'Rock & Roll Voodoo Queen'
Funky Jenn’s blues-based rock and soul dazzle Old Towne Pub Tuesday
By Bliss Bowen 11/13/2013
For a long time, I was only aware of Funky Jenn as a music scene regular: a cheery, buxom blonde who seemed to be at every other show I attended. Then, about six years ago, I found myself sitting beside her at one of Stonehoney’s late-night sing-alongs at Nick Randolph’s Beachwood Canyon aerie. After two bars of hearing her powerhouse soul-mama harmonies I said, “Let’s talk.”
Thus began our friendship. Turned out she had one hell of a story — and she’s just started a new chapter.
The vivacious daughter of an opera singer and a character actor, Jennifer Gibbons was born in LA’s Good Samaritan Hospital and grew up in Hollywood surrounded by artists. It was no surprise when she pursued acting. On the side she also sang. But in her late 20s, a freak accident derailed her career.
“I was singing onstage with my funk band, kind of an Ike & Tina review,” she explains, “and I broke my ankles. I was wearing three-inch platform heels, jumping up and down, and I remember coming down and the shoe landed but the heel just snapped. I remember falling to the ground, still singing on my back with my microphone; the audience was laughing because they had no idea what was going on. Somebody brought in a stool for me. I did a solo Aretha Franklin number, and my girlfriends said, ‘We’ve never heard you sing that song that way before’ — because I was in so much pain! [Laughs]
“At that moment, everything just stopped. My agent dropped me, my manager dropped me … getting stuck in that wheelchair sent me into depression because I couldn’t walk for about a year. It literally stopped my creative process.”
She performed one more gig, gamely singing from her wheelchair, but her career was dead. She worked as a clearance supervisor for shows like “The Apprentice,” “The Amazing Race” and “Shark Tank” (“Television’s always been good to me”), and paid the bills. She launched a Webbie-nominated Funky Jenn blog. But though walking again, she wasn’t fully recovered.
“It wasn’t until I met this musical community that I was able to come back out of my shell,” she explains. “It slowly but surely brought back my creative flow.” Befriending Stonehoney’s Dave Phenicie and ex-Shooter Jennings bassist Ted Russell Kamp, she became passionately involved with LA’s Americana scene. Last year she finally started recording what became her just-released, Kamp-produced EP, “Rock & Roll Voodoo Queen.” Unleashed onstage, Gibbons roars through lusty rockers like “Boom Boom Boom.”
“I’m super proud of it,” she says. “I don’t consider myself a songwriter. I consider myself a person who writes down their feelings, and then writes a song out of that. There’s a difference. I’m just someone who’s telling a story.”
Funky Jenn & the Fringe Benefits play Old Towne Pub, 23 E. Holly St., Pasadena, 9 p.m. Tuesday. For more information, call (626) 577-6583. Funkyjenn.com