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These Girls Rock

Chicago Daily Herald

10/15/2002

By Lisa Friedman Miner Daily Herald Staff Writer
- Chicago Daily Herald

Taking a cue from artists like Sheryl Crow and Michelle Branch, women are proving the guitar isn’t just for folk singers anymore

Growing up surrounded by musicians, Julie Dutchak knew more than her share of rock guitarists. They all had one thing in common, though: They were guys.

Dutchak of Roselle flirted with the idea of learning to play guitar. When she was 8, she told her mom, who sang in a band, that she wanted to take up the bass.

"She said, ‘No. Girls don’t play the bass,\'" Dutchak recalls. "Play the flute."

Forget the flute. Dutchak, now 28, got a late start, but she’s making up for lost time. She plays the guitar and sings with the local all-girl band Catfight.

Dutchak is only sorry she didn’t bust into what she long considered a man’s world sooner.

"When I was a kid, I never really heard of it," Dutchak says of girls and guitars. "None of my friends took bass or guitar."

Nowadays, girls take up both. Inspired by musicians like Sheryl Crow and Michelle Branch, they’re playing the guitar in increasing numbers.

The industry is taking note.

Big-name companies such as Ovation and Gibson are marketing guitars inspired by women artists. Another company, Daisy Rock, manufactures all its guitars for girls, contouring the neck and lightening the weight to match the size and shape of would-be female rockers.

On Oct. 25, Lifetime airs its third annual "Women Rock! Girls & Guitars," a concert featuring Branch, the Pretenders and others. The show sets out to raise breast cancer awareness while calling attention to some top female musicians.

Daisy Rock founder Tish Ciravolo has written what she claims is the first guitar book ever for girls. "Girls Guitar Method" is due out this month.

"My mission is to get all the 9- to 24-year-old girls in America and the world to play guitar and rule the world," Ciravolo says.

Talking to Ciravolo, you get the feeling that she’s only half-joking. Already, though, lots of those girls are starting to take notice.

A guy’s world

Nadine Robards has been selling guitars and accessories at the Guitar Center in Arlington Heights for five years. When she started, she sold almost all her guitars to men. These days, she says, about 20 percent of her customers are women.

"Every time a teenage girl sees one of her favorite stars pick up a guitar, she wants a guitar," Robards says.

In the 1960s, a few women on the national music scene played guitar. Women like Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez, for example, were folk pioneers and inspired the generation that followed.

But for years, the world of rock guitar was dominated by men.

Women were out front - singing, dancing and providing a pretty face to the music.

They were vocalists, little more.

Mary Kay Bocain always resented that mindset.

The East Dundee mother of two started playing guitar back in the early ’70s when she was 16. None of the guy musicians took her seriously.

"I was never able to jam with anybody," she says. "It was a joke. It was an intrusion."

Things got better, but only slightly, as the ’70s wore on. Bocain remembers doing band competitions with all-girl bands and encountering rough attitudes from the guys.

"Some of them were so insulted to lose to a broad they wouldn’t shake hands," she recalls.

Ciravolo got the cold shoulder as well.

"When I bought my first bass, I’d walk into a music store and they’d say, ‘Is this for your boyfriend?’" she recalls. "It was insulting."

The tide started shifting in the 1980s and ’90s.

"The first time I really saw a woman rock was Bonnie Raitt," says "Women Rock!" producer Ken Ehrlich. "I think she probably started it more than anybody else."

Raitt got her start in blues, but her career kicked into gear in the late 1980s with "Nick of Time." In 1995, she became the first female guitarist to have an instrument named for her.

A new world

Not long before Raitt hit the peak of her success, young fans were rocking to the music of the Go-Gos, the most popular all-girl band of the 1980s.

Other girl groups followed.

"It really hit me when I saw the Go-Gos play," Ciravolo says. "All girls playing all the instruments … They were awesome."

The ’90s, however, brought the biggest change. A wave of singer-songwriters like Sarah McLachlan, Jewel and Sheryl Crow made girls _ and guys _ take notice.

Then in 1997, McLachlan put together Lilith Fair, the first major tour of female artists.

Dutchak, then in her early 20s, was inspired to pick up the guitar around the same time.

Dutchak, a professional singer, taught herself to play and only recently began playing in public. Just last month, she finally started taking guitar lessons.

"I bet if they had MTV when I was a freshman in high school and I saw Sheryl Crow and Jewel, I would have wanted to play," Dutchak says.

Nineteen-year-old Lauren Barreca of Woodstock did grow up with MTV. She too was inspired by the guitarists of the past few years.

"It was really cool whenever you saw some chick up there gigging on the guitar," she says.

Now Barreca is that chick. "If my house was burning, my Ovation would be the first thing I’d grab," she says. "It’s my baby."

Chris Wilson has been teaching guitar since 1988. Back then, only 5 to 10 percent of his students were women. Now, it’s almost half.

Another difference has been the shift from acoustic to electric guitar.

"In general, people really want electric," says Wilson, who teaches in Westmont. "Electric is just so much easier to play."

Robards agrees. "Almost everybody wants to plug in and be amplified."

Getting better

"Everyone" includes women who grew up thinking that guitars were for guys. Now they’re older, they’ve got money to spare and they want to give guitar a try, Robards says.

Then there are the kids whose moms, unlike Dutchak’s, think girls and guitars are a natural mix.

Bocain’s 9-year-old daughter plays. So does her 15-year-old niece, Jenna Horwath of Elgin.

Horwath says she was inspired by her aunt and the band Kitty.

"I just kind of wanted to play," explains Horwath, who plays in a band. "I was like, ‘Ooh, a guitar. Seems cool.’"

Even with the growing numbers, Bocain and others still see room for change.

"If a girl says she’s in a band, it’s assumed she’s a singer _ still," Bocain says.

A couple years ago, Barreca and a guy friend went into a music store so she could buy a guitar strap. "He was approached," she recalls. "They probably did assume he was the one going in there to play."