I was so sad to hear the news today that Vixen founder and guitarist Jan Kuehnemund had passed away after a battle with cancer.
As a metal head myself, whose never discriminated on the basis of sex, I’m proud to say that Vixen’s music was an integral part of my coming of age in the late 80’s.
Over the past few months, I have been extremely fortunate to have spoken with Vixen members Janet Gardner, Share Ross, Roxy Petrucci and Gina Stile. These ladies (along with Jan) produced some of the best hard rock music ever. For me to not only have the opportunity to interview them, but also actually meet them in person at this year’s M3 Festival (where they performed as JSRG) was nothing short of amazing.
Of course, (being a guitarist myself) I was incredibly interested in speaking with Jan. Jan’s guitar work inspired me right from that very first album. I didn’t even care that she was a girl who could run circles around me on the fret board. I wanted to pick her brain about guitars and songwriting. She’s a musical hero to me.
If you’ve read all of my articles with the girls of Vixen, then you’ve probably noticed that Jan Kuehnemund was the only member of the band that I didn’t interview. But what you may not know is that Jan was actually the very first member of Vixen I approached for an interview way back in July of 2012.
Sadly, Jan and I weren’t able to coordinate a date/time for an interview. But even though I was never able to confirm what I actually already knew about Jan the guitarist and Jan the songwriter; I still learned a lot about Jan the person just through our brief email correspondence.
Correspondence which I’ll now share here.
On July 2nd, 2012: I learned Jan was a humble person.
Hey Jim! Thank you very much for the invite to do an interview with you! I would be extremely honored!! Please let me know what your timeline or deadline might be, and let’s set it up! Looking forward to talking to you! Thanks again! Best regards, Jan K
On July 14th: I learned that Jan was an exciting and busy person.
Hi Jim –
I’m really looking forward to this, too!!
Will let you know when it’s not soo craaazee around here, so we can schedule something! (This past week has been really busy!)
Enjoy the rest of your weekend and stay in touch! : ) – Jan
On October 12th, I learned that Jan was a caring person.
Hi Jim! I have not forgotten, and I was just thinking about YOU the other day! Let me see how this next week and next weekend looks, and I’ll get back to you… Thanks very much for your patience! Have a great weekend, too! Best, Jan
The last time I heard from Jan was December 9th, when I learned that she was human and compassionate.
So sorry once again, for the delay.. I just lost my dog, so it’s been a real rough and sad time. I really, really DO want to speak with you, so I don’t want you to think I’m making excuses, because I am not!
Still no (recording) news, so would still like to have some specifics on some things when we do talk, so please continue to be patient for a little longer, and we will DO this!!!
I hope you had a nice Thanksgiving as well, and wishing you a very Merry Christmas, and happy holidays, just in case we don’t get to talk before Christmas!?!?
Please continue to keep in touch, and I thank you once again for your extreme patience!!!
Do I lament that Jan and I only had a brief email exchange and never actually connected for an “official” interview? Of course.
But I’ll take comfort in remembering Jan Kuehnemund as someone who not only inspired me to be a better guitarist, but also as someone who indirectly taught me how to be a better person.
Vocalist and guitarist Janet Gardner is ready to “Rev It Up” again. The blonde beauty whose tenure with the band Vixen brought us the hits “Edge of a Broken Heart” and “Cryin’” is back with a vengeance with JSRG; a band comprised of 3/4 of the classic Vixen line-up.
Gardner, along with bassist Share Ross and drummer Roxy Petrucci had been in discussions with guitarist Jan Kuehnemund for several years about the possibility of doing a full-on Vixen reunion. But after several unsuccessful attempts to reunite due to timing issues, the trio recruited guitarist Gina Stile (who, coincidentally had worked with Gardner and Petrucci on the mid-90′s Vixen project, ‘Tangerine’). In order to avoid confusion but still offer fans the “Vixen” experience, the band decided to use their names and become JSRG.
Gardner’s own story is a journey from the high school choir and small town club scene to the biggest stages in the world. She’s shared the stage with some of the biggest rock groups in music history; including Scorpions and Deep Purple. Hers is a tale not only of hard work paying off, but also one of dreams coming true.
Fresh off a successful run on the Monsters of Rock Cruise and M3 Music Festival, Gardner and the rest of JSRG now set their sights on recording new music and performing at this year’s Firefest.
I spoke with Gardner about JSRG, Vixen, songwriting and more!
What was your experience like at M3?
It was a blast! Everything was so well done. It was such a cool vibe and all of the bands were great! There’s still some confusion over who we are, but people are starting to catch up with it.
