By Steve Brennan
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By New Times Staff
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Fishenfeld credits Clemons with a significant part of that maturation process. The two first crossed paths while Fishenfeld was still playing with Pamela Stanley, a Vegas-trained pianist who gave the violinist her first break one year after she moved from Buffalo to South Florida. The owner of the Palm Beach nightspot 251 (where Stanley's band had been performing) invited Fishenfeld to sit in on the drummer auditions Clemons was holding for his new band.
What Fishenfeld didn't know was that Clemons wanted to add another piece to the group. Though he wasn't specifically looking for a violin player, he nonchalantly turned to Fishenfeld, who was sitting in the back of the club, and said, "So, I hear you play a little fiddle?" When she hit the stage and added a raunchy blues solo to the classic "Summertime," Clemons was sold.
"She reminded me of myself when I was younger with her energy and approach to the music," says Clemons, who lives in Singer Island. "I knew she had the capability to find the parts I wanted her to play. And I wanted her to add her taste to the sound."
Clemons's old-school, soulful approach to the material was music to Fishenfeld's ears; she was tiring of the torch songs and breezy New Orleans jazz for which Stanley was known. By the end of 1998, Stanley would leave the band that would ultimately become Blue Fire and pursue a solo career. But she quickly recognized what Clemons had done for Fishenfeld.
"Randi started to count more on her virtuosity than her entertainment factor," Stanley recalls. "In the beginning she used all her wildness -- bending backwards, running all over -- while her chops were coming to speed. Now, her chops are as great as her entertainment ability. What Clarence did was give her the credibility she wanted."
It also prompted Fishenfeld to become more assertive at the same time as Blue Fire -- which she and Velasquez founded -- embarked on its journey. Though the group quickly gained a following at O'Hara's, Blue Fire went through more than its share of growing pains. At one point, Velasquez gave his notice, telling the rest of the band he was tired of baby-sitting.
"Every band needs something visual, and we have that with Randi," says Velasquez, who played with Fishenfeld in Stanley's band. "But for a long time, I was the go-between. Other members felt Randi was stealing the show, and they wanted to know where they stood. The other problem was that every time the Clarence thing would arise, Randi's ego would rise along with it. You get flown around and chauffeur-driven to gigs, it can go to your head. We had several confrontations because of this."
Whether the lure of playing with Clemons will ultimately fracture the foundation of Blue Fire remains to be seen. Currently Blue Fire is working on its first CD, a collection of original material along with distinct covers of such songs as the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby." In the meantime Clemons is working at home on material for the Band of Faith. He hopes to follow an album with a tour.
"Putting a band together is like making a gumbo," Clemons says. "You add the spices to make it taste the way you want. With this band, the stew is brewing. It'll be ready to serve in about a year." Though Clemons expects Fishenfeld to be committed to nothing more than her violin -- "I encourage her with all her music; that's where growth comes from" -- a fork in her professional road could loom. Would she leave Blue Fire if Clemons follows through on the Band of Faith project?
It's a potentially explosive question -- and one Fishenfeld refuses to go near. For now, especially because her work with Clemons has been so scattered, Fishenfeld's focus is on Blue Fire, completing the CD, and further exploring an identity she has only recently come to accept.
"There was a point where I had no Velcro to my life," she said. "None of my achievements seemed to form a foundation. Each time out, it was about proving myself all over again. But I've come to understand that I'm a hard-edged, wild, and crazy performer who wants to be a rock star."