I have a secret confession. I love to sing. I love singing in the car, at home while cleaning the house, and whenever the spirit moves me. There’s just this one little problem - I am tone deaf. To say I sing off key is an understatement. And I’ve got the vocal range of about two notes. I would love to have one of those big powerful voices like Lola Beltrán or Lydia Mendosa – singing so passionately about loves lost while a single tear rolls down my cheek. Ok, maybe that’s too much information about my secret fantasy.

So to sing along off key to some of my favorite songs, I created a CD called “Big Bad Mamas”. Aretha, Billie, Ella, and Etta were just a few of the giant voices that deemed themselves worthy of being on the CD. I’m now on Volume 12 of the Big Bad Mamas.

As I was finishing up number 12, I was thinking about all the big female voices that have kept us Burqueños grooving. The first name that comes to mind is Linda Cotton. Linda was a force to be reckoned with. Her voice was big, bold, soulful and full of passion. Linda left her mark on the music scene here and is sorely missed.

We still have a wealth of ‘Big Bad Mamas’ here in ‘Burque. The one person that I wanted to hang out with and talk about music was Joanie Griffin. NOT this Joanie Griffin, but THIS Joanie Griffin. Many of you might remember her as one of the Rhinestones of Cadillac Bob and the Rhinestones. Others of you may know her from her new group Combo Special. And some of you may know her as a teacher at Jefferson Middle School.

Hanging out with someone who has as much passion for music, jewelry, vintage clothing and the North Valley as I do, was a great way to spend an afternoon. Joanie is a Burqueña by way of New Jersey. I asked her if she knew she had such an incredible singing voice when she was young and she said she knew she definitely had a gift for the dramatic and was always the loudest one around! As a kid she sang in choir, the glee club, and was in drama.

Joanie’s journey to Albuquerque first took her to a hippie commune in West Virginia. This is where she got hip to bluegrass and country blues. From there she decided to visit friends who were going to school at UNM. ‘Burque seemed to be the place that captured her heart. In her first two weeks here she met musicians and started going to jams. She married fellow musician and Cadillac Bob bass player John Griffin (now her ex) and moved in a neighborhood on the Westside near Linda Cotton. She said that Linda was an inspiration to her. I asked her to describe Linda and the words that she used were “generous spirit, comforting, familiar – everyone found something they knew in her voice.”

Those same words can be used about Joanie. I remember seeing her for the first time at El Madrid in the 80’s and thinking, damn, that’s the voice I wanted to be born with! And then to hear her sing with Kathy Gutierrez and Denise Brissey-Cohen in the Rhinestones, you knew you were hearing the biggest, baddest, voices around.

We talked about the early days of El Madrid. It was a place where we agreed the vibe was like no other in town. It had an authenticity to it that allowed musicians to grow and hone their skills. It was there that the Rhinestones made a name for themselves. Actually Public Access Channel 27 was where they debuted. Drummer Mike Flemming had a show and he invited them to sing as an a capella group. From there they played gigs at the old Albuquerque Sunport. The rest is Rhinestone history.

We reminisced about fun music venues that are no longer around like the Fat Chance, Danbi’s, Okies, The Hungry Bear, Club Rhythm and Blues and the Golden West. And then we talked about the great vibe at the Madrid Ballpark where so many wonderful jazz and blues shows have been. We need more venues in this town that honor blues and jazz musicians!

As I finish this post, I am listening to the Combo Special CD. Bob Barron is laying down some nice fat, juicy bass lines; Larry Freedman boogie woogie-ing his way across the keyboards; Melvin Crisp smacking those drums in perfect time. And then there's the voice. The voice that Bo Diddley said was big. The voice Buddy Guy wanted to accompany him on the song Money when he played in town. It is the voice of cool. It is the voice of Joanie Griffin.

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Comment by Juan on July 9, 2008 at 11:25am
Thanks for the great post. I love me some amazing women singers and the local info you give on Burque in regards to this is much appreciated. As for me, Carla Thomas and Tina Turner (back when she was making music with Ike Turner) are a couple of my favorites from the old school and as for contemporary singers, Erykah Badu takes the cake for me. Wish I could have been there to experience some of the old school jams happening in Burque.
Comment by mombat on July 9, 2008 at 11:39am
You just keep on singing !
I can't help but notice that along with great voices all of these women have great hair too.
Wonderful post.
Debo, Debra Orlofsky is another local diva who comes to mind.
Comment by Diego on July 9, 2008 at 11:45am
I guess I inherited the same genes I sing terrible but still enjoy doing it. Like always a wonderful post.
Comment by Dr Dan on July 9, 2008 at 12:21pm
Great post Adelita,
I too love to sing, (although they are of a heavy metal nature, rob Halford is my fave), in HS while at the boardin school I got roped into the school chorus, not because I could sing but they need bodies to fill the stage. The senior advisor before our first apperance asked me to "Just move your lips" but I knew I was Badddddd
the cat does not share my vocal interpretations, but KEEP ON SINGING, dont worry about how you sound, listen to anything by the Plastic Ono Band and you will not feel bad. I wish we had a Jazz bar, but I really wish we had a decient Jazz station, or my job would stop blocking steaming music
Comment by Gemini Goddess on July 9, 2008 at 12:59pm
I love those big bad mamas!

Have you heard of Adele? Great singer from the UK. She also possess the same 'soul' as these mamas!

Thanks for the information about Joanie!
Comment by Barelas Babe on July 9, 2008 at 1:51pm
Will you share your Big Bad Mamas playlist? Pretty please?

Awesome post, as usual. Sing your heart out, Adelita!
Comment by deemo on July 9, 2008 at 1:51pm
sarah vaughn... on my ipod as we speak... a true voice worthy of big bad mama-dome...
Comment by hettie on July 9, 2008 at 2:36pm
ooh, the rhinestones! I grew up at the back end of placitas (gringo gulch) and parties in dome valley were a fixture of my childhood. I can remember seeing cadillac bob and the rhinestones play many times. for a few weeks after every party, the rhinestones would be inspiration for dress-up/singalongs that my friends and I used to put on. thanks for the reminder of how great these women are.

I love to sing along, especially to Ms. Holiday, and I too can't sing worth a dime. I just roll up the windows in the car, crank up the stereo and go for it. and I must admit I sound awesome in the shower....especially if I manage to get soap in my ears.
Comment by JMG on July 9, 2008 at 3:55pm
I loved the Planets! The Rhinestones, too. I lived in Trinidad & Tobago for a few years and fell in with the calypso crowd. Two singers with big voices and big personalities you would love: Singing Sandra and Calypso Rose. Sandra often starts her set with her hair up in a turban and then, in the middle of a spirited song, she whips it off and her hair flies. Fantastico!
Comment by JMG on July 9, 2008 at 3:56pm


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