Texas rockabilly queen Kim Lenz won't say she's on a mission from God. But her particular line of work as an over-the-top evangelist of the music of Carl Perkins and Gene Vincent is closer to a religious calling than the former psychology student once might have imagined. The native of Southern California was a music minor at the University of North Texas five years ago when she underwent her conversion to a life of sweaty stage work and endless road trips.
"I met some people that played music at school, and on a lark I said, ‘Come on over to the house and we'll practice and see if we can make a band,'" says Lenz, 30, from her home in Dallas. "I could not sleep for a week after the first time I performed live in front of people. I knew this was supposed to be what I was doing. I never had felt that way about anything in my life.
"People talk about [performing] as if it were something that they're meant to do," she explains. "I always thought that was a bunch of hooey. But it hit me over the head like a ton of bricks."
That's also the effect that Lenz invariably has on listeners, including a Rolling Stone critic who dubbed her a female reincarnation of Elvis.
The red-maned singer, backed by her three pompadour-topped pals, first strutted her stuff on a four-track EP released in 1996. Last year, she went all the way, growling, hiccuping and bopping her vocals over twangy hollow-bodied guitars, string bass and a sparse trap-set backbeat on the band's eponymously titled debut album on HighTone Records.
The disc, recorded live to one-track tape for an authentic mono sound, is raw, rocking stuff. Eleven originals are joined by "The Swing," by '50s rockabilly pioneer Johnny Carroll, the Miller Sisters' "Ten Cats Down" and "You Made a Hit," originally a Ray Smith single on Sun Records.
Lenz got her Perkins jones from her father, who was also fond of Roy Orbison, and as a teen-ager, she tuned into X and the Blasters. After relocating to Los Angeles in 1989 she began hanging around the roots-music scene that spawned Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys and the Royal Crown Revue. Her love of rockabilly soon extended to practitioners such as Charlie Feathers, Johnny Horton and Faron Young.
"There's just something really infectious about rockabilly," she says. "It's like the big bang of every kind of rock & roll that's happened in the world. It's kind of like the flashpoint. Everybody that listens to it can relate to it. I like the simplicity of rockabilly. I like the passion of it. It's such an emotional music, it's right on the edge. It really was the punk rock of the '50s."