By A. Reinholt
Having met with and interviewed many bands in recent years, I was immediately struck by the aura of Redhead Express. A lot of artists are good, because they have suffered and struggled. They gargle booze and dabble in drugs and late-night lifestyles. Music is a bit of an escape, anyway, and escapist activity seems to somehow coincide with a lot of musical genius. The Walker family’s sense of escape comes from something else.
“We grew up in Palmer, Alaska,” says Kendra Walker, The Redhead Express’ gorgeous, curly-haired band-leader. “Alaska is nothing but an escape.” Kendra is the songwriter. Though it sounds like just another cliché, her lyrics often exhibit a maturity beyond her years. And what a voice! I like to call her sound sweet but sassy, influenced by her love of jazz and blues.
I decided to meet the girls and interview them in their RV, to get a sense of how they live and what their life is really like. I expected some level of dysfunction, considering there are nine people, crammed together, traveling and working together all over the country. That’s not what I found. They are calm and focused.
“There is a clarity that comes from being in nature,” says LaRae, the second oldest Redhead. “Maybe learning to play music without a whole lot else to distract us, music came easily to us.”
I would have to disagree with LaRae, however. The level that The Redhead Express plays at does not come easily. They are professionally trained and you can hear it in their voices and see it in the way they play their instruments. The Redhead Express are just beginning their careers, but it’s clear to all those who watch them play, it won’t be ending anytime soon. They humbly recite all of the influences and tutorship they have gained along the way.
It all started back home, in Alaska.
“I was eleven” … “I was sixteen” …the answers come out, alternating, as with each girls’ memory. They are remembering back to when their lives changed forever, all in one night, all in one “jam session”. They were invited to a jam, where they played with 40 musicians. It was this “jamming” group of Alaskans that inspired and tutored the girls and may have “installed the engine” in the Redhead Express. The girls played with these musicians often, giving them credit for their early start in true musical knowledge.
“They were our friends. We even played at one of their weddings,” says Kendra.
Meghan, the youngest Redhead, pipes in, giggling. “It’s kind of fun to see the progress we’ve made from then until now, because in our first jam session they had to slow everything down so we could play our solos.”
“We’d only been a band, really, for about a year, before we left Alaska,” says LaRae. “We just fell in love with the music and we wanted to get out where we could study it from the people who had been playing for generations.” That seems to be one of the beautiful secrets behind the success of The Redhead Express. They learn from the people. When they say they ‘set out on the road,’ they are not just talking about a “musical tour,” they are talking about a near-spiritual musical journey that they have been on, since leaving Alaska behind. They decided to sell all of their things, back in the summer and fall of 2007. Their idea was a simple one.
We want to go where the music calls.
We’ll play it. We’ll listen to it. We’ll learn from it. We’ll become it.
And they are IT.
“Mom started us on piano,” says LaRae. “The piano gives you a good foundation,” Kendra adds. “Then, we all learned the violin,” chimes Alisa.
Alisa is one of the bands’ two lead vocals. If they offered two tickets to the show and one was a separate show just to hear her sing, you’d buy them both and they’d both sell out. To say her voice is beautiful is like saying Shakespeare was a good writer. It really doesn’t say enough.
As the discussion continues about what it’s like to be on the road, the girls all light up and chime in with comments. Kendra leans forward, “Somebody asked me once, ‘Do you ever miss out on having a neighborhood and having friends and family close by?’ I told them, ‘We just have a much bigger neighborhood.” Kendra was just graduating from high school, in Palmer, Alaska when the family made the decision to go on their musical adventure. Though she really wanted to go to college, she felt a pull. Something deeper was going on and she just happened to be feeling a little wild and gutsy. “It’s kind of freeing”, says Kendra, “ to get rid of all of your things. Then, there’s nothing holding you back.”
I ask what some of their influences are and LaRae answers quickly, “Our influences are varied- from modern singer-songwriters like Patty Griffin, Victoria Shaw and Vince Gill; to stars like Martina McBride, Faith Hill, Sara Evans, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Eva Cassidy, and The Dixie Chicks; to 80’s pop-rock legends like Journey, Styx and others. We’ve also been heavily influenced by historical figures such as Ella Fitzgerald and Etta James.”
We were interrupted by a knock on the door. Someone from the show the night before had stopped by to congratulate the girls and to pay them compliments.
