Anyone who’s a follower of the local music scene can’t help but notice the women who grace the stage either as soloists or alongside the guys. Female musicians in the Golden Isles run the gamut of styles from country and Americana to rock ‘n’ roll, blues and pop. The News visited with four of them who work tirelessly to provide their audiences with great entertainment. Some have been entertaining as long as they can remember; one is a relative newcomer.
Bishop-Bachman said she had always thought it would be fun to be in a band, but never gave it serious thought.
“I’m not a stage person by nature, and I didn’t have any real musical skills,” she said. “I’ve always been a car singer, but nobody really ever heard me sing because I was too self-conscious.”
That began to turn around when her now-husband, Scott Bachman, gave her a bass guitar for her 40th birthday. Bishop-Bachman refers to that moment as the “catalyst that started the slow roll towards the stage.”
Bass lessons with fellow musician Crawford Perkins followed, as did a great friendship between the two. Perkins eventually proposed beginning a band with both Bishop-Bachman and Bachman. The band’s name? Complicated Pants.
“I was both deeply honored and scared out of my mind in equal portions,” she said. “But it was a challenge I simply could not pass up, so I shoved my fear aside and went for it.”
She readily admits to the new venture as being terrifying, but said the had to “jump in that pool and learn to swim.” That was in 2015.
“If you’d told me five years ago that I’d be fronting a band, I’d have laughed in your face,” she said.
Despite the negatives that can come with performing, Bishop-Bachman says she enjoys it.
“Since I have a good day job that I love, I try my best to keep the band fun and not let it become a second job,” she explained. “So long as I’m having fun on stage, learning new skills and improving my performance, it will always be a net-positive for me.”
The annoyances and inconveniences don’t faze her. She says they’re just a part of the experience.
“After the show is over, I often forget there is money at the end of it,” she said. “I kind of feel like I’m taking one of those immersion courses, like moving to France to learn French.”
She also has plenty of advice for women who are considering a career in music.
First and foremost, Bishop-Bachman said, people should do it because they love it. A person’s love of music will get through to the audience, and people will return to hear them again and again. Also, she said, prospective performers should get advice from their “most blunt” friends and acquaintances, and really listen to them.
Bishop-Bachman said female musicians have to be savvy.
“There is a double-standard for women vocalists throughout the industry,” Bishop-Bachman said. “If you’re a man, you can get by just fine as an OK singer
so long as you can play an instrument. As a woman, you are held to a much higher standard. You are expected to sound like Aretha or Lorde, and if you don’t you are promptly dismissed. It’s just the nature of the business.”
She also cautioned women not to date their band members.
“It’s a band-killer,” she said.
In the next five years, Bishop-Bachman sees herself continuing to learn to play guitar, expanding her skillset and branching out creatively, including pursuing songwriting.
“I don’t really have any plans except to keep learning and improving,” she said. “How far that takes me is entirely up to me.”
Hannemann, a singer, pianist and member of several projects including Michaele and the Ambiguous and her newest group, Harrington, grew up in a musical family. Her parents performed rock, pop and disco in lounge and cover bands in the 1970s. Her mother sang, and her father played bass.
“When I was born, they quit playing professionally, but continued jamming for fun at home,” she said. “Watching them make music together inspired me to learn how to do that too, simply because it was always such a good time.”
She began playing piano on the upright Baldwin they had in her home. Hannemann said she wasn’t allowed to touch her father’s guitars or bass until she was much older, but by then, she was committed to the keyboard.
“By that time it was much harder to learn a string instrument than it was to build on the piano skills I already had,” she said. “I got lazy, so piano it was.”
Now playing professionally for 19 years, Hannemann says the distractions have become easier to deal with over time.
“I continue to make music performance an occupational focus, because I’ve always felt completely at home using and developing the skills required,” she said, adding that includes learning songs, running the sound system and being in jam sessions. “I love everything about the job, even on the ground level. It just feels right at the core of me so it’s worth it for me to pursue, despite the fact that it creates somewhat of a crazy life.”
For the first five years of her musical career, Hannemann played alongside her siblings and boyfriends in communities near her home. She recalls that it was tons of fun, but not very serious.
“But I was serious about progressing in the industry, so I went out on a limb and auditioned for some bigger bands in Chicago, the nearest city to where I grew up,” she explained. “I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to ‘hang’ with more professional players, but I found that I could, just barely, and it ended up broadening my horizons big time.”
