Words from Isaiah led to the forming of US 'all-girl' group RACHEL RACHEL. Bryan A McAdie investigates.
Equal opportunities legislation has manifestly failed to alter the male/female ratio of trainspotters, football managers and computer game players. Budding rock instrumentalists also appear to be overwhelmingly male, which explains why successful all-women rock bands - such as the Bangles, Fuzzbox, the GoGos and Wilson Phillips - are few and far between.
In the US, the forming of the first Christian 'all-girl' group Rachel Rachel has thus aroused a lot of media interest. Does this mean that they are destined to be a novelty act? "Sure, it's a novelty being the 'all-girl band'," lead vocalist Cheryl Jewel told US journalist Bernie Sheahan. "But it's worked to our advantage...it's a unique place to be in. People come to see us because they want to see if the chicks can play."
The band play in a style that stops just short of hard rock, and have won a sizeable following Stateside. "It's to advance the kingdom of God", explained keyboard player Brynn Beltran. "If those kids who come to our concerts, buy the album, go home, listen to the words and start learning something about the father heart of God, then that's the whole point."
Rachel Rachel were founded by bassist Jennifer York, who has since moved on to pursue a career as a TV newsreader. "I had been working in Christian radio in New York and I had this prophesy from Isaiah 42:6-10, which was really pretty powerful," said Jennifer. "I felt God was telling me to drop everything and come back to California and play bass. I really felt the time was right to start an all-girl band". Partnership with manager Bob Angelotti introduced her to his secretary, Cheryl Jewel, a talented vocalist. Cheryl was a recent convert, and decided to forsake a number of secular opportunities to join Jennifer as her lead singer.
Jennifer was now aware that, even in California, professional female rock musicians would be hard to find, but the vision spurred her on. "The Lord just confirmed to me over and over again that this band was going to happen, that the players were out there." The Lord answered, and Jennifer found a lead guitarist, Heli Sterner, and a keyboard player, Brynn Beltran, both also strong vocalists. A demo interested White Heart producer Billy Smiley, and led the group to prepare material for their first album
The last piece of the jigsaw fell into place with the recruitment of drummer Jennifer 'Sparky' Sparks, and the band entered the recording studio. Although some sessioners were hired (including legendary West Coast axeman Dann Huff) it soon became apparent that the band could cut the mustard. Using their own material, and covers such as Kansas' "Carry On Wayward Son", the group made 'Way To My Heart', a first album whose quality testified to the reality of Jennifer's vision.
The band were now established, and Jennifer felt safe to leave. The remaining members could only see one replacement; Robin Spurs, who had recently left The Choir joined Rachel Rachel. Cheryl Jewel explained, "We knew Jenny was leaving long before she left...We didn't know what to do - we were verclempt! And we prayed, because we had approached Robin - she was perfect for it, but she wasn't ready to get back into music yet." Brynn Beltran explained further, "It takes so much more to be in a band like this than just to be a player. It's a calling -it's not just an ability, it's a heart and a desire, no matter how hard it gets...if God puts it in your heart, it's like the sword in the stone, it won't come out, even when you sometimes want it to! That's why Robin was perfect - she had the heart."
One evening, Brynn was listening to her answering machine messages when she heard Robin's voice saying that she would join the group. Cheryl recalled the excitement: "We were all around the phone, like, Robin Spurs called and she wants to do it! Oh my gosh! Hey Mikey! She wants to do it! She's a very intelligent woman, and she wants to do it anyway! Whoa!."
Robin explained her change of attitude thus; "Mark and I had to pray about it, and God really had to change my heart because I had gone through so much, getting out of music. It was really a mourning time after leaving The Choir...I really thought music was out of my life. I had prayed, 'God, if you want me out of music, take it off my heart.' And he did. It was like a monkey off my back - it felt so good to have a normal life. So after it's all off my heart, and I'm feeling good and walking in that, they call and then, 'oh God.' Then it was a reversal process of getting back into music."
Nelson Word have recently released their second album 'You Oughta Know By Now' (also produced by Billy Smiley), on which Cheryl Jewel takes most of the singing and writing credits. The sound keeps its hard edge, as many fans witnessed on their recent US support slot to White Heart. "The age range of people coming to our concerts is about 8 to 38", said Brynn. "It's so cool - we see parents coming up to the concession table; they've brought their kids, and they're so happy that they can encourage their kids to like something that they also like."
Most of the band are in their thirties, which Robin Spurs sees as an advantage. "See, doesn't it make sense, that this would be the time to be doing this, when we have the experience musically, spiritually, of life itself? When you're 20, you're so self-conscious, you're thinking 'oh gosh, what am I going to wear, how do I look? Praise God - we're WOMEN. We have hearts to offer kids. We can put our arms around them and say 'I love you!' instead of 'Did you like me? Was I OK on stage?' Forget that! The stage stuff is just the vehicle. Where the rubber hits the road is where we can say 'What's your name? Where do you go to school?' Now's the time! We're here. Use us Jesus, for your glory. Use us in our 30s, in our 40s."
The focus for after-gig attention is Brynn. "They just gravitate to Brynn like a magnet", said Cheryl. "I don't know why," interrupted Brynn. "When we do a full concert, I tell my story, so I understand why kids come up to me and want to talk. But, on the White Heart tour, we do 30-35 minutes, and I don't say a word, but they still come up to me afterwards." The band's members can share many of the kid's problems. Brynn was released from cocaine addiction when she was 24, and credits Amy Grant's 'Straight Ahead' for nurturing her. "I was very alone when I first became a Christian. Somebody gave me a tape of this chick and I listened to it in my car. It helped me know who God was." Brynn, Cheryl and Robin have also each experienced divorce, with Cheryl and Robin now married again to Christian husbands. (The song "Time (I Will Still Love You)" was written by Cheryl in appreciation for her husband).
"We are the essence of what we've been through," said Robin, stating the main prerequisite of effective witnessing to Christ. She also summarised the band's raison d'être. "I think for all us women, the bottom line is...we want God's will in our life. That's why we're here." Initial interest in Rachel Rachel may be primarily the novelty factor, but their mastery of AOR rock and their passionate heart for teenage ministry combine in a formidable testimony to the power of Jesus Christ to change our lives.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.