Courtesy of Blue Bonnets
When Kathy Valentine was last in Cleveland in fall 2021, she was being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with her band the Go-Go's. When the Austin resident returns to Rock Hall today, she'll be playing a show with her other rock band, the Bluebonnets, a self-described "glam/garage/blues/rock" quartet with a penchant for multi-part harmonies and a ferocious live show.
The members of the Bluebonnets live in different places and are all busy with other endeavors — guitarist Eve Monsees owns Austin's Antone’s Record Shop and drummer Kristy McInnis works in L.A. doing TV post-production — which means getting together for rehearsals and shows takes more planning. Still, the Bluebonnets have landed opening slots for the Smashing Pumpkins, Arc Angels, the Waterboys and the Toadies, and they recently backed Ray Wylie Hubbard for a song on his recent album.
"It's been hard for us to devote single-mindedly to the band," Valentine says. "Maybe that’s been the missing link in being super-successful, but we’ve been really happy with some of the opportunities. We’ve gotten to open up for some cool bands and people really enjoy hiring us for private events and stuff. It’s like, 'Oh, [you’re] all females.' It's still a big deal," she says with a laugh.
Valentine and the Go-Go's are still touring on occasion, and she also released a critically acclaimed memoir, All I Ever Wanted
, in 2020. As for the Bluebonnets show, Valentine promises the band have worked up a Beatles cover (among other things), which should kick the weekend off right.
"We have so much material that we can kind of form fit our set to [any situation]," she says. "We have so many influences. Like, if we’re playing with Smashing Pumpkins, we’ll just tilt and skew the set different ways."
Give a little capsule history of how the Bluebonnets came together.
It’s a little convoluted. After the Go-Go’s broke up in ‘85, I was really unsure of my musical roots again, and was trying different things and trying to find my musical identity. It took until about ‘91, ‘92. I kind of thought, “Wait a minute, I’m from Texas, this is what got me excited about music.” So many of the bands that I loved just started out playing the basic stuff and became the [Rolling] Stones or the Yardbirds or the Faces and everything. I thought, “I’m just going to start a little blues band."
In L.A., I put together the Bluebonnets and we did really, really well. We did so well that we were actually approached by record companies when we weren’t even trying to do that. It morphed into something else, a trio that we rechristened the Delphines.
And then I became a mom and moved back to Texas. When I was in Texas, I met Eve Monsees, who was a fabulous guitar player. She was this young, great, amazing guitar player. I asked her if she would be interested in working together and she said, “Yeah.” Because she just plays all of the time.
I called Dominique [Davalos], who I’d had the Bluebonnets with in L.A., and I said, “Hey, come out and do a gig with us.” It kind of made sense, because the bluebonnet is the Texas state flower, so we thought, “Well, let’s just do the Bluebonnets in Texas,” rather than start with a whole new name. Basically, it came out of the ashes of an early ‘90s L.A. band.
I like that, because then it spans the eras and the geography and there’s so much of that in the music too when you listen to it.
Oh yeah, I mean, we love everything from Howlin’ Wolf to Iggy Pop. It’s like that synthesis of kind of thrashy, garage, glam, blues — everything. I think we call it glitter-blues sometimes.
There’s so many young bands now that are kind of starting to do that sound. But for a while, it was going in and out of vogue.
We’ve been doing it steady. The crazy thing is, we have really, really good songs. A lot of them, they have just withheld the test of time. I mean, the timing for this band has always been kind of off in some strange way. There were times in the past where I’d be like, “God, I can’t believe this band is not super-successful. It’s just such a cool rock and roll band.” Then I kind of just stopped worrying about it. I was just like, “Whatever!” [Laughs.] It’s just fun. It’s fun for all of us. We have good songs and it’s really been great for me to have musical outlets.
I’m also trying to do more of my own thing. After I wrote my book, I realized, “God, everything I’ve done for my entire musical career has been to try to push a band forward." So I’m trying to do more things on my own in terms of just having some fun with music and stuff. But the band is a great outlet [with] great musicians. It’s always been a nice balance to the lack of work that the Go-Go’s have done. I mean, I’ve always thought of myself as a career musician, a working musician. But the Go-Go’s don’t work. The Bluebonnets don’t really make a living, but at least I can play and grow as a musician and have that outlet.
You mentioned your own music. With your book, you released songs for each chapter.
That was probably the most creative, fun thing I’ve ever made as a musician. Because most of my music career has been about being in a band. Which means you don’t always get to get your way, you know?
It wasn’t until I made my solo record [2005's Light Years
]…which I didn’t ever really want to do, but I was kind of bored. I was pregnant and I wasn’t playing. But doing it was really good for my confidence. Because it was the first time — even though I’d been so enormously successful in the Go-Go’s, it was the first time, at age 30, that I was like, “Oh my God, I’m really good.” [Laughs] "My ideas are good." Like, just because someone in a band goes, “No, I don’t want to do it that way,” doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea.
