Chemistry brings rock, blues to Alaskan

Los Angeles band hopes to organize open-mic blues nights during four-week gig

Posted: Friday, August 15, 2003

Ben Roe was the toast of Juneau when the five-piece, Seattle- and San Francisco-based band spent summers in town between 1971 and 1975.

The group played at Juneau-Douglas High School, the National Guard Armory and Lemon Creek Correctional Center. It even opened for Led Zeppelin at the Honolulu International Center in 1971.

Back in the 1970s, Ben Roe never played a show at The Alaskan Bar.

But its drummer, Ed Heavener, will be back in town Monday, Aug. 18. And his band, Chemistry, a Los Angeles-based rock and blues trio that's been together off and on since 1980, will play The Alaskan every day for four straight weeks, through Sept. 12.

Chemistry members want local musicians, including former fans and members of Ben Roe, to turn out for Thursday open-mic nights at The Alaskan. The band hopes to organize a few open-mic blues nights, and maybe even an open-mic blues afternoon.

"Whatever the complexion of the audience is on each night, we're going to try and play what they want to hear," Heavener said. "If we don't know it, we'll learn it. We're here to have a party. We love the music, and we love when the people get in the music. We're not going to be imposing our wills, so much as being open."

Chemistry is led by Roger and Adrienne Heath, former staff songwriters for Capital Records and EMI. They've written for motion pictures, made-for-TV movies and artists such as Meredith Brooks, D.B. Cooper and Cherie Currie, formerly of The Runaways.

The Heaths met in the Bay Area in the mid-1970s. Heavener joined the group about 1980, and the trio began playing showcase shows around Los Angeles and Long Beach, trying to release original material. They recorded 25 songs almost immediately in an explosion of creativity so dynamic, they named the band Chemistry.

"As a sideman, a drummer, basically what I was there for was to have input on arrangement and dynamic things - beginnings, endings and segues," Heavener said. "Having someone writing all the time is a real inspiration, a real kick in the butt. They'd come up with these ideas, and you'd hear melodies you never heard before."

Chemistry released three albums on Warner Brothers and has played all over the world.

Adrienne Heath has been compared to Janis Joplin and Stevie Nicks for her powerful-but-raspy, soulful voice. She sounds so similar to Joplin that the band has a 90-minute, chronological Joplin tribute that it has performed in Los Angeles and Japan. The group won't play the entire tribute in Juneau but will play some Joplin covers.

"I had so many people tell me I sound like her, which was weird, because I'd never even heard her," Adrienne said. "I went out and bought some of her records and thought, 'I don't sound like that.' We put together a show for fun, and I went out and got a wig and played the whole part. It's just something that comes naturally. We like to do our thing too."

Heavener visited Juneau for 12 days in June. It was his first trip to town in years, and he hopes to return annually. Ben Roe band members Tag Eckles and Billy Ashby, both longtime Juneau musicians, live here. The group - guitar, bass, drums, keyboard and singer - was one of the most popular bands in Juneau before disbanding in the mid-1970s.

"We were big fish in a little pond," Heavener said. "There was no music there to speak of, hardly anything at all going on. We just got swept away by the beauty, the cleanliness and the pristineness of the wilderness. Everything about it was magical. I've had a soft spot for Juneau for 30 years."

Ben Roe, named after Ben Roe Avenue in San Francisco, was a psychedelic rock band, a product of 1970s popular music, The Grateful Dead and Joe Cocker. They made their first trip to Juneau in 1971, stayed for the summer and kept coming back.

"We were just into the music," Heavener said of Ben Roe. "We were trying to steer clear of the big cities. We could have gotten a record deal, but it was like selling out. We wanted to keep it pure, and keep it real. We didn't want to be part of the plastic city, the phony baloney machine."

"I'm just really happy that Roger and Adrienne are going to come up there," Heavener said. "I know Juneau from my experiences, and it's really neat to have them come up and experience it too."

Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneauempire.com.



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