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Women Gravitating Toward Guitars; Interest in lessons grows along with visibility of females in music biz.

Chicago Tribune

10/30/2002

Reprinted from Chicago Tribune
By Christina Lee Knauss, Knight Ridder Newspapers

COLUMBIA, S.C.--After nine years in a band, Stephanie Venable still grimaces when she hears, "You play really good guitar for a girl."

The thirtysomething guitarist for Columbia, S.C., band She Says says a lot of men in the music world--believe it or not--still find it a novelty that a woman plays hard-rock guitar. The fact is that women and guitars no longer are a fad in the music world, on the pop charts or in the classrooms where music is taught.

Nationally, more women are taking up guitar.

They\'ve responded to the increased presence of guitar-slinging women on the pop charts, a phenomenon since the early \'90s.

Artists range from rockers Sheryl Crow and Melissa Etheridge to R&B artists Lauryn Hill and India.Arie, who successfully combine soul with strings.

At Tri-City Music in West Columbia, half the guitar students are women, according to owner Grady Windham.

"We\'ve really seen an increase in women, especially in the last three years," Windham said. "I think it\'s partly because there have been so many more women visible in the music business."

Wide range of ages.

Windham\'s female students range in age from 10 to their late 50s.

At another local music store, instructor Rita Prince teaches female students ranging in age from 10 to their 40s.

One student, Cameron Mullins, 15, is a self-described music lover who admires such artists as Guns-N-Roses, Def Leppard and Bruce Springsteen. She plays acoustic and electric guitar.

"I listen to my CDs and I just decided a couple years ago I wanted to get as good as some of the artists I listen to," said Mullins. "The guitar is just really a lot of fun."

Mullins is learning the guitar for her own pleasure--she once entertained ideas of being in a band but no longer wants to, she said. But she acknowledges other women who have succeeded playing guitar both solo and in bands have opened the door for other teens like her.

Prince agreed.

"The exposure women artists have gotten in the past few years has helped a lot," she said. "It used to be that women weren\'t encouraged to play guitar in an upfront situation. People wanted them for backup, to be \'the pretty little stage thing.\' But that attitude has completely changed."

More women also take guitar at Musicians\' Supply in Irmo, S.C., according to instructor Don Russo. Russo teaches a dozen females, from a 9-year-old to a woman who recently retired.

His students have been inspired by everyone from Etheridge to female Christian rock stars who play guitar, Russo said.

"You still see more men playing guitar than women, but it\'s definitely more acceptable these days to see women taking the lead guitar role," Russo said. "In the past women were steered more toward instruments like the violin and the piano, but now there are plenty of women guitarists who are role models."

In response to the number of women guitarists around these days, many traditional guitar companies are marketing signature lines for women artists.

Signature guitar line for women

Last year, a woman guitarist founded Daisy Rock Girl Guitars (www.daisyrock.com), which designs guitars for women. The instruments have thinner necks and smaller bodies, and come in traditional acoustic models and whimsical electric shapes such as daisies and hearts. The Daisy guitars start at $239.

Whatever guitar they\'re wielding, younger students might find their role models in the \'90s resurgence in women rockers, ranging from Etheridge to the acoustic-based singer-songwriters such as Shawn Colvin. The singer-songwriter movement especially took off with the \'90s all-female Lilith Fair concert tours.

Some older women finally are--taking lessons based on inspiration they received from earlier women rock guitar pioneers.

One of Russo\'s students is Karen Kokolis, 39, who played guitar as a teenager but set it aside when she married and became a mother.

Kokolis loved the early music of classic rock band Led Zeppelin but said her inspiration comes mainly from the veteran, female-led rock band Heart.

"I just can never get enough of Nancy Wilson\'s guitar playing," she said. Wilson\'s driving rock guitar lent a singular sound to Heart\'s \'70s hits such as "Crazy On You" and "Barracuda."

Kokolis\' interest in guitar was rejuvenated about three years ago, when her son, Constantine, started responding to classic rock music on the radio. Kokolis decided she wanted to learn how to play the songs she listened to frequently, so she picked up an acoustic guitar again and went to Russo for lessons.

"It\'s definitely a more fertile time these days for women who want to play guitar," Kokolis said. "I\'ve gotten all fired up again--but the one thing I wish there was more of was hard rock by women on the radio. You\'ve got a lot of women playing acoustic and alternative rock, but I\'d like there to be more hard rock out there by women."

The number of women artists putting out harder alternative rock had dropped recently, attributed partly to the upswing in the number of women exploring the acoustic genre.

She Says\' Venable and fellow band member Ashley Byrd offer a mix of originals and cover tunes with a consistent hard-rock influence.

"Guys will think they\'re complimenting us when they say we \'don\'t play guitar like a girl,"\' Venable said. "Women who are more aggressive and know their instrument will hear that. But things have definitely changed for the better. It\'s accepted now for a woman to be playing lead guitar, whatever style she chooses. "

Inspired by sister strummers

Some women musicians whom guitar students name as role models:

Heart. Led by singer Ann Wilson and her guitar-wielding sister, Nancy, this band went multiplatinum in the late \'70s with such singles as "Crazy on You."

Joan Jett. Jett has been an unrepentant hard rocker since her early days with the teenage hard-rock band The Runaways. Jett and her band, The Blackhearts, emerged in 1982 with the pop/heavy-metal single "I Love Rock \'n\' Roll," which went to No. 1.

India.Arie. This soul singer and guitarist earned multiple Grammy nominations this year for her CD "Acoustic Soul," which featured groove-laden songs with a guitar base. The CD produced the hit single "Video." Arie follows in the footsteps of other African-American singer-songwriters, Meshell Ndegeocello and Tracy Chapman.

Karen Kokolis, who gave up playing guitar when she married and had a child, began taking lessons again three years ago after her son expressed interest in classic rock music.

Copyright 2002 Chicago Tribune Company
Chicago Tribune