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MUSIC: Ventura County | ROCKTALK

Royal Rocker

Abigail Lenz reigns as Swamp Boogie Queen. And the future looks bright.

June 12, 1997|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The four guys in the band had better be nice to Abigail Lenz, because the group is not called Swamp Boogie Kings and there's no doubt that Lenz is clearly the queen in question when it comes to Swamp Boogie Queen. The quintet will be opening for east Ventura heroes Bloody Mary Morning on Saturday night at Nicholby's.

At work, Lenz seems happier than a postal worker with the latest issue of Guns & Ammo. During the songs, she cavorts about the stage. When the crowd applauds, Lenz does too. When the band kicks into one of its few covers, "Helter Skelter," all that rock 'n' roll smoke seems to be emanating from her. Lenz has always wanted to be a queen, and now she is.

"When I came out of my mother, I knew I wanted to be a rock star," said the singer in a recent interview. "I grew up listening to the Eagles, the Doobie Brothers and the Grateful Dead, but now I like Tool, the Stones and the Black Crowes. We play American rock 'n' roll."

She may be slim enough to look like 6 o'clock, but Lenz has a voice to threaten the Richter scale, making her one memorable queen. Local equivalent: Marjorie Extract. Historical equivalent: Janis Joplin. Lenz is used to Joplin comparisons.

"Yeah, I hear that all the time, but I'm a better than she is but with the same kind of soul."

The Swamp Boogie Queen story began on one of those sweltering, barefoot days in the Valley when the future band members weren't part of the herd headed to Zuma Beach or Malibu traffic hell.

"We started four years ago in a garage in the middle of a hot summer day in the Valley," she said. "We've all been in bands since we were 14. It was just one of those 'Hey, let's play some blues' things. This band is going to be together for 25 more years, I guarantee it.

And unlike most San Fernando Valley musicians, band members aren't making plans to move to Ventura, at least not yet, and in fact seem satisfied with the L.A. area and its night life.

"There's a great L.A. scene for our kind of music. People are definitely ready to get out there and shake their asses. It's hard to make it there. You have to play constantly and practice constantly. But when people see us, they come back with five of their friends."

That's a good thing since many bands have more members than fans. And then there was that recent House of Blues gig, which should figure prominently on their resume.

"Last month we opened for the Doobie Brothers at the House of Blues, and there were 1,300 people there. . . . No one really paid much attention to us at first because we were the opening band, but halfway through the set, we won over the crowd."

With over 50 originals, Swamp Boogie Queen definitely has a plan that will work, and also a master planner. That would be producer Phil Ramone.

"A friend of a friend brought Phil to our practice spot in the Valley. He heard us play one song and told us he would produce our album. Phil has been our mentor over the last two years--always on the phone with us and stuff. He gave us homework--we had to write and send him two songs a week. Sometimes, he'd fly out from New York for some of our shows. In the meantime, we kept writing and waited around before we signed with his label, N2K."

N2K--Need to Know--is one of Sony's many aliases. The band will head back to New York in July to begin recording its debut album, "Ill Gotten Booty," slated for an October release. Having a done deal and a famous producer-mentor allows the freedom that most bands can only dream about.

"We've decided on the people that will surround us and work with us. We're not into credentials. . . . Go with your soul, not the fancy cars and cigars. We've been courted by lawyers, managers and agents that would take us places where we didn't feel comfortable. We're just white trash."

So the band has 21 years to go, according to Lenz, but it's not all green lights and MTV dreams for Swamp Boogie Queen--not yet.

"I hate having to lug all our own equipment around. We can't afford roadies yet."

*

If I had a faster car, a richer girlfriend or both, here's where I'd take my ears:

TONIGHT: Randy Rich & the Ravens (Victoria Pub, Ventura), Cherry Poppin' Daddies (Nicholby's, Ventura).

FRIDAY: Triwop & Whitey (Schooner Time, Simi Valley), Randy Rich & the Ravens (Cisco's, Westlake), the Buds (Hungry Hunter, Thousand Oaks), Stevie & the Stealers (the Clubhouse, Camarillo), the Ordinaires (Hi Cees, Ventura), Raging Arb, Barrelhouse (Nicholby's).

SATURDAY: Enok (Victoria Pub), Zelig (Teltron Internet Cafe, Ventura), Blue Stew (Hi Cees), Tijuana Hound Dogs (Seaside Johnny's, Ventura), Bloody Mary Morning, Swamp Boogie Queen (Nicholby's).

SUNDAY: Blue Stew (Hi Cees), the Bombers (Seaside Johnny's), Enok (Nicholby's).

MONDAY: Blue Stew (the Whale's Tail, Oxnard), Catfish Hodge (Cafe Voltaire, Ventura).

TUESDAY: Blue Stew (the Whale's Tail), Chris Hillman & Friends (Cafe Voltaire).

WEDNESDAY: Teresa Russell & Stephen Geyer (Cafe Voltaire).

BE THERE

Swamp Boogie Queen and Bloody Mary Morning, 9:30 p.m. at Nicholby's, 404 E. Main St., Ventura, Sat. $6. (805) 653-2320.

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