Melissa Etheridge: Discover her again
Before the Internet gods gave us YouTube, rock artists—at least those who weren’t fortunate enough to fall feet-first out of the nepotism tree—were discovered the old-fashioned way: by sheer happenstance. Oh, sure, musicianship, hard work, chemistry, tenacity, patience, unwavering confidence—all have long been vital ingredients to success. But without a healthy sprinkling of right-place, right-time fortuity, many rock acts of yesteryear would labor for years in obscurity until that proverbial “big break” finally tapped them on the shoulder.
Sometimes the break would come in the form of an established artist seeing a band perform in a club and taking said band under his wing. Sometimes it would come in the form of a demo tape landing in the hands of the right DJ, or an influential critic catching a solid set and publishing a positive review in a national magazine. And sometimes it would come in the form of … a recreational women’s soccer team?
Such was the source of Melissa Etheridge’s big break.
Flashback to early 1980s Los Angeles, where Etheridge landed after dropping out of Berklee College of Music in Boston. Concluding that L.A. was the best place to launch her music career, the Kansas-born singer/songwriter made the rounds at small clubs and bars, slowly cultivating a loyal following. One night, several members of a local women’s soccer team that Etheridge had previously befriended came to see her perform at a Pasadena watering hole called Vermie’s. One of the soccer players was Karla Leopold, who reluctantly joined her teammates, ended up liking what she saw and went home with Etheridge’s demo tape … which she handed it to her husband, Bill … who just happened to be a manager in the music industry.
While Etheridge had an instant fan in Karla Leopold, the same couldn’t be said for her husband, for whom the demo tape fell flat. Then Karla convinced Bill to see Etheridge play live, and the rest is, well, you know … 14 studio albums (including Yes I Am, the 1993 breakthrough release that went six-times platinum), 15 Grammy nominations (including two wins), one Best Original Song Oscar nomination (and victory) and countless other commendations for both her artistic contributions and social activism.
Now more than three decades removed from that fateful night at Vermie’s, Etheridge endures as one of the most influential and successful female artists in rock history, her voice and sound as recognizable as any in the industry. And she shows no signs of slowing down. Although her last studio album was released in 2014, Etheridge continues to tour extensively, pulling from an eclectic catalog of hits such as “Come to My Window,” “I’m the Only One” and “I Want to Come Over.”
It’s onstage where Etheridge’s greatest attribute—at least as a performer—is on full display: the ability to connect with her audience on a seemingly one-on-one level. No matter the city or size of the venue, when Etheridge plugs in, it’s almost as though she transports herself back to her L.A. bar days, waiting to be discovered all over again.
The Pearl at Palms, 8 p.m. Sept. 9, starting at $40 plus tax and fee. 702.944.3200