BAM recently journeyed to Ghiringhelli’s Pizzeria in Novato for the Linda Imperial Band CD release party for their debut self-titled album. We also sat in on a rehearsal in their Bay Area recording studio. After the rehearsal, band members Linda Imperial (lead vocalist), Peter Harris (guitar), David Kaffinetti (keyboards), Doug Freedman (drums, percussion, vocals), Steve Valverde (bass, vocals), and David Freiberg (guitar, vocals) shared their personal and professional experiences, which include kicking cancer’s ass, sharing the stage and the baseball field with some of the Bay Area’s most iconic musicians, acting in the cult classic movie This Is Spinal Tap, and explaining their single degree of separation from thrash metal legends Testament and Slayer.
BAM: Congratulations on the new album! Your music clearly moves your audience in an incredible way, as was evident by the fan response you received at your CD release party and concert.
Doug Freedman: We have a great group of fans, I gotta tell ya!
Steve Valverde: The best!
David Kaffinetti: They’re gorgeous, just gorgeous!
Linda Imperial: It’s just amazing, these people are just so good! A couple of our fans, Hippie Man and Nancy, have never missed a show.
Peter Harris: I remember the first gig they saw us at, and Hippie Man came up to me, shook my hand and said, “We’re gonna stalk you!” [laughter]
BAM: So your fans follow you as though you’re the Pied Piper, but for good. Good music!
All: Yes! [more laughter]
Linda Imperial: I’m in awe of that, and that’s why I really want to give back through our music. For people to come out, buy a ticket, have a drink or have dinner — and in times that are so tough right now, that is what we really appreciate. We never take anyone for granted. And it’s really a compliment and a testament not only to the songwriting, but to the energy that we all have when we get together on stage. It turns into a beautiful love fest. It’s fabulous!
Doug Freedman: Linda has a quality about her, and people love her. She has a long history of being an entertainer in the Bay Area. We all do, in our own way, but Linda definitely has a devoted group of people who have been following her for a long time. And the people who come to see us will drive through rain, through snow, long distances, they are very supportive.
Steve Valverde: They are unstoppable forces!
BAM: Your songs have universal appeal among people with very diverse tastes in music. The songs seem to both incorporate and transcend many genres, and really resonate with your audience.
Linda Imperial: And it resonates with us.
David Kaffinetti: That’s why we love doing it.
Doug Freedman: It’s kind of spread out, we try not to pigeon-hole ourselves into any one genre.
BAM: How would you describe the Linda Imperial Band’s music to today’s youth?
Peter Harris: Totally sick…kick-ass!
Doug Freedman: It’s extremely current. We have influences that go back because of our roots, but it’s very current, pertinent music. We don’t try to stay in the past with our songwriting or our intent. We can have a very straight-forward pop sensibility, too. Our music is accessible. We try to add a little bit of a twist, but we want you to be able to sing it and dance to it when you go home.
BAM: Tell us about your musical roots.
Linda Imperial: I started singing very, very young. I came from a family of singers. My dad was an opera singer, my mom was a singer, and my sisters and I sang together. My mother had me in voice training from a very young age. In school I was in chorus, advanced chorus, madrigal chorus, and I studied opera. I started singing professionally in 1968, and in 1969, my songwriting partner, Frank La Verde, and I drove out from St. Louis, Missouri, to California.
We had major hits and traveled all over the world as the vocal group La Verde. Following that, I was with New York Jazz Explosion. I was a background singer for everyone. My sister and I sang background together, and Bob Olsen, who was the first white engineer at Motown, would hire my sister and me as session singers. He called me in on this session to work with Quicksilver [Messenger Service] as a background singer on their album, and that’s how I met my husband, David [Freiberg]. I joined Quicksilver in 1985, and I was with them for 14 years, and I sang with the [Jefferson] Starship with David.
My first album, Linda Imperial, was a solo venture. Steve [Valverde] and I wrote two of the songs on that album together, “I Dare You To Sleep” and “Destination You.” I had to put it down for two years, because I had Stage Two cancer, and I had to go through treatment. But I went back and finished it! And then I was on tour with Jefferson Starship and Quicksilver Messenger Service.
David Freiberg: I started out being a folk singer in the 1960s, and that’s when I ran into Paul Kantner [guitar, vocals, songwriter for Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship], and we hit it off, and we were buds. We thought about starting a band, but he ended up being in Jefferson Airplane and I ended up being in Quicksilver Messenger Service. Then Marty Balin [vocals, songwriter, founder of Jefferson Airplane] left the Jefferson Airplane. And lo and behold, they needed somebody to sing harmony, so there I was in Jefferson Airplane! So, that’s the first lesson of making it in the music business: “Be out of a job when the right one shows up!” That was the last Jefferson Airplane tour, and then Paul, Grace Slick [vocals, songwriter for Jefferson Airplane], and I put out a couple albums. And then we morphed it into Jefferson Starship, and I was there from 1974 until 1985…I was there until just before they built the city.”
