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Boss lady

Liz Melendez strives for recognition ... and respect

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It's intended as praise, and that's how guitarist/bandleader Liz Melendez takes it when listeners tell her she plays like a man.

"I hear that a lot and it's one of the biggest compliments I can get," says Melendez, whose band performs Thurs., July 5, at Darwin's in Marietta. "Some people would find it insulting. I don't get insulted because I know what it means. The standard of great guitar playing has been set by men."

Melendez's own influences began with her father, a guitarist and bass player. Growing up in Albuquerque, N.M., Melendez was only 5 years old when her father began teaching her seminal rock and R&B guitar, including the surf gem "Wipeout," Bill Doggett's "Honky Tonk" and Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode." Later influences include bluesmen Albert King, Albert Collins and Freddie King and blues-influenced rockers Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana and Eric Clapton.

Among female artists, Melendez sees Bonnie Raitt as a role model, both as a guitarist and bandleader.

"It's great to see a woman who can play slide [guitar] like that," Melendez says. "She's in command of the stage when she's up there, in charge of her band. That's what I've always wanted to aim for. She's the boss lady, and she can command her instrument as well."

Despite the efforts of Raitt and others, many audiences still consider a talented female guitarist a novelty, Melendez says. She believes that's an advantage but she still believes she has to earn the respect of her audience.

Earning the regard of her male guitar counterparts is a more complex issue, she says. "Some men are threatened by it or don't really give you credit [initially] that you can actually play," she says. "They can be kind of condescending."

The net effect is that it is easy to gain recognition, but hard to gain respect as a female guitarist.

Melendez is earning her share of both recently, however, thanks to an increasing span of local and regional work. In addition to regular gigs at Darwin's, the Liz Melendez Band has upcoming gigs in Savannah, St. Simon's, Macon, Hilton Head, S.C., Panama City, Fla., and Chattanooga, Tenn. She's also on the bill with Diane Durrett and Donna Hopkins for the Women of Blues show at Eddie's Attic in Decatur July 16.

Melendez hopes to further expand her musical sphere of influence with the release of her self-produced CD, Mercy, which hit the streets in late June. The guitarist is currently shopping for a European label to license the CD.

Mercy features Nick Longo on saxophone (who's worked with Francine Reed and others), Bobby Mobley on keyboards and Lindsey Mercer on harmonica. Bassist Jon Schwenke and drummer John McKnight anchor the sessions.

Almost all of the CD is based in the blues, she says. "I did put a Latin tune on there that has more of the Santana kind of feel, but you can feel that [the whole album is] blues-oriented. But almost none of it is straight-up 12-bar blues. I did put one 12-bar song on at the end, an acoustic song, to showcase that I do other things."

Melendez says she wanted the CD, which is comprised of original tunes, to emphasize the breadth of her skills as songwriter, arranger and producer, as well as guitarist.

"I think the CD highlights my songwriting and my playing and my influences really well. That's what I wanted it to do ... to show that I'm not a one-trick pony. I'm a girl player, put I can play more than a [basic] pentatonic scale."

The Liz Melendez Band plays Thurs., July 5, at Darwin's, 1598 Roswell Road, Marietta. For information, call 770-578-6872 or visit www.darwinsblues.com or www.lizmelendez.com.

This column is a weekly feature covering music outside the Perimeter. E-mail or mail outside music news to Bryan Powell, 830 Josh Lane, Lawrenceville, GA 30045.

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