Joyce Rooks: Punk rock cellist
Next time you catch a gig by British transplant David J's new project, Cabaret Oscuro, pay attention to his cellist, Joyce Rooks. Cello, of course, adds a touch of class to any proceeding, but Rooks' long and storied career started as far away from the high-falutin' instrument.
She was born in Baltimore, Md., and moved to San Diego in 1958. Her father was in the Navy, which meant her family moved around Southern California a few times, but they always returned to San Diego, where Rooks studied classical cello. Tending to her less polished side, she also picked up the guitar.
Rooks got her start in the late '70s punk scene. It was a great time for San Diego music, with punk serving as the energizing force. Caught up in the spirit of the day, Rooks joined an all-girl group, The Cockpits, at the end of 1977. The group scored a few choice gigs, notably at the UCSD Pub and a North Park Lions Club show alongside The Alleycats, Penetrators and DFX2.
Though short-lived, The Cockpits' lineup included such future luminaries as young drummer Dan McClain (later to become Country Dick Montana with The Beat Farmers) and famed cartoonist Shawn Kerri. More importantly, the band set the stage for another, far more dynamic all-girl group.
That was The Dinettes, who put on a powerful, aggressive show. Although there was interest in the group signing a recording contract, all that currently survives of the band is a demo session taped at El Cajon's Straight Ahead Sound, plus a live tape from the infamous Deaf Club in San Francisco.
Rooks left The Dinettes in 1980, switching gears by joining up with the reggae-ska group, Trowsers, which was fronted by the inimitable Y-Lee. The following year saw Rooks' first appearance on vinyl when the group released the rare 45-rpm single, ?Color TV Reality,? and two scarce albums?Solitary Confinement and Drop 'Em.
Though the band became firm favorites at area nightspots like The Spirit (now Brick by Brick), Rooks began to sit in with local legends The Penetrators around 1982, and eventually became a permanent member. She was featured prominently on the Penetrators' last album, A Sweet Kiss from Mommy and was an integral part of the band's gospel-tinged There Is a Light. She also toured often with the band through the western U.S., opening for the likes of Oingo Boingo and Missing Persons. But by 1984, The Penetrators called it quits.
The following year Rooks released the first and only recording under her own name, a single entitled ?Top Secrets.? By this time, however, she had begun to focus primarily on session work, recording with the likes of The Beat Farmers, Manual Scan and Carla Olson.
Rooks spent time in L.A. during the early '90s as a Capitol Records marketing rep, but it was a short stay. Following the 1994 Northridge earthquake, she returned to San Diego, co-founding the gift shop and gallery called Ducky Waddles Emporium, which has been a cultural mainstay in Encinitas since 1995.
She also quickly re-immersed herself in the local music scene, joining the alternative pop group Formula and playing cello with quirky folk pop chanteuse Cindy Lee Berryhill, as well as the North Coast Symphony.
These days, Rooks is best known for her work with David J (ex-Love and Rockets, Bauhaus) in Cabaret Oscuro. To date, she's recorded two albums with J.?2002's Guitar Man and this year's EP, Mess Up.
Rooks is still in demand as a session player, recently contributing to Lucky's Live a Little and Black Heart Procession's Amore Del Tropico. She also teaches glass bead-making at UCSD Craft Center, a position she's held for the last five years.
As for the future, Rooks says she intends to keep music her major focus, possibly even entering the binary revolution. ?I've been playing heavily with software, the idea being that I'll be playing the laptop and the cello simultaneously on stage,? she says.
Although Rooks only has one release under her own name, she has been one of the lynchpins of San Diego's music scene over the last three decades. And that formidable past seems to be merely a warm-up.
Trivial Pursuits? If the band in the movie Pearl Harbor looked familiar, they should-it's local swing band Big Time Operator. They look great, but they're miming. Come to think of it, so was the rest of the cast.
? If you caught REM's 1984 tour, or have caught one of the videos, and noticed Micheal Stipe limping on crutches, it's because he stepped on a ?poisonous fish? while ?swimming at a San Diego beach.?
? In Brenden Mullen's great book We Got the Neutron Bomb, a 1977 episode is recounted in which Carlsbad resident Tony Kinman (then of The Dils, later of Rank & File, Blackbird and now Cowboy Nation) set famed KROQ DJ Rodney Bingenheimer's hair on fire. Clearly showing the line drawn between the old guard and the incoming musical new wave, Kinman is quoted ??The Dils were at the Whiskey. We were watching The Zero's, and Rodney's there with his clique of people? he had his shag hairdo and it had some altitude on it with hair spray? back then you could smoke in nightclubs, and I walked by with a little Bic lighter and set his hair on fire. And one of Rodney's friends was beating on Rodney's head going, ?Rodney man, The Dils set your hair on fire, The Dils set your hair on fire!' We would do stuff like that-?What's Rodney doing here? Set his hair on fire. Punk rock!? Indeed.