EARLY IN 1997, Julia Groves was burnt out on playing drums. She craved front and center stage; she wanted to play guitar and feel the power of a Marshall stack throbbing with her sound behind her. A seasoned local player, Julia had a drumming pedigree that included noteworthy tenures with Al Perry's Cattle, Flavor Cage, and the Johnnies. But she was still gaining experience on the guitar, spending time learning harmonies and "other-than-power-chords" with the River Roses' Caitlin Von Schmidt.
In spite of her relative newness to the guitar, one would assume Julia would have no trouble putting together a new outfit. However, giving credence to the Tucson slacker stereotype, she couldn't get anyone out of the house to practice. Everyone she approached was too busy playing video games or washing the cat. She took it a little personally, but her determination to rock was unflagging.
Rather than propping up mannequins and piping in prerecorded rhythms, Julia called fellow YMCA gym mates Bonnie and Melinda Ritter. They had never played in a band before, and had no musical experience whatsoever, which, according to Julia, had its benefits. "They weren't jaded, or dope-smoking losers, and they're cute."
And they showed up for practice.
Thus Clovenhoof was born, first with Melinda on bass, and later with her sister Bonnie on drums. Julia assumed all other duties -- guitars, vocals and vision -- while teaching her new band how to play. With a basement practice space and some T-shirts, the rock and roll actually began to happen. And since then, they've come a long way.
Of those first practices, Julia groans, "It was excruciating. It was the blind leading the blind at first."
Getting started was neither smooth nor graceful. They learned three-chord covers, and Julia found her wings as band leader. She claims she was and is a tyrant in that regard, doing everything from picking and writing all the songs, to showing everyone how to play their parts -- "I would even grab the drum sticks out of Bonnie's hands and say, 'No, like this!' " -- to assigning homework: "Next week, bring photos of Loni Anderson."
Their first gig "out" was a party, and they officially debuted at the Airport Lounge in early 1997. Scared stiff in matching Charlie Brown sweaters purchased at the Casa Grande outlet mall just for the occasion, Clovenhoof chowed through their set with moms and dads beaming in the front row.
According to Bonnie and Melinda, "There were tears. We said we'd never do it again. But later we realized it can never be worse than that first show."
They were right. Since then the offers to jam have come rolling in.
IT REALLY IS about rock and roll for Julia, and all the work is worth it. "Every time I turn on that Marshall and feel this wall of distortion and feedback -- you can feel it rumbling in your guts -- I am fucking redeemed," Julia says. "Every time that happens. Every time, every time! It is an actual, visceral sensation."
Despite Julia's initial lack of success in luring musician friends to play in her band, Clovenhoof is truly a community effort, and Julia's had some interesting and fortuitous neighbors.
Former neighbor Jim Parks, the bass player for Phantom Limbs, tutored her in the art of song craft, and co-wrote many of Clovenhoof's first original songs. Parks' pop/punk sensibilities and proper melodic chord progressions gave the band a foundation in Beatles-esque pop that they later traded for balls and big riffs, once Parks moved away and the apron strings came loose. Clovenhoof started to let their musical roots show, revealing influences by Sabbath, Slayer and Stooges.
Despite their musical influences, though, Satan isn't one of the band's inspirations.
The band's name actually came about via Clif Taylor (a.k.a. Chick Cashman), another neighbor of Julia's. "You're not going to believe this dream I just had, " Clif told her one morning. "I dreamt I was doing Loni Anderson from behind, and all I could see was her big cloven hoof looking at me." Julia's mind caught hold of the image, and voilà.
Clovenhoof T-shirts featuring Loni's head on a crouching body, minus Clif, of course, are on their way. (Hence Bonnie and Melinda's aforementioned homework.)
Sex does sell, and Clovenhoof knows it, but doesn't trade on it.
They do get dressed up for shows -- and sometimes less is more -- in styles that span the spectrum from Catholic School chic to whore-of-Babylon thongs. Although Julia likes the band to look like a band, one line she has never crossed is dictating what shoes to wear; the T-bars are an option.
As women doing it for themselves, Clovenhoof feels peerless in Tucson, and truly, no local band is quite like them. However, on a national level, Clovenhoof is akin to celebs like L7, as well as other chick bands such as Austin's Morning Wood and New York's The Wives. The recent success of glam/raunch acts Nashville Pussy and the Demolition Doll Rods fuel hope for future glory, and the realization of Julia's ultimate goal: a paid tour of Japan.
But what about tours closer to home, perhaps a slot on some girl group mega-tour like the Lilith Fair?
"I'd love to play the Lilith Fair," Julia admits, "but only if we could do it wearing strap-ons. All of that estrogen overload is sick and wrong. There needs to be some cock in there too. You can be in a girl band and not be man-haters or imitators."
If you're looking for strap-on cock rock and even-sleazier-than-the-original covers of "Cherry Bomb," Clovenhoof is the band to deliver.
That's part of their appeal. They aren't Cosmo models, they aren't Juliard graduates, it's not a gimmick or a novelty act, and there are no soapboxes involved. They're simply intelligent, good-humored women with fashion flair who love to rock hard.
Clovenhoof has applied for a slot at South By Southwest, and are in the midst of arranging a California mini-tour as well as a run through the Betsey Johnson outlets in early spring. And they insisted that I mention that Suzie Schwartz is their Number One Fan.
Clovenhoof appears with Al Perry, Fish Karma, The Killing Machine and Zero to Sixty at the five-bands-for-five-bucks Holiday Bazaar on Friday, December 10, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Call 622-8848 for details.
Clovenhoof returns to the stage on Saturday, December 11, for the Radio Limbo Benefit at the Mat Bevel Institute, 530 N. Stone Ave. Call 744-8711 for information.
The band plays the Plaza Pub, 20 E. Pennington St., on Saturday, December 18. For details, call 882-0400.
For booking information, contact Angela Owen or Julia Groves, 750-0043.