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.

JamieBangle said...

Annette actually recorder her first studio album with the Bangles since the original EP she did back in 1983. The four original Bangles did the 3X4 Paisley album. She still plays with the Bangles the rare times they perform. One of the best Concerts the Bangles have done in 20 years is on Youtube. Bangles 2019 from Kaaboo. Highly suggested for everyone to watch. The four ladies sound and play amazing. She's also been in a band called "Medicine" for ten years. She was very close with Vicki and has become good friends with Sue, since she came back on stage in 2014.

JamieBangle said...

The problem a lot of people don't know for Annette was, she had Blood on the Saddle going on at the same time as The Bangles. She loved the band, but Blood on the Saddle was getting a record deal. She was the lead singer of the band and her boyfriend played guitar. The problem lies with an interview Susanna gave on the subject. The Bangles had been discovered and Bruce Springsteen and his A&R guy at Columbia records decided to fly out to LA and see them perform the Magic Mountain concert in March of 1983. After the concert, he introduced himself to them. This is what led the Bangles to getting their first big record deal with Columbia. That meant Annette had to make a choice. If you ever wondered why the songs on "All over the Place" sound so different, it's because they were already written and being performed by the band. Annette helped create some of those bass lines. So that different 60's rock and roll sound the band had in the early days, was in part through Annette. Anyway, she had a decision to make. Vicki Peterson had a roommate at the time named Michael Steele, who use to play for the Runaways. Vicki said she kept asking everyday, what's going on with the band? How are things working out? Something Michael herself said was hints that she wanted in. Annette decided to leave for Blood in the Saddle. Her band and her boyfriend would break up about five years later. She once again experienced the same problem in the early 90's. She was part of the band, "The Ringling Sisters" but she was also wanted as the lead singer for a new band named "Medicine". Irony right. She couldn't get out of her contractional obligation with "The Ringling Sisters". This meant "Medicine" had to go another route on lead singer. After she broke up with them though, she went back to "Medicine" and is still a member today. But that's not the only band she went back to. Annette finally successfully got to be in two bands at once, when She got the call asking if she could come back for a concert to play a song in 2014 with the new Bangles LP release of "Ladies and Gentlemen the Bangles". Both Susanna Hoffs and Annette confirm in recent interview, this led to her playing more old songs for different concerts when they were in California over the next two years. When they played the second time at the WHisky A Go GO in 2016, the chemistry was way too good. Not only was it great on stage, they had all become best friends again. Sue officially asked her after this show if she would just come back and do all the Bangles shows with them. Annette accepted, but said it would take time to learn all the songs that she didn't play. The ones when Michael became the bass player. 2018 is the official year of her return, but she's now in two bands again. Medicine and the Bangles. You can find interviews with Annette and one from Susanna on YouTube. The Susanna interview can be found with "The Produced like a pro" and the Annette interview can be found with "Performance Anxiety"

JamieBangle said...

Just one more update on Annette, she gave one of the greatest interviews ever on her life and shared some great stories on the Bangles and her career. Paisley Stage, Raspberry & Rhyme episode #25 takes about an hour and 20 minutes with Annette. She told some great early Bangles stories, including a near plane crash that almost killed all the Bangles, her career that included being in 3 bands at one time, animation producer for the Simpsons, and reuniting with both The Bangles and Medicine. It's a must listen for any Annette or Bangles fan. Some of those early stories with the Bangles are just amazing.