Are you working on new music?
Gina and I have been tossing a few ideas around and we’re planning on getting together over the next few months. We’re also coordinating times with Roxy and Share to write and record some rhythm tracks. Our hope is to get it done this summer.
What’s your writing process like with Gina?
Gina and I have written a lot together over the years and in many different ways. Back when we were working on the Tangerine album, we had written somewhere in the range of fifty songs. Sometimes she’ll have a guitar idea or a chorus and we’ll hammer it out together. Other times, she’ll play guitar and I’ll play bass. Then we’ll discover some good melody parts and work on lyrics.
Tell me about the origin of the song “Rev It Up”.
Share had been working with Ron Keel. He had a different set of lyrics for the song at the time and Share was the one who came up with the “Rev It Up” idea. She got together with me, and I worked on the melody for the verse.
Video: Randy Gill
How did you get started in music?
My mom was a pianist and the organist at our church and I would go turn pages for her. I eventually started taking piano lessons myself, but by the time I was twelve I remember really wanting to play guitar badly. My parents finally got me one, and that was the end. I was hooked! The piano was OK, but it was nothing compared to when I was playing the guitar and singing.
When did you decide that you wanted to become a singer?
Growing up, I was actually really shy and would never sing alone in front of anyone. When I would sing, it was always alone up in my room. But I remember it was when I was in junior high school; I was in the choir and no one really wanted to audition for any the solos. Then one day, the director said “Ok, everyone’s going to sing along and I’m going to come around and listen.” As he walked by me he stopped and said, “You’re it. You’re doing it!” and I nearly freaked out. But little did I know, he created a monster! [laughs].
How did you get involved with Vixen?
The cover band I was in was playing a club one night when some girl came up to me and said she knew of a band that was looking for a singer and that I’d be perfect for them. So I gave her my card, but really didn’t think much of it. Then a few days later, I got a call from a manager who gave me a little more info and said he wanted to come down and see me play. So he came out and after he saw me perform said that he wanted to introduce me to the band. So I started looking around for the conspicuous looking guys with long hair. You know, “musician” guys. But then he says, “Oh, they’re over there at the bar.” I look over, and it was a bunch of girls. I had only ever been in bands where I was the only girl, but after meeting them and learning a few of each other’s songs, that was it. Everything just felt right.
What did you find different about being in an all-girl band?
The beauty of it was that there was no weird tension. There’s also less chance of getting involved with someone and screwing up the chemistry of the band. Also, when you’re the only girl in a band with a bunch of guys, there almost always comes a time when somebody’s wife hates you, or a girlfriend wants to beat you up! [laughs]. It was refreshing to not have any of that. Share, Roxy, Gina and Jan are the sisters I never had.
Tell me about making the first Vixen album.
It was an amazing time because we had a major label deal, but as soon as we got into the studio the pressure started to mount. All of a sudden, there were people with their own opinions on what songs we should do, what we should be doing and how we should be doing it. People wanted a say in the matter where before, it was just us. We were just girls from Minnesota and Montana who loved playing live, so it was a bit of a rude awakening.
How were songs chosen for the record?
We originally had a whole bunch of material; a full 90 minutes worth of originals that we had played live. Some of it was a little heavier and maybe not as radio friendly, but the record label had the idea of back loading the album with ten possible singles instead. So a few of our really good songs, ones that we should have fought for, wound up not making it. At the time, we did what we had to do. Having said that, I loved “Edge of A Broken Heart” and “Cryin’” from the first time I sang them.
Let’s discuss that first tour.
It was amazing. We started out touring with Eddie Money, which at the time seemed like an odd pairing, but it worked. We played a lot of colleges and were very well received. Then we did the Scorpions tour in Europe and it was “Welcome to the Big Leagues!” [laughs].
Were you ever intimidated being a girl band on the Scorpions tour?
Not really. Everyone was actually cheering for us. We were a little afraid of how we might be received with their audiences, but we worked hard to win them over. Sure, there were some nights when we walked out there and during the first few songs you could tell the crowd was checking us out and probably thinking, “What is THIS? Who are these chicks?” But by the end, pretty much every night we got them.
What would you say are the highlights of your career thus far?
The first show we played with Scorpions in Copenhagen was a great moment. I remember the lights came down and you could hear the roar of the crowd. It was incredible! Then there was the first time I heard “Edge of A Broken Heart” on the radio. It was on KLOS, the premiere rock station in Los Angeles. I was driving down the street and the radio station I had been listening to for the last six years while living in LA had played it. I just about flew out of the car. I was so excited, I couldn’t even drive. I had to pull over and just listen to it. That was a big moment, because I had spent my whole life listening to music on the radio and now, the coolest rock station ever was playing us. Those were both once in a lifetime events.