BAM: The one on rock & roll?
David Freiberg: Yeah, yeah [laughter]. But it wasn’t fun being in a band anymore. So I got into computers, and I started working with my old Quicksilver friend, Gary Duncan, who asked me to sing background on a track that he had recorded. He said, “I have a chick singer coming in, so maybe you could sing with her,” and it turned out to be Linda. So…thank you, Gary!
Linda and I became very good friends and were playing in Quicksilver for a couple years until it wasn’t fun anymore, and then I just worked in the studio and helped people produce things. And that’s what I did until 2005, when Paul [Kantner] invited me to sit in with Jefferson Starship, and it was fun! So I’ve been doing Jefferson Starship since then, and I’ll do it as long as it’s fun. It seems to be getting more fun all the time, so I don’t think I’ll quit until they scrape me off the floor!
But most important of all, I got to record the Linda Imperial Band, and I get to play with them when I’m around — which is even better, because that’s terrific fun! I love all the guys in Linda’s band. They are fun to hang with, record with, and to play with!
Peter Harris: I started playing music in fifth grade band. I wanted to play trumpet, but I was sick on the first day of the auditions. The following day when I went to audition, I was told there were too many trumpet players already, so I ended up playing trombone. But I made the best of it. I played throughout high school in the marching band and whatnot. And I played in the UC Berkeley Jazz Band, that was fun!
College is really the time when you gotta start a band, so my buddy and I had a college band and wound up transferring to CSU Chico, and I had switched to guitar by now. We had this idea that we would start a Grateful Dead cover band, The Webs. We started playing at these Chico parties where everybody was totally kegged out and smoked out and totally going manic, so we’d go into these wild jams and everybody would be going crazy!
After college, I got married, had kids, started a company, and did other stuff, but then, Jerry [Garcia] died. Jerry had his own band called The Jerry Garcia Band, and Michael Gaiman [manager of Jefferson Starship] was instrumental in bringing that back [after Jerry’s passing]. I was part of that band, and several other tribute bands. I had known Linda through our musical associations for many years, and a mutual friend of ours, Tim St. Clair, told me that he was putting this Linda Imperial Band together, and I had to be a part of it!
David Kaffinetti: I was lucky enough, in 1969, to secure a record deal with a band called Rare Bird, and we were the first signing on the Charisma record label. In 1970, Rare Bird had an international hit called “Sympathy,” and I kid you not, it was a whirlwind of jet planes, TV shows, and festivals, which — as a very green, one-year-old group — we were headlining! It was a great experience, and it lasted all too short, but good things happened out of it. I went on to do this rather famous Chuck Berry album called The London Sessions. Side A was top rock & rollers in the studio, and Side B was the live side, and I wormed my way into playing on the live side. There was a little piano on stage, and I was hanging out there with my friends. Chuck Berry didn’t even have a keyboard player on the rider [the contract], but there was a keyboard there, so I thought, “I’m going to take full advantage of this,” and I did it! And this particular album went up in the Voyager Space Probe and is floating around in space!
Linda Imperial: And also, if you’ve seen the movie This Is Spinal Tap, David is in that!
David Kaffinetti: I’m Viv Savage, the keyboard player. And I have a little quote at the end of the movie where Rob Reiner, the director, asks, “What’s your philosophy in life?” and I say, “Have a good time. ALL the time.” And it’s great, because people remember that quote and come up to me and say that!
Linda Imperial: And you still do! [laughter] And Doug, our drummer, he’s played with some big name bands, like Iron Butterfly.
Doug Freedman: Yeah. And I’ve also played with Eddie Money, The Coasters, Kim Weston, and Vital Signs, who did the soundtrack for the movie Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. One of my former students is Paul Bostaph, from Testament and Slayer. Back in the mid-1980s, he was in a band called Forbidden. They are still around, actually. I just saw an interview in BAM about them!
Steve Valverde: Which would put Doug among the masters!
Doug Freedman: The drummers in those bands are amazing, just phenomenal!
Steve Valverde: I started playing violin and piano when I was 7. I grew up in Los Angeles but moved to the Bay Area to go to UC Berkeley, and I got involved in bands. I was playing at places like Freight & Salvage and The Great American Music Hall in an all-original band called Natural Gas. After that, I toured with various bands throughout Europe and Japan for about 10 years, and lived in Hawaii for a time. Then I moved back to the Bay Area and hooked up with Chris Rowan of The Rowan Brothers, and we started doing some recording and opening up for Jerry Garcia and David Crosby with our band The Moments. Following that, I was in a band called The All Stars. I met Linda around 1988, and we started working and writing songs together in the early ‘90s. In fact, I think the strength of the Linda Imperial Band is the songwriting!
BAM: Is that when the Linda Imperial Band was created?
Linda Imperial: Steve and I have been partners in different bands for a while. That friend of ours, Tim St. Clair, wanted to put this band together. He’d mentioned it to David [Kaffinetti], Doug, and Peter. We have all known each other for many years, and I feel like it’s our fortune to play together, because we really complement each other.
