kurt Fries (keyboards), Bob Gothar (lead guitar), Jim Hall (bass) and Dan Hughart (drums).

The club exposure brought Mr. Dyer's Daughters to the attention of British director David Carson, who recently turned the Cowboy Palace in Chatsworth into a movie set and put the band and two of its songs in "Letters From a Killer," a film starring Patrick Swayze set for release next year.

"Musically they were great and had the perfect country look without being hokey," said Dennis McCarthy, the film's music director.

"It was a country-urban feel. Not only did they look and sound right, but they had great songs that absolutely fit the bill. And we wanted to have something that was fresh and new."

"They're wonderful entertainers," said Patsy Swayze, who lists "Urban Cowboy" among her choreography credits. The Simi Valley resident--and mother of actor Patrick Swayze--helped to select the songs.

"For the big dance scene in the movie, we're only using a couple of them," said Swayze. " 'Desire' was perfect for our version of a line dance called 'The Black Velvet,' which we adapted to make it more sensuous."

The second song used in the movie, "Daddy Tried," is a spinoff of Merle Haggard's classic "Mama Tried."

"We wrote these songs with a lot of songwriters around town," said Linda Dyer. "Every Saturday we have a writers session with a different writer out to the house. 'Desire' is by Mr. Dyer's Daughters, Cathy Carlson and Marty Axelrod." And the sisters credited Seth Jackson as co-writer for "Daddy Tried."

Observers might consider the three sisters' success just a stroke of luck. But the sisters would probably tell you it's closer to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Their mother, a first-generation American of Armenian descent, gave the girls voice and piano lessons, while their father, an Oklahoman of Irish descent, taught them something even more important.

"We're Mr. Dyer's Daughters. Actually, dad doesn't have a musical bone in his body, but it doesn't stop him from singing," said Linda Dyer with a laugh. "Mom whipped us into shape musically because she understands the discipline it takes to become a successful musician.

"And Dad taught us to dream."

The dream started to take shape when they began writing songs as teenagers in Pinole, in the north bay of San Francisco.

"We always had a ton of instruments around the house," said Linda. "I think my parents saw it as a way of keeping their girls out of trouble."

"We learned harmonies off the Andrews Sisters records as kids," said Sonja Dyer, "and we pick songs that relate to us and reflect the image of Mr. Dyer's Daughters--like 'Kick a Little.' Our father always said dreams can become results. And what we're going for is a record deal with our originals."

The girls got their first professional experience, a gig at Ceasar's Lake Tahoe, on the heels of Elsa's high school graduation.

"We decided to move to L.A. in order to perform our originals and because in casino work they want you to stick to Top 40," said Linda Dyer.

The three sisters (along with two husbands) and mom and dad moved to the San Fernando Valley in 1991.

"But we didn't want to rush onto the music scene," said Linda Dyer. "Professionally we took time to learn about the business and songwriting. We were blown away by the wealth of information here. We pretty much hit every songwriting class and seminar around town."

All of which seems to be paying off for the sisters and their bandmates.

"It's been a long time since there's been a really fine trio of female singers--and these gals can sing anything--country, pop, jazz, blues," said Patsy Swayze.

"And they write their own stuff and play their own instruments. They're young, they're beautiful, talented, extremely sweet and wholesome, and very home-and-family oriented. They're a real class act."

BE THERE

Mr. Dyer's Daughters will perform at Mixer's, 2381 Tapo St., Simi Valley; 8:30 p.m. Sat.; $6; (805) 520-7787. And at Crazy Jack's Country Bar & Grill in Burbank, 4311 W. Magnolia Blvd., 9 p.m. June 13; and 9 p.m. June 14, L.A. Free Clinic Benefit, $5 donation; (818) 845-1121.

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