Eventually Hannemann quit her office job, and began a new, exciting chapter in her life.
She also hints at somewhat of a double standard in the music industry, and has some advice for young female musicians.
“Musical ability is not gender-specific,” Hannemann said. “The phrase ‘pretty good for a girl’ shouldn’t exist in this industry; it doesn’t make sense. Any person who devotes themselves to their craft has the opportunity to continuously improve, regardless of strength or stature. Don’t let people convince you to focus on image instead of musicianship just because you’re female. Be a musician first and foremost.”
Hanneman says young musicians should be open to all styles and genres, learn music theory, and arm themselves with the skills to make them an asset.
“Then, when you’re extremely comfortable performing, feel free to have some fun with some cute gig outfits if you want,” she said. “Just make that secondary to your musical ability, and no one can stop you or accuse you of being ‘just a pretty face’ on stage.”
Hannemann plans to play locally for a while longer, and has aspirations to make a studio recording of original music in the next five years.
“If I manage to produce a solid album of original music, that will be a turning point for me because my live show will change,” she said. “I’d love to eventually tour with a band, playing mostly my own songs and promoting the album.”
“I’ve always had an interest in music, as far back as I can remember.”
That stems from Parr’s quite musical family tree. She began singing old country songs with her mom, which she still does. Her mom also taught Parr how to play ukulele, which led to her learning to play the guitar. Both of Parr’s grandmothers played piano, and one aunt is a classical pianist and music professor.
“I’ve been playing professionally since college, and as a solo singer-songwriter on St. Simons for over 20 years now,” she said.
Parr can’t imagine doing anything else, and says the love of music is what keeps her going.
“I love having a job with late hours — I’m a certified night owl,” she said. “I’ve been doing it long enough to get paid pretty well, and the tips are usually great.”
She also knows how to deal with rude audience members. “I’ll tease them, make a joke or dedicate a song to them, which seems to disarm even the most annoying drunks in the crowd.”
The connection with her audience is a treasured one, and she likes “finding” songs to make audience members smile.
“I consider it a privilege to get paid to do something I love so much,” Parr said. “I’m so grateful for that.”
Parr has taken a somewhat circuitous route to get back to music, which she said she’s always known she was meant to do.
“But I finally realized about 10 years ago what I knew all along — that performing and writing music was what I was meant to do,” she said. “No wonder the other stuff didn’t work out so well.”
She receives confirmation that she made the right decision every time she plays a gig.
Parr says music is still dominated by men, but circumstances are improving for women.
Her advice to young girls is this:
“If you’re passionate about music, don’t let anyone tell you to find a ‘real’ job or that you’re not good enough,” she said. “Just work your (behind) off, be persistent and play, play, play every chance you get.”
Parr, who’s been on a cross-country RV trip for several months, said in the next five years, she still wants to be doing what she’s doing. Playing locally, expanding to regional venues, making another CD or two, and perhaps taking a cross-country tour to promote her CDs.
Betts, the lead vocalist for Skeeter Truck, also hails from a musical family. Her dad was a musician, and her mother sang with the Sweet Adelines for fun.
“My mom says that I had a strong response to music from birth,” she said.
What keeps her going, she said jokingly, is that it (music) seems to the one thing she has a talent for.
“I believe everyone has a talent of some kind and singing is mine,” she said. “Playing for an audience gives me an endorphin boost and always lifts my mood. When I perform, I tend to focus on the music and not what’s bothering me.”
Getting hooked on the business was pretty simple, she said.
“The first time I played and got paid,” she said. “I would have played for nothing — just for the enjoyment of it, but when they handed me 20 or 30 bucks after the show, I was really hooked. You mean you’ll pay me to do this?”
Her advice to up-and-comers is forthright.
“The music business is a hard way to make a living,” she said. “Don’t get your expectations too high; there is a lot of competition out there.”
She said being open to advice from other musicians has served her well.
“Play with musicians who are as good or better than you,” Betts said. “It will make you sound so much better.”
In five years, Betts said, she’ll probably be back where she was in 1974, just playing for the fun of it.
“I believe that I am a better singer now than I ever have been, and I keep working on it, even if it’s just for myself,” Betts said. “So, this old lady will be picking and singing until I take my last breath.”