Your ‘next girlfriend’
Magnetic vocalist Becca Neunuebel knocks ’em dead in Berkow ‘n’ Becca Band
Longtime local guitarist/ singer/songwriter Peter Berkow first heard Becca Neunuebel (sounds like “noonabell") singing with the CSUC Gospel Choir at the Thursday Night Market downtown a little over a year ago. He was so impressed with the 22-year-old’s gutsy and soulful solo that he invited her into the studio to record with him, and, as he succinctly put it, “she just nailed it.”
So began the ongoing musical collaboration of Berkow and Neunuebel, better known as the Berkow ‘n’ Becca Band, once you add guitarist Steve Sanders, trumpeter Jeff Daub, bassist Simon Langley and drummers Terry Carr and Zach Cowan.
Meeting with the two of them recently at a downtown cafà while Neunuebel had a break between classes at Chico State, where she is majoring in business information systems, I got a chance to see the chemistry between the pair—the perky young Neunuebel and Berkow, old enough to be her father.
“People’ll think he’s my dad,” Neunuebel leans across the table to tell me, smiling. “They’re like, ‘Becca Berkow?’ I’m like, ‘No-o-o…'” Berkow smiles also and reminds me that Neunuebel is the same age as his daughter, Wysteria, which is a plus, as these two see it.
For one thing, there’s Berkow’s fatherly sense of protection and support for Neunuebel’s budding career and the inevitable fact of her moving on. “Sooner or later, she’ll go off and do it on her own without me. … That’s part of the overall plan,” says Berkow.
For another, there is Neunuebel’s talent in writing lyrics, which brings a contemporary freshness to the band. “She has this song called ‘Booty Call,'” Berkow explains. “I didn’t even know what a booty call was!”
Much of the material that the band plays was written and performed locally by Berkow back in the late-'70s/early-'80s: “Harvest Time in Chico,” “Burger Love,” “Stoned Zen Pimp,” “Liquid Smog” and “Do the Funky Laundry.” But Neunuebel has updated some songs by adding verses of her own.
From “Do the Funky Laundry": “You know it’s time to finally wash your clothes/ when your frat boy beer bong daddy boogies right on out the door.”
Recently, I accompanied Berkow—who is also a widely known videographer (PBS’ Sierra Center Stage, etc.), journalism teacher and former PR man for Partridge Family pop star David Cassidy (it’s true!)—to Dale Price’s Electric Canyon Studios and got to listen to the band’s in-process recording work.
Berkow describes the band as “primarily a recording project,” and the result sounds like a funked-up version of quirky S.F. rock band The Tubes, popular in the late-'70s/early-'80s. The stylized vocal exchanges between Berkow and Neunuebel satirically comment on politics and popular culture, evoking the wild interactions between the Tubes’ legendary vocalists Fee Waybill and Re Styles. Sanders’ Ernie Isley-style guitar playing and Langley’s steady funk bass contribute to the catchy ‘70s funk feel.
I caught the fun, funky and talented B ‘n’ B Band, joined by formidable guest alto sax man Eric Weber, at a recent “Rock the Vote” show at the Chico Women’s Club. Though the band sounds somewhat different from the layered recorded tracks I heard at Electric Canyon (Neunuebel can’t sing back-up for herself in a live situation, for one), the confident vocalist belts it out with sassy abandon, backed up by her band, which she describes as “such a solid foundation” that “frees [her] up as a vocalist.”
Neunuebel’s stage presence is compelling. She’s cute as a button, with seductive stage moves that prompted one guy in the audience to turn to me and say wishfully, "That’s my next girlfriend!"