When The Dinettes formed in 1979, just as San Diego’s budding punk-rock scene was kicking into high gear, they had the distinction of being the only all-woman band in town.
“It was both an advantage and a disadvantage,” recalled lead singer Doriot Lair, who is back on board after the recently reunited Dinettes’ 37-year hiatus.
“People’s insistence at calling us an ‘all-girl’ band really drove me crazy. I’d been brought up to be a feminist and it was really difficult to get away from people labeling us a novelty act. It was never about our musicianship, even though all of us were classically trained. It was: ‘Oh, an all-female band.
“But in the punk scene back then, a lot of guys were thrilled we were out there. Dan McLain, who became better known as Country Dick Montana of the Beat Farmers, really helped us get a leg up. He was our first drummer in our previous band, before we became an ‘all-female band’.”
McLain’s support helped. But it was The Dinettes’ spirited performances and high-octane songs — such as “Poison,” “T.V.” and the rockabilly-tinged “Motorqueens of the Night” — that made them stand out.
The band’s lifespan was brief — from spring of 1979 to late 1980 — but their impact was not. The Dinettes played at the Skeleton Club, the Spirit, the Roxy and other area venues, paving the way for other male-free San Diego bands that followed. They released a promising single and did two national tours. The group also earned the attention of noted producer/manager Kim Fowley, a former San Diegan, who was instrumental in the career of the all-teen-girl rock band The Runaways.
The Dinettes underwent several lineup changes, at one point briefly adding a male guitarist. But they made a lasting impact on listeners, including San Diego music mainstay Bart Mendoza and concert promoter and Casbah co-owner Tim Mays.
“I remember seeing The Dinettes at the Skeleton Club and they were just amazing — an all-girl punk/new wave band that kicked ass,” said Tim Mays, who has booked The Dinettes to perform next Thursday at the Casbah. He had previously booked them to play in September at this year’s Adams Avenue Street Fair.
“At their Adams Avenue Street Fair show, it sounded like they had never stopped playing,” Mays said. “They have a few new members, but Doriot and Sue still have that intensity they had back when I first saw them in 1980.”
Lair and Mays both credit Mendoza for being instrumental in getting The Dinettes to reunite in the first place.
The band reactivated, after almost 40 years, to perform in July at the Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad for the annual “Sounds Like San Diego” concert, which is curated by Mendoza.
All of the Dinettes’ core members agreed to perform at the show. However, drummer Irene Liberatore-Dolan — a Woodland Hills resident — had to bow out for logistical reasons, as did bassist Cindy Brisco, who lives mostly in Mexico. (Guitarist Lisa Aston Emerson died in 2000).
That left Lair, keyboardist Sue Ferguson and guitarist/cellist Joyce Rooks, who performed the Carlsbad show with drummer Laurie Chadwick and bassist Shannon “Goddess of Thunder” Sabin. Rooks subsequently bowed out; leaving guitar duties to be executed by new member Diana Death.
“We only played five songs in Carlsbad. For Adams Avenue, we had to do an hour and I was panicking!” Doriot, 59, said with a laugh. “I was pulling out some of our old songs that I didn’t even remember doing back then. Things sound different now, and better, than they did back then.”
The Dinettes, with Manual Scan and Alvino & The Dwells
When: 9:30 p.m. next Thursday, Dec. 28
Where: The Casbah, 2501 Kettner Blvd., Middletown
Tickets: $10 (must be 21 or older to attend)
Phone: (619) 232-4355