When Tee Henley decided to start Open Arms, America’s first female-fronted Journey tribute band, some wondered if she should change the lyrics to reflect her gender.
She decided to accept the masculine-focused lyrics with open arms.
“It’s not a gender issue. Before I go onstage, I become the Steve Perry role. I love Steve Perry so much the lyrics of songs like ‘Faithfully’ or ‘Oh Sherrie’ do not faze me.”
Neither does being asked out by female members of the audience, something that happens often.
“They’re not thinking about me being female,” says the 40something Tee, who has led the band since 2011 and limits her lovin’, touchin’, squeezin’ to her husband.
“However, the women are so accepting. They’re easier than men. They’re so loving, so nice.”
The Santee-based Henley, a former Navy yeoman, tells the Reader, “I had studied Steve Perry’s singing for years, but a couple of people were surprised I could pull it off.
In order to get interest in the band, Henley developed a fan base by singing karaoke all over Southern California, even driving up to the Tokyo House in L.A.’s Chinatown.
“I was especially well-received at the Kearny Mesa Bowl,” she says. “I’d like to do a show there.”
The self-proclaimed “Stevie Perry” thought about making the band all-female, but Henley says Journey’s music is so complex that she needed the best musicians available.
The five men backing up Henley — Dave “Crunch” Butler, Richard “Cain” Graham, Andy Qunta, Mitch McNeel, and E.G. Smith — live all over Southern California and have ample experience in original groups and tribute bands.
The group plays twice a month all over the region up to Las Vegas. The next local gig is May 31 at the Santee Street Fair.
Henley is quick to point out the group’s versatility.
“We also do solo Steve Perry songs like ‘Oh Sherrie’ and ‘Foolish Hearts,’ and go deep into album cuts like ‘Still They Ride,’” she says.
If that isn’t enough, the group can round out a set with Foreigner and Styx tunes.
Henley hasn’t had the chance to meet her idol yet but is hoping to make it happen soon.
“He has a house in Del Mar and his friends have contacted us,” she says. “One of them got us all into the NAMM show [a music-industry trade show] this year.”
One Journey member she doesn’t want to meet: current singer Arnel Pineda.
“He’s supposed to be leaving soon and I’m not sad about that,” she says. “It’s hard to see him there onstage. Like most fans, I miss Steve Perry.”