Stay-at-home moms have come a long way since June Cleaver hummed contentedly while she baked meatloaf and ironed socks for Ward and The Beave. Four suburban Detroit moms have traded in their aprons and vacuums for drumsticks and electric guitars to form Candy Band, a jammin' girl-group that jacks up the volume on kiddie tunes and motherhood. "I'm totally the anti-June Cleaver -- I hate baking cookies and making crafts," says Paula Messner, 40, who formed the band in 2003 with three friends she met at the local YWCA, all of whom have children under age seven. "I wanted to rebel against that perfect happy homemaker role and use my love of rock ‘n roll to make cool music for kids and their parents."
Paula had been playing guitar in girl-groups with names such as Motor Dolls and Vertical Pillows for 20 years before she took a hiatus from the stage for a star-turn as the mother of two daughters, Charlotte and Rebecca, now ages six and three. "We would hear guys with guitars singing these saccharine-sweet songs at the library or kids' festivals, and I knew I could do so much better," Paula recalls. "I started thinking about other moms I knew who were funny and energetic, and the idea of an all-mom band singing kids' music with a punk twist started to gel."
Her first target band member was Tammy Ristau, an aerobics instructor at the Y and mother of Emma, age four, and Zachary, age eight. "Paula asked me to be the drummer for purely logistical reasons -- she knew my husband, Russ, plays in a band and has a drum set I could use," jokes 40-year-old Tammy, who had no music experience. The next recruit was Anita Kelly, 36, who was in Tammy's aerobics class with Paula and had a bass collecting dust in her attic. By May 2003, Paula was teaching her fellow moms how to riff on standard children's tunes -- such as "Twinkle, Twinkle" and "Itsy Bitsy Spider" -- and give them an updated edgy ‘tude.
"We were pretty horrible at first," laughs Anita, whose children are Katina, age three, and nine-year-old Aidan. "Paula was so patient, showing us how to play the basic chords and encouraging us to loosen up and let our inner rock stars out. But I think there were times she was fighting the urge to stick her fingers in her ears!"
The first few rehearsals were more like play dates, with the kids finding their own amusement while their moms were trying to find a G-chord. After one make-believe cleaning session when Tammy found all of her silverware dumped into a makeshift dishwasher, the toilet, and another time when her walls were "polished" with moisturizer, they moved rehearsal to the Y. That's when Daniela Burckhardt, a daycare provider at the Y who watched the kids while their moms jammed, came into the picture.
"I'd hear them practicing and they sounded like they were having so much fun that I wanted to hang with them," says Daniela, a 30-year-old mother of three -- Edwina, age four, and two-year-old twins Noah and Julian -- with electric red hair and a killer Swiss accent. "One day, I made some suggestions for how to sing a few songs, and we all really clicked together. Before I knew it, I was the lead singer!"
Candy Band's first gig was at Zachary's seventh birthday party in July 2003, but they soon found that adults liked their pumped up versions of nostalgic childhood favorites, such as "Winnie the Pooh" and the theme song to "Scooby Doo", as much as the kids. By the end of the summer, they were getting calls to play gigs at Detroit-area schools, festivals and even the occasional nightclub. On one surreal evening, about eight months after they began playing together, the patrons of a bar where bikers hang out where singing along to a revved up rendition of "The Wheels on the Bus."
"I was thrilled by our quick success, but I had lots of fears about how my marriage would change as I came out of my shell," recalls Tammy. "Russ has had to pick up more of the housework, and he's wavered between being supportive and thinking I'm slouching on my household duties. At the same time, all of my band-mates were going through the same issues so we developed a really tight bond."
So, how do these hot mamas get their act together? "We work as a team, so it's rarely stressful," Anita explains. "Paula does our booking, Daniella is the bookkeeper, Tammy makes a lot of the flyers and I work on the web site. The toughest part is packing the kids in the car and driving to the gigs, but once we're there and playing a show everything runs pretty smoothly -- our kids hang out together, and everyone has a great time."
By fall 2003, Candy Band was quickly gaining speed. They recorded their first CD, "Candy Band." in November and their original tune, "Ken Lost His Head," (as in Barbie's beau) was soon receiving airplay on a nationwide satellite radio station for kids.
"Suddenly we were celebrities with all of these pint-sized fans," Anita says. "I was registering Katina at preschool and a group of little girls were staring at me. ‘Are you in Candy Band?' they asked with these big saucer eyes!"
Even Tammy's husband, Russ, has become a hard-core fan. He recently sat in for her as the band's drummer while she was on a girlfriend's getaway weekend, and she caught him bragging to his friends about what a great drummer his wife is. "Being in a band has brought a new kind of intimacy to our marriage -- Russ will jam on the guitar while I play drums," Tammy explains. "And it's really funny when the kids start yelling at us to turn down our loud music!"
Daniela adds, "We all knew each other before, but weren't close friends -- I wouldn't necessarily have thought we would be. Paula's a wild rocker, Tammy was raised a nice proper Catholic girl, Anita is cool and quiet -- she couldn't care less about being in the newspaper or anything -- and I'm pretty bubbly. But the band brought together these very different personalities and somehow it works."