One of Tacoma's most popular bands, Junkyard Jane, turns 20 this year; and Immanuel Presbyterian Church, located 901 N. J St., will celebrate with a special anniversary installment of its Blues Vespers series, which will kick off at 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19.
Primary songwriters “Billy Stoops and Leanne Trevelyan are great songwriters with their own projects, but they always come home to Junkyard Jane, bringing with them the new twists and turns they've learned apart,” says Rev. Dave Brown, who books acts for the Vespers series. “Billy and Leanne are leaders in the Tacoma music scene, always eager to lend a hand and a voice for a good cause. I am excited to present this anniversary Vespers, and am very pleased to call this band and its members friends.”
The show is free, though IPC collects donations for its performers; www.ipctacoma.org for further details. Earlier this week, Stoops looked back at his band's first two decades.
Tacoma Weekly: Take me back to the beginning? Is the band how you met Leanne?
Billy Stoops: I actually met Leanne when she showed up at a jam that I was running out in Woodinville - in 1996, I think. We kind of hit it off, and I asked her to do a show with me. I always wanted to work with a percussionist, and I always wanted to work with a female vocalist. Then, all of a sudden, there were both of them in one person. So I got her to do a show, just an acoustic show with me. It turned out really good, and we started doing some shows together.
There was this band Cobalt Hook that she had been working with. Then my band was The Generators. The original incarnation of Junkyard Jane, which I was part of a little bit, was kind of an all female band. We had all these projects going, and we decided right around the fall of '97 that we were gonna play a festival. We said, “Look, we need to get rid of all three of these projects and just have one band.” So we took players from all those bands and put together what became Junkyard Jane.'
TW: But, like you were saying, there was an earlier incarnation.
Stoops: It was a little side project that we had that was called Junkyard Jane. We thought it was a good band name, and that's kind of how it got started. Then through the years there have been so many great musicians that have passed through the band. Our original horn player, Sue Orfield, was a awesome. Then Randy Oxford and Jim King. We worked with some great drummers. Barb's (bassist Blue) has pretty much always been there except for a short stint where we were based out of Kentucky (where Stoops's drawl comes from. The band was based in Louisville from 2003 to 2007.)
TW: The description you hear most about you guys is “swamp-a-billy blues.” Tell me about the original concept for the band and how the music has evolved over the years.
Stoops: While we played a lot of blues, we weren't really what you would call a blues band; but we played a lot of swampy stuff where Leanne had a washboard and stuff like that. What happened with us is we got this really diverse sound that really wasn't like anybody else. It was somewhat unique, and yet no matter if you were a blues lover, a jazz lover, a country lover, a rock lover – whatever – there was something in that band that would win you over and that you liked.
TW: When did you first realize there was a creative spark between you and Leanne? And what has allowed the partnership to flourish for 20 years like that?
Stoops: I have such a respect for her vocal ability. She's a great singer. Her voice is incredible. She can harmonize with anybody, and her voice with mine just makes everything I do sound incredible. But she's also a very intuitive percussionist. That gets really passed by a lot. She's really underrated in that arena because she knows exactly what percussion instrument to put where. Sometimes it's just one little thing in a song that will accent something that, if it's not there, the song doesn't make sense. She's amazing in that regard. Everything just melds really well with us.
TW: Leanne was telling me you're doing a bigger show later this year. What other events do you have planned to commemorate the anniversary?
Stoops: We've got different festivals we're doing through the summer. We'll be having some guests, like we'll have Jim King with us or Randy with us – other people that have been through the band. Our goal – and we're still putting everything together – is to do a 20th anniversary showcase in Tacoma. We're still working with a couple of different people to try and put that together.