It's a rare opportunity to share coffee with all of the Klitz at once, as I found myself doing on a recent Memphis morning. All in all, singer and guitarist Lesa Aldridge (aka Elizabeth Hoehn) is proud of the seminal group's newly released LP, Rocking the Memphis Underground 1978-1980 (Mono-Tone Records), a compilation of some of their most important archived recordings. But she may have a few regrets. "Back then, with Dickinson and Alex and that circle, the brilliance was in being what you sounded like ... rather than trying to polish or change. And so it was 'Oh no, you can't fix that! Oh no, that's the brilliance!' Damn."
The Klitz, one of the first all-girl bands from the punk era, were really a genre unto themselves. Perhaps that's what led such finely tuned ears as Jim Dickinson, Alex Chilton, and others to champion their cause. As drummer Marcia Clifton Faulhaber notes, "We were more punk in our social settings than really in our sound. Especially when you listen to the songs we're doing now. Even though a lot of them are on the album, they don't translate in hindsight as punk. The name is punk ..." Then Amy Gassner Starks interjects, "that's why I wanted to call us the Kiltz." There is collective intake of breath at this stunning admission. And then a big laugh.
A good-natured camaraderie reigns among the women who now reunite occasionally under their old moniker. Though there was a long hiatus after they all moved to other projects in the '80s, interest in the group only seemed to grow over the years. One critical moment came with the invitation to join Philadelphia's Pink Slip Daddy on some east coast shows in 2016. Yet only more recently have all four Klitz actively rehearsed and played shows as a unit.
Lately, they've been rehearsing like mad, as they prepare for this Saturday's Grrl Fest 2 at the Hi-Tone. In a night designed to celebrate all-woman or woman-dominated bands, the Klitz will hold court at the top of the bill. When they started out, tackling the male dominance of the music industry was no small matter. As singer and guitarist Gail Elise Clifton recalls, "It was a boy's club. Of course, they got more shows. This town has always been a boy's club. It's too powerful being all girls. Guys can't take it."
But even in 1970s Memphis, don't imagine the Klitz were entirely unpopular. Faulhaber recalls going down well with large crowds at the Overton Park Shell, the Orpheum, and the Well, precursor to the Antenna Club. And they hung out with and opened for the Cramps. They'd even made a television special with Jim Dickinson, "Captain Memphis Meets the Klitz." Surely, at the time, it must have felt like they were on the verge of something bigger.
It was not to be, at least back then. Faulhaber tells one tale that sets the scene for their dissolution. "Remember 'Mr. Bill?' The creator of that, Michael O'Donoghue, was a writer for Saturday Night Live. We opened for his movie, which was Mr. Mike's Mondo Video, on September 23, 1979 at the Times Square Tango Palace. But because we were nervous, and I think we had had too much to drink ... we weren't really tight."
The band lost its momentum not long after that. Yet, having played in bands before the Klitz, the four continued to create in different ensembles or as solo performers. Even after nearly 40 years, it has not been a far stretch for any of them to throw their hat in the ring, even if Starks admits to a bit of the old stage fright. Beyond Grrl Fest 2, they'll be doing interviews for a new documentary on the group, and are planning an official record release show for sometime in June or July. From there, the possibilities are endless. As Aldridge sums it up, "We're getting in a groove."
GRRL FEST 2 takes over the Hi-Tone, Saturday, May 12th. $15.
Moon Glimmers 8:00 - 8:30
Crystal Shrine 8:45 - 9:15
SNACKS 9:30 - 10:00
Aquarian Blood 10:15 - 10:45
The Klitz 11:00 - Midnight
DRAG SHOW SPECIAL AT MIDNIGHT
BEG 7:45 - 8:15
Dancers 8:30 - 9:00
Allison Kasper 9:15 - 9:45
Louise Page 10:00 - 10:30
Harlan 10:45 - 11:15