Rocker has her way as leader of the band

Friday, January 21, 2005

For those who say a girl can't front a good band, the Tiffany Christopher Band from Springfield, Mo., stands as a testament to the power of the female rocker.

In fact, the 23-year-old Christopher not only fronts the band, she is the creative force behind it, making her an even bigger rarity in the world of rock bands.

"They're not much for songwriting," Christopher said of her bandmates, drummer Justin Gabossi, lead guitarist Chester Ellis and bassist John Bamman -- all men.

"It was really hard to find guys that would allow me to be the leader of the band, to be the chief, you know. It's really hard for men to let their ego down, as hard as it is for me, I'm sure."

The band has been together for over a year, and its members are making good impressions. That's why they're coming back to Cape Girardeau for a gig at the River City Yacht Club today at 9 p.m.

The band consistently packs houses in Springfield, and Port Cape owner Doc Cain said their last show at the Yacht Club drew in a good crowd, especially for a non-local act.

"I heard a CD of her first album and I knew immediately we had to bring this lady into the place here," said Cain, who brought the band to his club in November.

At the last show, Cain saw many people using their cell phones to tell friends about the band. By 11 p.m. the club was full.

Springfield musician and independent producer Dan Maple has recorded shows for Christopher's band. He first met her at a party and was blown away when she began to play guitar and sing.

"She starts playing these funky little riffs," Maple said. "One of the best rhythm guitar players you've probably ever seen. Not a wacky lead player, but playing some funky rhythm."

Christopher's notoriety is spreading. She even has a slate of shows booked in Colorado.

"We're just starting to spiderweb out," Christopher said. "It's moving so fast it's amazing."

The reason for that spreading fame is probably the musicality TCB brings to the stage. Christopher got interested in music at a young age by listening to her father's collection of country songwriters, like Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. Later, her interests would lead her to rock, jazz and formal music education.

"Through high school I started to get more interested in women songwriters like Ani DiFranco, Indigo Girls," Christopher said. "I also started listening to Jeff Buckley."

In college she studied jazz and compositional arranging.

"Once I got there, I started to learn about theory and it just broadened my horizons," she said. "I started listening to instrumental jazz and analyzing it. But I was into everything."

Mixing it up

Christopher has played jazz for years at the Springfield Brewing Co., singing for a band of college professors, but her band isn't about jazz, it's about rocking.

The music mixes electric and acoustic sounds into groovy jams and just flat-out rock, with some jazz thrown in on vocals and Christopher's knack for playing polyrhythms -- a pillar of jazz -- on her guitar. They also like to throw in some reggae and Southern rock in the style of the Allmans.

How does she define her band?

"It's like Jeff Buckley meets Dave Matthews meets Jack Johnson with Bonnie Raitt mixed into it, I guess," Christopher said.

Live shows highlight that eclectic mix, bouncing from electric to acoustic to dance-hall reggae.

"We like to start with a hard-hitting beginning," Christopher said. "We'll go from a rocking bluegrass Allman Brothers tune and go to a really bobbing reggae tune, where people just have to get out on the floor and dance.

"We like to focus on having a really good show: Not a lot of time between tunes and really unique changes. People get really into it by the end of the show and people just get out on the dance floor."

Be ready for some laughs, too, as Christopher has earned a quirky reputation for facial contortion.

"People call me rubberface, because when I sing I'm usually making some wild, gnarly facial expressions."

Those who don't get to see this weekend's performance can take heart -- TCB will return in March. And if Christopher has her way, the whole country will be seeing more of her band in the coming years.

They hope to cut another studio album and a live album, hopefully getting the attention of some record companies. Even if the band receives major label attention, said Christopher, it won't change the kind of intimacy they like to share with the audience.

"I'm talking about freedom of self," she said. "I just like to bring people together, help them have a good time and help them feel good about themselves. And I don't want to lose that just by having to sign a record contract."

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