“IT’S LIKE A heroin addict the first time they shoot heroin,” says Kim Lenz about her debut public performance, knocking out cover tunes with friends from the University Of North Texas. “I was so overwhelmed, it was this feeling like, ‘Oh my God, this is what I’m supposed to be doing!’ I couldn’t even sleep for a week straight after that. I just knew I had to put my own band together.”
The classic rockabilly sound of Lenz’s first recording, a 45 titled Shake A Leg, caught the attention of HighTone Records. “I get this phone call, this deep voice, totally sounds fake, ‘Hi Kim, this is Larry Sloven from HighTone Records,’” she says. “I’m like, ‘What? Who is this?’ ‘No this really is Larry Sloven from HighTone Records.’ I didn’t believe him and hung up. Luckily he ended up calling me back and convincing me that he was in fact Larry Sloven from HighTone Records. He asked if I wanted to make some records for them. I was flabbergasted. My career has been somewhat accidental.
“When I started there was this club in Dallas called Bar Of Soap. The front was a bar – it was all tiled, the sound was terrible, there were booths to sit in – and in the back was a laundromat so you could do your laundry while watching a band. My goal was just to get a gig at Bar Of Soap.” Lenz released her debut album, Kim Lenz & The Jaguars, in 1998 and, apart from a break to start a family, she’s been rocking ever since. She tours every year in a van packed with vintage amps, booking her own shows. “It’s a grind. Every night and every day is different,” she says. “Sometimes you’ll play in a fancy club where they’ve got a green room and they’re super nice, and the next night you’ll play some shit-hole where they don’t even want to give you free beer.”
Her knockout performances are inspired by the artists she saw in California in the 90s, such as Dave Gonzalez of The Paladins. “He would completely throw his whole body and soul into what he was doing,” she says. “He had a couple of performances that I still think of when I go on stage sometimes. I need to throw my guts out on the floor like Dave Gonzalez.”
In pursuit of the perfect vintage recording environment, Lenz has built her own studio and established Riley Records to release her music. “I like to have full control of my vocals,” she explains. “If I want to do 25 takes, or if I want to take a day off or come back next week because I’m feeling it, that’s what I want to be able to do. I don’t want to be under pressure, ‘Okay, you have to get this right in the next 10 minutes!’ If you want to pull off a triple half-yodel like I did on one of my songs, you’ve got to have some time.”
“I got to play a few shows with Janis Martin. She was an absolute firebrand even at the older age I met her at. She was like, ‘Kim, you’ve got to be sexy! This is all about being sexy!’ She really knew what she wanted and she wasn’t worried about telling anybody either.”