1/17/2013 8:15:00 PM 'Sweet, sassy and local': Gurley Girls are Prescott's fem-folk pop-rockers
Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier
Counterclockwise from left, Jennifer James, Kerry Johnson, Lyndsie Milisen, Dori Mion, Jen Harvey, Shari Schmidt, and Joell Gall, members of the Gurley Girls, practice at a home in Prescott Wednesday night.
By CINDY BARKS The Daily Courier
PRESCOTT - Sitting around the cozy Timber Ridge living room, the group could have been any gathering of young moms, chatting about kids, husbands and jobs.
The major difference: Two guitars, a violin, a full set of drums, four strong vocalists, and a catchy name.
The Gurley Girls (previously known as the Merry Musical Mamas) is a uniquely Prescott group that has shown up at a host of recent charitable events, combining local lore with folksy, bluesy music.
Consisting of seven musicians, the group formed in 2009 as a way for members of a mothers' support group to participate in the Acker Musical Showcase, the popular Christmas event that brings hundreds of musicians and thousands of music lovers to downtown Prescott.
"We wanted to sing Christmas music for Acker," singer and guitarist Jen Harvey said of the early motivation for the group. To generate interest, she circulated an email among members of the MOMS Club of Prescott.
Although band members initially liked their Mama name, they say the alliterative moniker soon became an annoyance.
"At first, we thought it was cute; we're all moms," Kerry Johnson, who sings and plays piano for the group. "Then, we thought it was horrible."
This past year, the band members asked their families to help them find a better name, and they came up with choices such as "No Man's Band," and "Tainted Lasses."
In the end, "The Gurley Girls" -referencing Prescott's main street - emerged. "It's sweet and sassy and local," Harvey said.
In fact, that could be a description of the band members themselves. As they rehearsed Tuesday night, they alternately offered support for fellow band members, joked about previous performances, and traded personal tidbits.
The evening ended with a harmonized rendition of "Happy Birthday" in celebration of violinist Jennifer James' birthday.
Throughout, it was obvious that while music brought the group together, friendship binds it.
"This is the time of week we all live for," singer Joell Gall said. "It's so much fun to play music together."
It turns out that the band members had long been yearning for a way to unleash their inner rock stars, whether they realized it or not.
Johnson, for instance, remembers how much she loved participating in musical theater in high school.
Others talked about their long-ago love for music at their church folk groups, middle-school choirs, and grade-school opera lessons.
Vocalist Sheri Schmidt remembers being required to sing a Debbie Gibson song in a seventh-grade singing and dancing class. "My music teacher told me he thought I had something," she said. "That sparked an interest."
But through careers, marriages and kids, most of the band members say they had left their musical days behind.
"None of us had a musical outlet, and we all missed that," Johnson said.
Of The Gurley Girls, she added, "I love the performance aspect. I feel like I'm in high school again."
As the band has progressed, its members have seen themselves and their fellow musicians blossom.
While the band began by performing mostly covers of well-known songs, these days it is weaving in a good number of original songs written by its members.
To start off Tuesday night's rehearsal, the group played "Tell Your Mama" - a slightly rowdy song that came to Johnson in the shower one day.
"It was a blues riff that just stuck in my head," said Johnson, who performs the vocals for the song.
Harvey, who said she has been writing songs since about fourth grade, feels gratification in hearing her creations come to life.
"The awesome thing is when all of the voices find this harmony," Harvey said. "These guys become invested in what I wrote and put their heart and soul into it. When that happens, I'm in heaven."
The band also has grown through the addition of new members.
After her initial email in 2009, Harvey said she began recruiting musicians through personal contact. "I would sidle up to people at birthday parties," she said.
Through that approach, the band recently added Dori Mion, a long-time local guitarist who band members spotted at the local farmer's market, and Lyndsie Milisen, who played drums as a student, and who fellow Gurley Girls say adds the "hip-ness" factor.
Milisen, whose home is now the regular rehearsal site, said the opportunity to join the group was too good to pass up. It brought back happy memories of playing drums as an elementary school student.
"All I still had was a snare drum from sixth grade," she said of her first rehearsal with the band. Afterwards, she went out and bought a full drum set. "I went full speed after that," Milisen said.
Band with a purpose
While the band has been developing, members say their main focus has been on events that help the community.
Recent performances have included the Acker Musical Showcase, Acker on the Square in August, Empty Bowls, and the recent fundraiser for cancer patient Dina Mountcastle.
"We haven't really played gigs," Gall said. "It has all been for charitable reasons."
That's not to say they are averse to gigs for money - especially to help pay for needed equipment.
"We take instrument donations," James said, to laughter from her fellow band members.
Funding is not the only challenge the band faces. With 14 children between them and one more on the way, they say the logistics can get complicated.
Despite the challenges, though, the Gurley Girls say their families have been nothing but supportive. Sometimes, one of the older children even comes on stage for a song or two.
While they hesitate to put a label on their style, the Gurley Girls say their motto is best summed up on their Facebook page: "Versatile fem-folk pop rock and seasonably/festive 'tunage' with a deep desire to contribute to our community."
Posted: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Article comment by:
Kerry Johnson is the daughter of one of my best friends in college. We were part of a folk group named Whispering Winds! As her mom said, "Junior Winds?" I think it's awesome to see the next generation singing their music for fun and for others!