For more on JSRG, check out their Facebook page by clicking here!
Gina Stile has been involved in several successful projects over the years including the 80’s bands Poison Dollys and Envy. She’s opened for Aerosmith on a string of dates, had an album produced by Dee Snider of Twisted Sister and her current all-female project, Thunderbox is generating a lot of buzz in the New York area. In addition to all of her success, she’s also one hell of a guitar player.
In the mid 90’s (and after the break-up of the band Vixen), Stile began working on a new project with drummer Roxy Petrucci and singer Janet Gardner. Although never intended to be labeled ‘Vixen’ because of its heavier edge, the new music nevertheless became known and was toured as the “Tangerine” album.
In 2012, Stile was already busy with Thunderbox when she was again approached by Gardner, Petrucci and now former Vixen bassist Share Ross about forming the new project, JSRG. With the line-up intact, Stile is performing with Petrucci and Gardner for the first time in 14 years. I spoke with her about the new project as well as her playing and her other heavier edged group, Thunderbox.
Read the full Guitar World article, see pics and watch the new Thunderbox video by Clicking Here
For more info on Gina Stile and her current projects:
She’s feisty, she’s beautiful and she’s also one hell of a drummer. From her days performing with her sister Maxine in Madam x, to touring the world with Vixen while supporting Ozzy, Deep Purple and The Scorpions, there can be no denying that Roxy Petrucci is the real deal. Proving she’s one of the best drummers around (male or female); she was even asked by Billy Sheehan and Steve Vai to audition for David Lee Roth’s band shortly after his original departure from Van-Halen.
The classic Vixen disbanded in 1991 and despite doing a one-off for a VH1 show, have never officially reunited. But that didn’t stop fans from continuing to clamor for a full-on reunion.
In 2012 Roxy, along with former Vixen vocalist Janet Gardner and bassist Share Ross, approached guitarist Jan Kuehnemund about reuniting the classic Vixen lineup. When Kuehnemund passed on the opportunity, guitarist Gina Stile (who worked with Petrucci and Gardner on the 1998 Vixen album, “Tangerine”) was brought in to form JSRG (Janet, Share, Roxy, Gina).
Now, with a plethora of hits in their arsenal and having completed a successful run on the Monsters Of Rock Cruise, JSRG prepares to hit this year’s M3 Festival in Columbia, MD. In addition to more shows being in the works as well as a trip across the pond for this year’s Firefest, there have also been rumblings of new music.
I spoke with Roxy about JSRG, the MOR Cruise, Vixen, jamming with a guitar god and much, much more!
How was the Monsters of Rock Cruise?
It was the ultimate rock and roll experience. For everyone, both fans and performers. I’ve never done anything like that before and it was so much fun. It was intimate and a rock concert all combined into one. It was also one of our first gigs as JSRG. We did a walk on in New York last summer and played a few songs, but Monsters of Rock was our first full-on gig.
How did the JSRG project come together?
We had been working on a Vixen reunion for quite a while, but Jan wasn’t ready to commit. We then decided to call Gina Stile and before we could even hang up she was at the door ready to “Rev it Up”. [laughs]. Seriously, the fans were asking for it and we were ready. Now there’s no stopping us.
What’s it like working with Gina?
Gina is a firecracker. She’s great. I enjoy playing with both Jan and Gina. The difference I would say is drinking whiskey out of the bottle or on the rocks. One is more unfiltered, the other is more savoring. Both are great, it’s just what you prefer.
Tell me a little about your days with your sister in Madam X.
We truly lived on the road and were around each other 24/7. Sometimes, we didn’t even go home for Christmas. I think the thing that actually kept us together was our love of heavy metal and being on stage. But the thing is, when you’re around people for so long, you’re bound to get on each other’s nerves. It’s more than a marriage, and we would have fights. I remember Maxine and I used to go at it and Bret [Kaiser, vocals] and Chris [Doliber, bass] used to go at it. That’s how we would get our aggression out. Sometimes, Maxine would even go at it with Chris and kick his ass. [laughs]. Maybe it was the whole love/hate thing made what we had even better!
Do you have a funny story to share from your days with Madam X?
Not too people were aware of this, but Bret and I were a couple for many years during Madam X. I remember one night on stage he got a little too flirty with a female fan and I happened to throw out my stick and “accidentally” hit him hard in the back of the head!