“I can’t believe we got to see you before you are famous. Good luck with everything.
“ The family humbly thanks the people, as the father Brett gives them a couple of Redhead Express t-shirts. You get the sense that they know their life will be very different from here on out. They may have come from a small-town in Alaska, but their climb will most likely take them to some pretty exclusive places.
I think people see this in them and people like it. It’s nice to see success happening to quality people. It makes everybody cheer them on. Unlike a lot of other musical acts, there is no gimmickry with The Redhead Express. They have journeyed all throughout the heart of America, picking up not only specialized musical lessons, but also picking up the stories and the humanity, from the Appalachian to the Ozark mountains. It’s given them humility of character, not often seen in such an ‘industry of egos.’
This ‘quality of soul,’ so to speak, is planted all over LaRae’s face. She literally can’t stop smiling. It’s also evident in the youngest Redhead. Meghan specializes in the bass and most often backs up Kendra and Alisa in their harmonies. Though she is the youngest, she definitely doesn’t come across as a typical teenage girl. She is elegant and respectful. Her biggest influence?
“My Dad. He can pretty much do anything that comes to his mind. I mean, he just does it. That’s inspiring to me. It helps me to know that anything is possible.”
The girls begin to do a harmonic version of one of their most popular songs, Chasin’ Butterflies. As they sing, it’s easy to see why Paul Worley has decided to record an album with them. It’s not just about how beautiful the music is when they sing it, but also about how beautiful it makes them. They are ‘stars,’ through and through. They are completely lit up by music, as most genius musicians are.
“Thank you,” I said. “I feel very special.” And I do. I know that one day they will be singing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl and winning Grammy awards and I will nudge someone at a barstool and I’ll say, “Hey, those girls sang me Chasin’ Butterflies. Just for me. Just for me.” So, thanks, girls. And for all you out there, go buy your tickets and get your luggage ready, because The Redhead Express will be rolling through your town soon.
ReferrencesRosemary Clausen Center for Performing Arts Holstein Iowa March 25, 2011
Hats Off to The Redhead Express
The nine members of the Redhead Express rolled into Holstein last Friday and collectively stole the audience's heart. There were no special effects; no pyrotechnics; no electrified anything. What they brought to the stage was just plain great music - instruments, and voices , and a genuine love of performing. It was quite simply a wonderful show. I haven't seen that much toe tapping both on and off the stage in a long time.
As promised, there was something for everyone. Songs ran the gamut from Patsy Cline's "Crazy" to tricky banjo picking on Bluegrass standards to an Irish medley. The latter so moved Pat Forristal that he leapt to his feet and stayed there for the entire first verse. We were also treated to the Express's rendition of "Amazing Grace"and a Gregorian Chant as an encore. There really wasn't much more they could have done except maybe acid rock and that just isn't their style.
The whole thing resembled a musical family reunion. The Walkers might have been relatives you hadn't seen for a while and who you wished would stay around longer. They were just so darn nice. Witness their honouring local veterans and singing Happy Birthday to Helen Wanberg.
It's difficult to single out anyone of them or anyone of their numbers for special mention as the evening was so enjoyable. However, the four sisters seemed to have an extra spark whenever they teamed up to perform one of Kendra's songs. "Somewhere Where the Road Don't Move" was piercingly effective and especially well done. Their brothers were a delight as well. Dueling banjo and mandolin, anyone? The whole family gave 110% and it was a real treat to have them here. As one fellow observed as he walked out of the auditorium, "That was a show and a half!".
ROSEMARY CLAUSEN CENTER FOR PERFORMING ARTS
519 East Maple Street :: Holstein, IA 51025 :: 712-368-4849 :: www.rosemaryclausencenter.com
Apryll, Brett and the Magnificent Seven...................
Thank you so much for
your performance at the
Lunda Theater here in
Black River Falls last
night. You and your
family far exceeded our
was very impressed! You
can not deny the talent,
but your friendliness will
always be remembered as
well. The show was tight,
the harmonies were
outstanding and the
instrumental talent was
If a buyer ever needs a
free to have them contact
me at 715-284-9887.
You folks were so easy to
deal with and just plain
fun to be around. Best of
luck on your endeavors.
BUT, I sure could use a
cookie with my coffee
Stay in touch.
Dick and Kyle Deno
Black River Falls, Wi