Twinkle At Spirit Ranch by Graham Forbes
As anyone who reads the Sarasota Post knows, prices for gigs these days rarely leave much change out of 100 bucks – and that’s for a binocular-view of stars wheeling through town on corporate big-stage tours. Back in the day, labels regarded tours as loss leaders, just a way of pumping up record sales, something their artistes had to do whether they liked it or not. Now that a download of a hit single costs much the same as a Fart App, rock stars need serious ticket revenue to cover the taxes on their Malibu homes, or just to make the next payment on their kids’ school fees. Times are tough.
It’s much worse for unsigned bands: most play for what they find in their tip jar. The old joke about a musician being someone who loads $20,000 worth of equipment into a $2000 car to drive 200 miles to a gig paying $20 is painfully true.
So when a local unsigned band charges $100 a head and immediately sells out their show, you know something special is happening. And at Spirit Ranch Recording studios, way out in the backwoods and dirt roads beyond Myakka, something very special did happen last Wednesday night.
Schascle Yochim (pronounced Chess-cell), and best known as Twinkle, is something of an enigma in Sarasota. A local girl, daughter of the late Buddy Yochim (a Cajun hell-raiser and former Allman Brothers tour manager) she inherited the musical talent of the wild side of her family (Dwight Yoakam is a distant cousin) but, mercifully, the gentleness of her mother who is a writer. When she was in her 20s, she signed to Warner in what was their biggest ever new-artiste deal – she was this close to national stardom, but somehow just missed the ship. Since then she’s sung with many well-known faces – Rod Stewart, Steve Tyler and her hero Paul Rogers – as well as touring much of the known world with Dickey Betts.
The thing is a band has to make a record sooner or later. The crowds that come to see them want to share the music, like to listen to it again when they are far from home. Tourists wandering in on a Twinkle gig want something to take home to their friends, let them hear for themselves the great band they’re raving about. But making a record is expensive, especially without the backing of a serious label. And there are few of them around, unless you are a teenage poster-kid singing nursery-rhyme pop.
The solution? Invite your friends and fans, ask for $100 contribution to the costs, lay on a live gig and party out at Spirit Ranch. And to make sure it’s recorded properly have Grammy-Award producers Jerry Jordan (Madonna, Fleetwood, Rod, Sheryl Crow) and Bud Snyder (Allman Bros, Greg Allman, Dickey Betts) behind the desk. A few words on Facebook and the gig was sold out.
Let’s have a look at what we have here. Tony Le Clerc, Twinkle’s half-brother (also a child of Buddy Yochim), plays bass, powering the band forward with thundering riffs. He’s a big guy, big hands, rock-star good looks and with drummer Troy Parrish keeps the band steady as a 3-engine locomotive. Troy is well known here in town. Think of the top local rock bands that have packed the bars here over the years and he’s probably been on the kit. Guesting tonight on keys is Nashville and MTV veteran Bill Vincent, who knows exactly when to let fly and when to hold steady. On guitar, Lenny Brooks plays with breath-taking skill, his face contorting wildly as his fingers swoop and soar all over the fretboard. He and Tony have played together since they were young touring musicians opening for bands such as Ramones and Cheap Trick, and in stadiums across the country for just about every metal band of the 80’s. At either side of Twinkle they loom over her, looking like two grizzly bears; everyone loves them.
The crowd knows the songs the band is recording tonight. Straight from the stage onto the album, they’ve heard them live at gigs around town. They’ve heard them for free many times yet were happy to pay to be part of this special night. And here’s the thing: most modern records are cluttered full of samples and extra instruments and noises all clamouring to be heard. What we’re hearing now is exactly what will be on the record. No additives, just pure music as it’s being played here tonight. This is talent.
The studio is like an old barn. It feels like great music has been recorded here and that it has seeped into the Persian-style rugs on the floor and the wooden walls around us. It’s set up like a small venue: tight stage at one end, chairs downstairs for those who were fast enough to grab them. It’s sauna-hot and the good folks looking down from the balcony must be melting – no aircon here, not even an open door to let a breeze in. Nobody wants the sound of whirring fan-blades on the record, or the full-moon howl of the farm dogs outside.
The band’s original songs are riff-rich like all classic rock tracks should be, just as the good Lord intended. From the anthem-like Everything’s Alright, which everyone sings like a huge family party, to the crushing power of Rock Is Love when she asks the crowd “can I get a witness?” they wave their hands in the air like the congregation in a small-town church. Hell yeah. Then the vitriolic Psycho Barbie, a new song about, well…This being the Rock Soul Radio family they know who Twinkle is talking about. Tony and Lenny play together like brothers; in a way I guess they are.
But there’s another side to Twinkle, something that really sets her apart. She has this unique talent for making cover songs sound completely different. Like Respect. Aretha Franklin sang it her way and it’s great, of course, but Twinkle takes it and turns it from a dignified soul groove to a blues wail unlike any other singer I’ve ever heard. Aretha quietly asks for respect; Twinkle demands it, pleads for it and finally screams for it in one long agonised note, her slender body quivering with emotion. Every woman here tonight knows what she is talking about.
She slips into a softer side, the old Temptations hit, Just My Imagination. When she sings it, she somehow makes it sound wistful and gentle. Great as the original was, Twinkle breathes new life into it, it’s even better than the record – it just has more meaning somehow. I’ve heard her do this with other songs and I can’t explain it. She just does it. As someone said, “when Twinkle sings, life makes sense”.
Then, just before the end, Twinkle’s beautiful and very pregnant daughter Monique joins the band to sing. Her voice harmonising beautifully, the way only families can sound. It’s a tender moment. Everyone stares at mother and daughter; this is the type of moment that happens too rarely in life; this is real music.
When the sweat-drenched crowd emerged into the cool night, we knew we had been part of a very special event, part of a great recording. And the one question everyone was asking? “When will the album be out?”
Graham Forbes is a rock n roll author from the United Kingdom. He has 3 books in print and has written for major music papers and national titles in the United Kingdom.
Photos by Vicky Sullivan, Rock The Lens Photography