How did you get into Vixen?
Janet [Gardner] was actually keeping track of me with Madam X because she had heard some rumblings about us breaking up. She came down and saw me play and after the band did break up` she contacted me. It took a few rehearsals for me to get the jest of how Vixen worked. The whole experience though was great for me.
What was the transition like going from Madam X to Vixen?
It was culture shock times 10! In Madam X, we were always full-bore. Vixen took more finesse in my playing and I had to listen more. Initially, it was clear that Jan didn’t seem to like me very much or the way I played; as she would plead for me to not play so hard. It was then that I realized Jan needed some “Rox-therapy”, so I shot back by asking if she had a mouse in her pocket or if this was an acoustic set? As I spent more time getting to know the girls and the dynamics of the band I became “Vixen-ized”, but there were still times I’d double-check to see if Jan’s guitar was plugged in. [laughs]
Did you know at the time it was going to be something special?
I knew there was something special when I first started rehearsing with them. I wish we would have had more of our own tunes to record for the first record, but it was beneficial for us to record “Edge of a Broken Heart” and “Cryin”. Not only are they great songs, they put Vixen on the map. As we toured, we gelled more and then came the “Rev It Up” record that was written by the band.
What’s one of the most outrageous things a fan ever did to get your attention?
One of my favorites was the time when a fan wanted to meet us so badly that he actually crashed his car into the back of our limo. We all got out and autographed his traffic ticket. [laughs]
You also auditioned to be the drummer for David Lee Roth’s band after he had left Van-Halen. How did that come about?
It was shortly after I had just joined Vixen. I don’t remember if it was Steve [Vai] or Billy [Sheehan] who told me that they were having auditions and asked me to come in. At the time, Steve Vai’s wife Pia was the bassist in Vixen so I got to know Steve through her. Dave wasn’t there for the audition but I just remember looking to my right and seeing Steve Vai and there on my left was Billy Sheehan. It was awesome! I was scared shitless, but it didn’t matter if I got the gig or not. I was jamming with Steve and Billy! Another career highlight. I was solid and kept it going but Greg Bissonette nailed it and eventually got the gig. I was happy for him. He deserved it.
Do you remember which songs you auditioned on?
We did two songs from the ‘Eat Em And Smile Record’. I remember one of the ones I did was ‘Ladies Night In Buffalo’. The other was ‘Big Trouble’. That track has a real sexy groove and it felt great to lock it in with Billy. After that tune, I remember Steve started playing this monster riff and Billy and I kicked in and jammed! It just doesn’t get any better than that! Well, maybe if Rob Halford grabbed a mic and joined in! [laughs].
Tell me about your musical background.
I came from a musical family so it was never a question of “Do you want to play?” it was “What instrument do you want to play?” At the time, Maxine was playing flute, my brother was playing sax and my other sister was playing accordion, so I played the clarinet.
Eventually there came a time where my Dad asked me if I wanted to play something else. Maxine was playing guitar and said that she was going to start a girl rock band, so my choices were either bass or drums. I picked drums and never looked back. Although, the last tune on the Vixen “Tangerine” CD is a hidden track called “Swatting Flies in Wanker County”. It’s a swingin’ blue grass instrumental with yours truly on the clarinet!
Did you ever find it challenging being a female drummer or being in an all-female band?
Sure, clearly I’ve encountered challenges in this highly charged testosterone driven industry. But overcoming these tough challenges also brings sweet success few ever get to experience. My focus will remain on the things I can control. Therefore I like to think I’m a dominant drummer with a stage presence that allows me to hold my own in any rock band. Love me or hate me I’m rock-n-roll to the bone!
Are there any players you’d like to work with?
I’d love to jump on stage with Billy Sheehan and Paul Gilbert to rock ‘Shy Boy’. I love that song! In fact, I may try to convince the girls to throw it in our set. Now THAT would be an unexpected treat, don’t ya think? [laughs].
What was the reason behind the Vixen break up?
I guess it depends on which band members you ask, but after 20 years, does anyone really give a rat’s ass anymore? We’re BACK and better than ever! Who knows what the future holds but for right now, we’re fired up and focused on JSRG and giving fans the ultimate Vixen experience.
For more on JSRG Visit their Facebook page by Clicking Here
Roxy will be performing along with sister Maxine and Rachel May (Broadzilla) at The Detroit Pub on May 18. It’s for the Ronnie James Dio Stand Up and Shout Against Cancer Benefit. Click Here for more information.