WEST HIGHLAND — Lu’Ann Reeder, founder of the music band G.I.N. (Girls in the Neighborhood), likes to joke, “We’re pretty good for girls.” This might seem like a politically incorrect or demeaning thing to say were it not for the reality that the “girls”—singer and guitarist Reeder, drummer Shannon Spencer and bassist Pam Osburn—all are deeply experienced and talented performers.
Last month, listeners on the patio of The Cork—32nd and Meade in West Highland—were treated to several hours of music by these women. Many of G.I.N.’s songs are from the 60s and 70s, with an occasional nod to the 50s, perhaps Buddy Holly’s “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore.” Reeder goes out of her way to play songs people like.
“If people tell me in advance of a song they love, I’ll try to work it into my show,” said Reeder.
“Young people might not know the songs,” said Spencer, “but Lu’Ann does a show to please everybody.”
The Cork performance was a special night for Reeder, celebrating her retirement from Colorado’s 1st Judicial Probation Office after 15 years as a mental health specialist/probation officer. At retirement, she was given a state flag, and in its presentation box was a letter that said “This state flag flew over the Capitol on August 1, 2016, in honor of Lu’Ann Reeder’s service.”
“I was shocked to have received that honor,” she said. “15 years ago, mental health and probation didn’t go together.”
Reeder earned a B.A. from Texas Tech University in English and History; a B.S. in Management at Regis University, while working for Coors and playing music in Central City; and a Masters in Psychology at Naropa University in Boulder. “I’m over-educated and know nothing,” she says.
Coming on the heels of a part-time professional solo singing career dating back to the early 1970s, Reeder decided in 2010 to form G.I.N. with Spencer (another Berkeley resident) and Pam Johnson. Spencer is an accomplished drummer and plays in styles ranging from classic rock and country to blues and jazz, which is her favorite type of music. Singer-songwriter Pam Osburn stepped in to play bass and provide vocal harmonies for G.I.N. after Johnson’s unexpected death in 2012.
It’s normal for Reeder to play straight through a performance that might last three hours or more. “Playing a whole night without a break is a powerful thing,” said Spencer. “When bands take a break they can lose the audience.” Reeder said she’s just getting warmed up after the first set and learning what songs folks want to hear.
Reeder is drawn to songs that carry universal meaning. “Most of the songs I perform have a message. My favorite songwriter was John Stewart, who was the banjo player for The Kingston Trio [Stewart replaced original member Dave Guard in 1961]. I don’t necessarily know what the criteria is for songs that tug at the heart, but his were among those.”
Reeder grew up in Midland, Texas, and was raised around family music. She sang in church choirs as a youth and young adult. “There was no negotiating with that,” she said. “My mother was an incredible musician—the unpaid church organist and pianist. I grew up hearing music in the house all the time.”
At the age of eleven, Reeder decided she wanted to play the guitar, but she was forced to take piano lessons. “I dreaded every moment of it,” she said. “I saved $ 18 to get my first guitar.” According to her website, lreedermusic.com, she thought it would take an eternity to get that much money. She managed the challenge by earning 25 or 50 cents for mowing the family lawn—and “tried to mow it every other day.”
“My mother fully expected I’d be playing church music, but I sang ‘Teen Angel’ in the car, over and over and over. I said, ‘Mother the song is called “Teen Angel”—it’s got the word angel in it.’”
Reeder spent every summer at their family cabin near Durango, and from the day school let out until the day before it started, she practiced her guitar. She learned to play by listening to Judy Collins, Joan Baez, and The Mamas and the Papas; later on, Bonnie Raitt and Christine McVie became primary influences.
Speaking about music of the 60s and 70s, Reeder said, “Some of that music fits perfectly today. If you listen to the words of Bob Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are A-changin’’ they still apply: ‘Come senators and congressmen, please heed the call; don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall.’ I consider much of that music timeless.”
Spencer said, “The 1960s were an intense time. Music was reflective of what was happening in the world, in politics. All of our songs still do that; that’s what music does.”
Reeder reflected on the growth of the 1960s singer-songwriter trend that grew out of a previous time when singers recorded songs composed by other writers.
“People were drawn to that music because singer-songwriters began telling stories of their own experiences. I immediately think of young Carole King who had a big hit with her ‘Tapestry’ album in the 70s. She had attached herself to [lyricist] Gerry Goffin in the early 60s and they wrote songs for other artists [the pair wrote songs for The Shirelles, The Drifters, Bobby Vee, Aretha Franklin and others]. But now she was performing her own music, not just being the creator.”
“What I like about singer-songwriters is you don’t have to have a gorgeous voice and a lot of stage presence. Today, I think a lot of people want that stimulation.”
On an early summer day in 1973, Reeder turned a bad situation into a lucky break when her car broke down in West Glenwood Springs. Across the road stood the Holiday Inn, so with guitar in hand she ventured to ask the desk manager if they needed any entertainment. He pointed out an easel with the photo of a woman pianist who played the dinner hour, 7-9 p.m., but then told her to wait while he got the inn’s owner.
Reeder said, “The innkeeper asked me if I knew any John Denver songs. I opened my guitar case and said, ‘Which one do you want to hear?’ He hired me on the spot and fired the piano player. I started that night and played for the next three months.”
Reeder plans to “retire” to her family’s cabin on Vallecito Lake, about 22 miles northeast of Durango. When not trekking between Durango and Denver to play with G.I.N., she says her “game plan is to volunteer with the forest service, specifically as a rail ranger, riding the train back and forth between Durango and Silverton. You have to know everything from ‘Is that a beaver over there or a marmot or a tree stump,’ and be able to handle questions like ‘When do deer grow into elk?’”
To contact and find out where Lu’Ann Reeder and G.I.N. will be playing next, go to www.lreedermusic.com/.
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