For the most part, Randi Fishenfeld seems to exist in a general state of contentment if not downright ebullience. Her career as a bombshell rock violinist might not be everything she hoped it would be at this point, but it ain't bad. At least three nights a week, Fishenfeld gets her rocks off as the de facto frontwoman for Blue Fire, a local six-piece outfit that plays a hybridized style of funk, R&B, and classic rock for enthusiastic hordes of well-heeled suburbanites at moderately upscale venues like the A Train in Delray Beach and O'Hara's in Hollywood. Blue Fire represents steady work for Fishenfeld, and she certainly likes the band -- "There's like a line of voltage that runs through us," she says -- but there's no doubt that Blue Fire, at least so far as Fishenfeld is concerned, is closer to the beginning of the rainbow than the proverbial pot of gold at its end.
Fishenfeld has the goods to go a long way in the music business. She's a fine, classically trained fiddler who left the symphony for dead many years ago. Now, somewhere in her thirties, she is largely a rock musician who channels all that classical training and discipline into tight rhythm-playing and inventive, precisely executed solo turns. As violinists go, and for that matter women in general, she's about as smolderingly sexy as any you're ever likely to meet. She's thin, almost petite, with an unsettled mane of shoulder-length auburn hair. When she really gets cookin' on the fiddle, she writhes around the stage like a gymnast in the throes of passion, but really she's expressing nothing more tawdry than her passion for the music.
Be that as it may, she sported black leather pants and a thin, black sleeveless shirt, sans brassiere, during a recent Friday night performance at the A Train. Her whole twisting, sweating appearance -- particularly under the white-hot glow of the stage lights -- was, shall we say, striking. To top off the talent and the looks, she also happens to be good-natured and charismatic. In short Fishenfeld is the irreplaceable centerpiece of Blue Fire.
And yet she'll likely need to be replaced in Blue Fire if things work out between her and Clarence Clemons. When Bruce Springsteen's sax-blowing sideman, a resident of Singer Island, was seeking musicians for a solo project, Fishenfeld showed up at 251 Sunrise in Palm Beach with her five-string, solid-body electric violin and an amplifier. Clemons was actually auditioning drummers that day, but what the hell, he gave the redhead a shot. Fishenfeld remembers that John Eatman was playing bass, and they were jamming on "Summertime."
"I had my eyes closed," she recalls, "and I was in the zone, man. It was great! I just played a musical little solo there, and I was in another place. I opened my eyes, and there's John Eatman crouched down in front of me, looking at me with a smile. I look up, and Clarence looks down at me and he goes, 'Damn, girl! You're hired!'" Fishenfeld laughs like a loon at the recollection.
Clemons recruited four other local musicians -- guitarist-singer Billy Livesay, drummer Keith Cronin, bassist Steve Argey, and keyboardist Paul Pettitt -- to round out what has become Clarence Clemons and the Band of Faith. Six months ago the group recorded a six-song demo that is reportedly being shopped around to several labels. "From what I'm told," says Fishenfeld, "there's a tremendous amount of interest in this demo." Maybe so, but Clemons as a solo act has never amounted to much commercial success. Still, the ultimate goal for the sextet is to record an album of Clemons' original material -- "groove-oriented, real R&B rock stuff," according to Fishenfeld -- and then to roll with whatever comes next, be it a tour, an appearance on Late Night With David Letterman or, conceivably, nothing. Fishenfeld is aware that her association with Clemons might turn out to be nothing more than a notable entry on her professional résumé, but with typical optimism, she's banking on more. "Clarence is a very special person," she says, "and I know if I just stick with this thing long enough, something good will come of it."
Clarence Clemons and the Band of Faith will perform at the Monkeyclub in West Palm Beach (5618336500) the first two Tuesdays in October. The Band of Faith, without Clemons, will appear at the Monkeyclub every Tuesday in November.
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Compiling an illustrated history of lounge music was a strange job. If only for posterity's sake, however, somebody had to do it. That somebody turned out to be Lake Worth resident Jennifer McKnight-Trontz whose Exotiquarium: Album Art From the Space Age now stands as the definitive account of a curious and surreal chapter in American musical history.
Variously described as "space-age pop," "exotica," and "mood music," lounge music was wildly popular in its day. Essentially it was the soundtrack for middle-class America's urban migration to the suburbs in the '50s and early '60s. With the suburbs being generally dull and lifeless today, it boggles the mind to imagine what they were like 40 years ago. In those barren environs, lounge music must have actually seemed exotic or space-age, at least to those upright citizens who valued nothing more than a quiet, painless existence. "It was for people who didn't want to actively listen to music," McKnight-Trontz says. "And there were a lot of people like that . It didn't really ask you to think."
With 100 reproduced album covers and a fascinating accompanying text that amounts to a thumbnail social and musical history of the era, Exotiquarium amply documents those halcyon days from our deprived past. On the heels of a spurious lounge revival in America, the book is doing quite well on the national market. The last time McKnight-Trontz checked, it was No. 3 on Barnes & Noble's list of best-selling album-cover books. -- David Pulizzi
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