If you were in NYC in the heady days of the late 70’s and spent any time at Max’s Kansas City -- or CBGB -- or Private’s -- or the Mudd Club -- or Trax -- or any of the myriad other clubs that dotted the streets of New York City, of course you remember Cheap Perfume.
It all began in late ’78, when Susan Palermo and Alison Berger, two cocktail waitresses at CBGB, decided they could rock out just as well as the boys, and joined forces with drummer Brenda Martinez to put together an all-female rock’n’roll aggregation they dubbed “Cheap Perfume” (taken from a Rick Derringer lyric). Says Susan, “I thought, ‘Hey we could do this just as well.’ Everyone was eager to hear and watch female musicians, and I was just as anxious to get the music out there.” Lead singer auditions were held and actress/singer/performance artist Lynn (a/k/a “L”) Odell came on board. They were later joined by Nancy Street on rhythm guitar, and then Bunny LeDesma who took over lead guitar responsibilities.
Following a triumphant showcase at CBGB in early ‘79, Cheap Perfume became the queens of the local rock scene -- ping-pong-ing back and forth between stints at CB’s and Max’s and laying the groundwork for future female bands like The Go Go’s and The Bangles. They shared bills with such acts as British punk-comic John Otway, the Plasmatics, the Shirts, the Tuff Darts, the Dead Boys and the Laughing Dogs. They played everywhere – clubs up and down the east coast and gigs as varied as Danbury State Penitentiary and Fort Dix. They developed a rabidly devoted following, cut a few high voltage demos of their highly infectious songs (“we’re NOT ordinary girls!”) and generally had a great time. Peter Crowley, Max’s Kansas City’s manager at the time, remembered Cheap Perfume as being one of the most popular groups to play at the club. The fact that boys found the band attractive only helped its popularity, but Crowley feels there was more to it. “I remember they had lots of boy groupies, but because they played with as much energy and skill as any of their competition, they attracted a much bigger following than they got [just] from being pretty girls.”
Alas, all good things must end, and Cheap Perfume dissolved in early ’82. The girls went their separate ways – Lynn ended up on the west coast and back in the world of theatre, film and television, most recently landing spots on Law and Order, Criminal Minds and in a slew of independent movies; Nancy formed a band with her husband singer/songwriter Richard X. Heyman, worked as a publicist for rock bands (including The Ramones) and at Sony Music; Brenda commenced an acting career – appearing in HBO’s OZ, Sex In The City and The Vagina Monologues and other films; Bunny continued playing with various bands and trained in the martial arts; Susan also kept playing rock’n’roll, as well as working in television and becoming a freelance writer and sci-fi enthusiast.
But wait…they’re back! With a history as rich as theirs and a repertoire so catchy that die-hard fans remember the songs to this day, the first decade of the new millennium seemed as good a time as any to reunite, which Cheap Perfume decided to do – and in style. They are reclaiming their crowns, knocking out audiences at clubs all over the city and further afield, and at long last cutting their debut disc. Since reuniting at CBGB before its untimely demise, the band has gained new fans, ones it may not have had at the height of its fame. “I feel like we have a lot of new, young female fans,” Bunny says, “so our audience is pretty well-balanced now. There are so many female musicians performing; the audiences now are very receptive. Rock’n’roll never dies. We believe the spirit of CBGB and the New York punk scene will always live on.” Well, Cheap Perfume definitely lives on! Don’t miss them!