That’s one of the things that when I mentor people and talk to young artists, I say, “Get to that place sooner.” Always find a place where you can learn to start trusting your judgment and using your judgment. Because that’s what all art is. You know that, whether it’s writing or painting or creating something musically, it’s like, “What are my choices?” Am I going to leave this in? Am I going to take it out? The more you give yourself a chance to do that, the more you start developing your style and becoming the artist that you are. Doing that record was life-changing for me in terms of confidence and recognizing what my talent was.
The long answer, getting back to the soundtrack, what was so fun about that, was that not only did I get to do anything I wanted, but I didn’t even have to follow the conventions of songwriting. Because it was a soundtrack, I could have a chorus or not have a chorus. I could just do a beat or a bass groove or just pull some lines from the book and then rework them in a more lyrical or rhythmic way. I mean, I could just do whatever I wanted.
It was really liberating and really fun, just to sit down and have no idea. [I’d] just go through the chapters and go, “Hmmm, ‘Queen Bees,’” and then go, “What would I want to capture with this? Oh, well, I want to capture kind of a real rock and roll feel and the exuberance and the hope.” I would just start trying to come up with music that represented what I felt was the theme behind the chapter. So it was just this cross-pollination of prose and what I’d written, taking that, and trying to express it musically. It was so fun.
I was going to say, that’s so amazing. It’s intimidating to say, “Okay, I have a blank slate,” but also, “I don’t know where I want to go.” That’s so cool.
My dream next is to do a collection of literary short stories where each one has a soundtrack. I mean, I liked it that much. Plus, you know, not every writer can do that. Not every writer can express musically what they wrote. I’m a big believer in, “Hey, if you can do something, do it.” You know, whatever gives you a little bit of uniqueness to what you do.
Now that you are a couple of years removed from the publication of the memoir, then how do you feel you've grown as a writer from doing that?
Well, I’m just really proud. I think I’ll always be proud of the accomplishment. I also feel really grateful because I had a book deal. Most writers don’t write a book knowing that it’s going to get published. I had the best circumstance and motivation that any writer could possibly hope for. Like, now, I don’t have a book deal. I find it a lot harder to get the discipline and the direction. You know what I mean? It’s like, “Ooh, do I write a short story, or should I write another memoir? What should I do?” So, I’m really grateful to have experienced writing a book, just knowing that it was going to get published. It was just a really great thing and I’m just proud of it.
I mean, I still do book events and I’ll go through and pull excerpts. I do what I call flash reading because I don’t really like long, author-reading-from-book things. I’ll do these flash readings and do multimedia around it with images and stuff. Each time, I’m like, “Wow, this is really good.” And I get feedback still. You know, every day, I get something from social media from someone that’s just read the book and how it affected them or resonated. It’s just kind of the gift that keeps giving.
I loved your book especially because it’s the story of a woman in music, talking about her experiences. You get so many memoirs from male musicians, and there aren’t enough of them by women.
Yeah, and also, even some of the ones by women don’t really go so much into how important music was to them. It’s more like telling their story or their grievances or their angst or this or that. I really enjoy seeing women expressing, in a literary way, how music shaped them and moved them and helped them move through life.
We’re almost a year out from the Go-Go’s Rock Hall induction. Do you have any different perspective on it now that you’ve had some distance from it?
Well, it remains probably the pinnacle of my entire musical life. I rank it up there with one of the best things ever. It’s not up there with my wedding day or having a baby, but it’s in its own little category. It does feel really good. I mean, it makes a difference in how I feel. It’s crazy. I do think about it. I do some days go, “Wow, I’m in the fucking Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.” [Laughs]
It makes me pickier too. I remember, my poor band, we got offered this gig and I was like, “I’m not doing that, I’m in the Rock Hall.” [Laughs] It has made me a little pickier in terms of, like, how far I want to drive for how much money. [Laughs]
You do you get to a certain point where you can say, "I'm at a certain place in my career. I don't have to do that." I think there's a lot of times people get afraid to say no sometimes, because you're like, "What if something never comes around the corner again?"
Yeah, well, and plus, I don’t like to disappoint the band. I’m not an elitist at all. I mean, I’m happy to go play [a] funky couple sets of rock and roll. It’s definitely not about that. But it’s just a matter of, like…sometimes, I’m just a little pickier about driving to another city and having to drive back after the set and all of that.
The Bluebonnets and openers Jane Lee Hooker, play at 8 tonight at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
. Tickets are $15 for the show, and $35 with museum admission.