Doug Freedman: Absolutely! Tim sort of threw us together, but in a way that coalesced. I tell ya, from the very first day we got together, the vibe was there! David [Kaffinetti] and I had written a couple of tunes and listened to Linda’s material prior [to getting together as a band], and it felt so good and so right from the very first time we played together. We all just kind of knew! And we formed the Linda Imperial Band in September 2008.
Linda Imperial: I feel the spirituality from these guys. It’s very telepathic, and I’m really into energy. People can either be black holes or suns, you know — a black hole would just suck the light out of the room, but people who are suns give energy, and every one of these guys do. We have our moments, of course, where we’re all, you know, strong-willed people, but there’s amazing respect. I totally respect each and every person here. I can’t do what I do, and we can’t make what we make, without the entire equation. And David [Freiberg] is the newest addition.
Doug Freedman: He has been a part of our support team the whole time, and now he is actually a musical participant along with that. He did a lot of production and engineering, and all the recording work.
Peter Harris: He’s tireless!
Doug Freedman: But he’s now appearing as a member of the band.
Linda Imperial: And we all write. We each have a song on the album that we wrote, and we produced it together, along with my husband David [Freiberg], who recorded it for us. Thomas Woodfeld, who is a member of our Linda Imperial Band family, does our sound and is our road manager. I was on tour with the Starship and with Quicksilver, and that’s how I met Thomas. So we have this full-on working engine!
Peter Harris: One of the interesting things is, no matter who writes the song, we all instantly know what the vibe is. We have a collective mindset due to our shared experiences, growing up around the same time, and being into music for so long.
Linda Imperial: The songs take on a life of their own and we let it happen, we try not to get in the way of it.
David Kaffinetti: We’re kind of organically inclined. [laughter] I mean, we feed off each other, that’s why we can do spontaneous things, and when things are right, my goodness me, we can do some extraordinary things!
Doug Freedman: We have over two hours of original music already. So when we do a show, it’s not like we have to find filler, we have to decide which songs we’re not gonna do. And, of course, we keep writing more. But that’s the whole goal, you know, to just continue to have a good time!
Linda Imperial: ALL the time! [laughter]
BAM: The Linda Imperial Band is very passionate about songwriting. Tell us why the individual and collaborative songwriting process is so important to you.
Linda Imperial: You know, it’s so hard to survive as a musician. I’ve seen a lot people do really well, I mean they are very successful; and I’ve seen a lot of people who are very talented but they are really struggling. And I think that a good formula to surviving nobly as musicians is songwriting. We all write, and we all produce, so everyone profits from the sale of the CD. And we have a label [Global Recording Artists] that doesn’t make us give up part of our [profits from] publishing, which is amazing!
Peter Harris: It’s a miracle! [laughter]
Linda Imperial: So we have a situation where we can reap the rewards of our efforts. We also have global distribution through our label, and we are getting airplay throughout Europe and the United States.
BAM: That’s fantastic! Do you have any upcoming shows?
Linda Imperial: We will be at Rancho Nicasio (1 Old Rancheria Rd., Nicasio) on March 30th, and at Biscuits & Blues (401 Mason, S.F.) on June 1st and 2nd.
BAM: Thank you so much for sharing your time and your talent with us.
Doug Freedman: And thank you so much to BAM Magazine for allowing us to be part of it! Back in the 1970s, I was in a cover band called Rags, and that was when BAM was first starting. For a long time, we were one of the bands that BAM would frequently cover — our gigs and such. In fact, some of us were part of the original baseball teams that played against BAM’s team. We played against Greg Kihn, Journey, Y&T, and other Bay Area bands, in what was called the Rockball League. I guess “symbiotic” would be the word for Bay Area music and that magazine — they kind of grew up together! It was sad when BAM went away.
Peter Harris: But they’re back, BAM is back! [everyone agrees enthusiastically]
David Kaffinetti: And I actually utilized BAM Magazine, I guess it would have been about 1991, when my character was finally terminated from the Spinal Tap family. In the storyline, Viv Savage died in a freak gas explosion while visiting one of the drummers’ gravestones. [It was revealed that] Viv was a drummer who was pretending to be a keyboard player, so I had to go.
So what I did was, I called up BAM Magazine because I had these friends in an all-girl punk band called The Guttersluts. They loved me, and decided to do a “Save Viv” campaign in BAM Magazine, and that’s what we did! So I have very pleasing memories of my association with BAM Magazine.
BAM: It is truly an honor to be such a fondly remembered part of your musical history here in the Bay Area! We wish you every success, both now and into the future.
And what an honor it was for us to meet such extraordinarily talented, genuinely enthusiastic, and exceedingly gracious Bay Area musicians. You can learn more about the Linda Imperial Band, their recently released self-titled CD, and upcoming shows through their website www.lindaimperial.com. On your musical travels throughout the Bay Area, I hope you will mark your calendars and your maps as I have…Destination: Linda Imperial Band.