Thursday, March 10, 2016

Music Box: Annette Zilinskas

Longtime readers know I am a Bangles fanatic, dating back to their 1982 EP that featured original bassist Annette Zilinskas, a delicate blonde of Lithuanian and Scandinavian ancestry from the Van Nuys section of the Valley. 

Although I embraced her replacement, Michael Steele -- "Following" is arguably the Bangles' best original song, and "Glitter Years" isn't too far behind -- I always wondered what became of the quiet girl on the bass, who looked like a 1950s Hollywood starlet someone discovered in the basement of the Masque. I recall hearing she'd left the Bangles for a band called Blood on the Saddle, but back in those high-school days money was tight -- and YouTube didn't exist -- so I was never willing to take the risk and buy the group's debut album that came out in 1984, just as the Bangles put out their first LP. That "Blood on the Saddle" was distributed by a small label meant it wasn't always readily available, so the planets never seemed to aligned for me to even buy it as an impulse purchase when the babysitting gigs were coming fast and furious. As a result, my love affair with Annette sort of became a New Wave footnote, with fond memories whenever I heard her play the harmonica on "How Is the Air Up There?"

The Bangs get a "temporary" bassist

and harmonica player

The Bangs became the Bangles ...

when it was discovered another band had already laid claim to the name ...

The Beach Girls

The girls go cruising with Rodney Bingenheimer of KROQ

EP promo

And then Dick Clark came calling ...

 Performing "Want You" on "American Bandstand" (March 26, 1983) 

Annette really wants to be your girl 

Decades later, Annette would still occasionally enter my mind. In fact, I was at a Susanna Hoffs and Matthew Sweet show at City Winery in 2009 when their backup band was having some technical difficulties, which led Sid 'n' Susie to doing an impromptu Q&A with the audience. I immediately asked Susanna if she had kept in touch with Annette, to which she smiled and said sort of wistfully, "No. I'm not really sure what ever became of her." 

With that in mind, imagine my surprise the other night when I stumbled upon a video of the Bangles performing at the Whisky in 2014 -- when their rarities LP came out that included that eponymous EP -- featuring none other than Annette Zilinskas on harmonica! From the looks of things, everyone -- including Susanna -- was overjoyed to have the old group back together again. (I'm guessing the Petersen sisters did, in fact, keep in touch with her -- she and Vicki seem very chummy.) Annette looks radiant and sounds like a day hadn't gone by.

But this opened the YouTube (and later Spotify) floodgates for me, and imagine how surprised I was to discover that "Blood on the Saddle" was indeed worth the $8.99 back in the day, and then some. 

AllMusic gives "Blood on the Saddle" four stars.

Although the debut is light on Annette -- something I had feared all along as I knew she had been added to a group that already had a male singer -- the band sounds like the love child of X and Lone Justice, and her starring moments give Maria McKee a run for her money.

"(I Wish I Was a) Single Girl (Again)" is the standout track, but the songs where she sings with founder Greg Davis -- with whom she appears to have been romantically involved back in the day -- are exhilarating as well, and have been described as making John Doe and Exene Cervenka sound like Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, which isn't entirely untrue.

The two albums that followed -- "Poison Love" (1985) and "Fresh Blood" (1987)  make better use of Zilinskas.

But after three LPs and little mainstream success, the band called it a day (until reforming without her in 1993).

After leaving Blood on the Saddle, Zilinskas was a member of a six-person group called the Ringling Sisters, none of whom were sisters or named Ringling (two of them were dudes!). The group started out as a collective of sorts for artists who were in other bands but wanted another outlet without all the commitment -- Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blond was a founding member -- but became a "real" band by the time Annette joined. Just got their one LP -- 1990's "60 Watt Reality," produced by the great Lou Adler -- and it's difficult to see why it wasn't a hit in the era of Melissa Etheridge and Alannah Myles as it builds on the alt-country influence Zilinskas mastered with Blood on the Saddle plus adds a nice touch of blues and some spoken word! (The band was quoted as calling their sound "punk rock with a smile.")

Although Annette again shares vocal duties, the band has a winning Lone Justice (but this time) by way of Memphis feel, with a brainy splash of Throwing Muses and Slow Children, propelled by lyrics like "the kind of eyes that stare back at you from a milk carton," According to the L.A. Times, Zilinskas then led a band called Weatherbell, although it doesn't appear they ever released anything. I sent Annette a message on Facebook last night to see if she'd be up for a chat (I'm dying to hear about her reunion with the Bangles!). Will let you know if she's game or if she's too busy living in the real world ... 

From the vault:

(Gifs via Bang Go the Bangles.)


Some exciting news: After a few guest appearances, Annette has (officially) rejoined the Fab Four! For a number of years after her replacement, Michael Steele, opted to retire the gals employed Derrick Anderson and at one point Abby Travis, who you may recall filled in for Kathy Valentine following her injury and subsequent ouster from the Go-Go's. What a blast seeing the lovely Lithuanian in action again after all this time. More photos and details HERE and HERE.

Longtime fans will recall Annette was the only person who responded to Sue's ad in the Recycler back in the day. When Sue eventually hooked up with the Peterson sisters, they already had a bassist (Amanda Hills). It was only when Hills left for grad school did Annette join the band, once known as the Colours, Supersonic Bangs, Bangs and then eventually Bangles!

P.S. Speaking of former bass players:

Amanda Hills Podany (now a Ph.D.) has also occasionally reunited with the band on stage, bringing the whole story full circle! Read HERE.

Read all Music Box posts HERE.


Unknown said...

She reunited with The Bangles at the Arroyo Seco Concert & the concert in Pershing Square in Los Angeles. I believe she came back to the Bangles,& hopefully she'll be a permanent member once again. I too, love Annette, & I think she will restore the garage rock edge they once had, but lost when fame & fortune came calling.

Unknown said...

I love Annette Zilinksas too, I was happy she rejoined her old band The Bangles, I hope she's a permanent fixture. I hope she restores their garage rock edge.

Louis E. said...

She was with them at the '80s Weekend show in January and I hope will be in the lineup at the Like Totally Festival in Huntington Beach in May.