Sheila Pell 11 a.m., Oct. 22
Coffee, with Divas
All told, the Queen Divas of the Universe are a slice of rock and roll history. We meet up at Cosmos in La Mesa and let the name dropping begin:
"I was at a party with Jimi Hendrix in Detroit and didn't know it," says Laurie Beebe Lewis.
Roni Lee: "David Lee Roth put me in a barrel and rolled me down the stairs at the Whisky."
"I partied with Janis Joplin," says Shaaron Schuemaker. "And Ringo. And I worked on a show on TV 8 called Off the Wall with Gabe Wisdom."
In the Divas, an all-female pop trio, Lewis handles keys and vocals. Schuemaker plays bass and sings, and Roni Lee sings and plays lead guitar. How did the band come to be?
Schuemaker: "Well. I had another all-female band called Hot Flash, and we went through some personnel changes. And I had called Roni. She wasn't available but she gave me Laurie's phone number, and somehow or another we all managed to meet up and we played."
Lee: "Laurie had the band name because she got in a fight with her husband one night and basically he said to her, who do you think you are? Queen Diva of the universe? And she said yeah, as a matter of fact, I am.
Schuemaker: "Laurie could have told the story, but it would have taken a lot longer."
Lewis laughs. Schuemaker laughs.
Lewis: "They don't like it when I talk because I'm a little ADHD, and I have logorrhea."
Lewis: "It's like I'm talking, and I can't shut up."
Lee: "It's like diarrhea."
I have that when I drink too much coffee, I say. Logorrhea, not the other.
Lee: "Laurie kept saying to us, I got a band name. Queen divas of the universe. We actually all did kinda like the name. It's tongue in cheek because we're kind of an allstar band. We do our own projects. When we come together, we represent three genres of music. I'm the rock girl, Shaaron's the blues girl, and Laurie is kind of the pop girl."
Where do the Divas play out?
Schuemaker: "I like to play the casinos. We get paid better, and I can gamble on my break."
Do you ladies ever clear more from gambling than you earn for performing?
Schuemaker: "Yeah." She says she has a degree in social work and that operates a foster home on the side. "I have played in bands since I was nine or ten. I started on accordion."
Lee: "Accordion. I was married to Lou Fanucchi. We have two kids."
Schuemaker: "I kept with the all-girl bands for a long time and got fed up with it. I got into a band called Coco Loco and we were Jimmy Buffet's junior varsity. We toured with him and did warm ups. And after that I played with Tim Flannery for ten years or so. Then I got tired of it and quit for a couple of years."
I turn to Laurie: For a person with logorrhea, you're not getting very much air time here.
Lewis: "It's okay. It's okay. Once I get started I won't stop. I started playing music very, very young. My grandfather was a vaudevillian. He played the banjo-uke and the one-string bass. And the one string violin. And I was amazed. My mother sang with the Ames Brothers.
Schuemaker: "Let me just interrupt for a minute. I also played in a ukulele band with Fred Thompson."
Lewis: "My first real instrument I started playing was guitar. I graduated from guitar to double bass. I got sick of bass and went back to guitar and my sister took up bass. We started a band called Pitch- blende. My mother loved Scrabble. She found the word in the dictionary. We bought a school bus and we cleaned it out and we were the original Partridge Family. My mother drove and my sister and I were in a band. We traveled all over Michigan. We toured with Bob Seeger, Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, the MC5."
Are you still in touch?
Lewis: "I'm totally in touch with all those guys." After high school she logged about a half million miles playing piano in a Dixieland jazz band. "And after that, I hooked up with the Spinners. Then Les Elgart, the big band leader. From there, I joined the Buckinghams. We recorded an album and toured with the Mamas and the Papas. When the tour was over the Buckinghams went back to being an all guy band. So I looked at San Diego and I married my husband and I started singing with the Mamas and the Papas. I replaced Mackenzie Phillips. That was for about a year until she had her baby and got clean and sober from all the drugs she was on."
She had the baby then got clean and sober?
Lewis: "It was just crazy. After leaving that group I came back here and played in some lounge bands. And then I joined the Monroes." Lewis says she cleaned up too.
Schuemaker: "For the record I've never done drugs." She and the others laugh. "And I'm the only one in the band without a tattoo."
I tell the Divas the reason this interview came about at all is because of a friend who raved about Lee's guitar playing at a double header with Jeff Moore and the Witchdoctors.
"I play like a girl," she says. "And you better not be saying that if you can't back it up."
The Divas have been a band for three years.
Lee: "We decided long ago that we are a cover band. Even though we have originals that's not what we're trying to do. We can play anything, though, because we've all three done everything. We've all got a big long history. We get together whenever we can."
Lewis: "One of the goals we have as the Divas is to take each genre that we represent and make a little play, a little story about our backgrounds. Where we came from. A 55-minute little show that would introduce us."
Lee: "It's an interesting time period. I was there with Joan Jett. She and I ran all over Hollywood when we wrote all those songs with Kim Fowley. One of my songs is in the movie. "I Wanna Be Where the Boys Are" is my song.
Do you still make any money off it?
Lee: "Yes I do. I got a lot of money off that. Thank you very much, Joan."
Is Fowley really as whacked in real life as in the movie portrayal?
Lee: "Oh yeah. Kim and I just did a music video together two months ago. So the thing is this: the Divas do these songs in a show, and we talk about it. Everybody has such an interest in what happened back then in the late '70s, early '80s. It was a pivotal time in rock and roll music. And I was smack dab in the middle of it."
Schuemaker: "I was too old. I tried out for the Runaways and I played with them for a couple of weeks, but they found I was 23. You had to be, like, 16."
Lee: "My opening act in L.A. at the Whisky and the Starwood was Van Halen. I was in Venus and the Razorblades then. Van Halen played the same then as they do now. The Ramones played with us too. And Blondie and the Motels. And Van Halen was all glam rock and roll. And they played this stupid song "Runnin' with the Devil" every night, and we made fun of them."