Art vs. ego

The ladies—and lone guy—in Blame Sally balance personalities to create a raw, yet well-crafted sound

Blame Sally, pictured here minus Rob Strom, is usually 80 percent estrogen, 20 percent testosterone.

Blame Sally, pictured here minus Rob Strom, is usually 80 percent estrogen, 20 percent testosterone.

Photo courtesy of Blame Sally

Catch Blame Sally on Friday, November 30, at 8 p.m. at Auburn Placer Performing Arts Center at the State Theatre, 985 Lincoln Way in Auburn. Online tickets are sold out, but contact the venue at (530) 885-0156 or visit for other options.

In this era of The Voice, American Idol, Duets and The X Factor ad nauseam, it was the Bay Area band Blame Sally’s appearance on a KVIE Public Television fundraiser last summer that lured me to the TV and then to the band’s September Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub gig.

It was a packed house—mostly female—when Blame Sally hit the stage: Pam Delgado on percussion and vocals; Renee Harcourt on guitar, mandolin and vocals; Rob Strom on bass; Jeri Jones on guitar, bass and vocals; and Monica Pasqual on piano, accordion and vocals.

“Hands tied behind my back, watch the train run off the track, / do you want your money back, do you want.” Harcourt’s vocal range was clear and plaintive, earnest and angry on “Throw Me a Bone”—a mélange of emotions that paired beautifully with Jones’ guitar riffs.

The women fronted the stage straight across, with Delgado standing at a “cocktail set” of drums and Pasqual vacating her stool occasionally to play the accordion. There are no fog machines, no pyrotechnics, no prancing dancers. They didn’t need them.

Rather, this is music that’s well-crafted yet still raw.

Indeed, when Delgado finally finished a gut-wrenching rendition of “Chain of Fools” with Strom on upright bass, the audience stood stunned.

These mostly 40-somethings, who will appear Friday, November 30, at the Auburn Performing Arts Center in Auburn, craft songs and amazing harmonies around life experiences, offering sharp social commentary or vivid narratives of love, yearning, illness, motherhood and betrayal. Couple that with a finely honed musical score that melds rock and country with Celtic, Latin and Middle Eastern flavors, and it’s no wonder Blame Sally’s music resonates with fans.

At a rehearsal last month in a cavernous hall kept by its Berkeley-based record label Ninth Street Opus, Blame Sally minus the ailing Strom (who is also not pictured), revealed how its music came together.

“Monica and I met in 1990 at a songwriter competition in Napa. She won,” Harcourt said with a laugh.

Pasqual was working on a solo project, and a mutual acquaintance recommended a female guitar player, Jones, who was already playing music with Delgado.

“Monica got us together,” Jones recalled. “It was really fun to play.”

At the time, no one was really interested in a serious band commitment.

“We had our own projects and disappointments,” Pasqual said, “and were kind of tired of the business of music and thought, ’Nothing is gonna happen; we’re way past our prime.’”

Then they landed at the Bazaar Café in San Francisco.

“People started coming. We didn’t have one bummer of a gig,” Delgado said.

The group released a demo, and the gigs flowed—as did five albums. With all that estrogen and some strong minds, it’s easy to imagine a major war of egos. But not so with the Sallies, as they call themselves.

“Our main influence is the love of our songs and acoustic harmonies. There isn’t a front person,” Pasqual explained. “People also make a big deal about our being a girl band, but that isn’t what this is about.”

Plus, with Strom, Blame Sally really isn’t just a girl band.

“Rob’s been with us for three years,” Jones said of Strom, who manages a bass guitar just as expertly as he handles an upright bass.

A full-time member of the band, Jones lauds Strom and what she calls his low-key, grounded “bass personality.”

“[It’s] easy to be around him, and that’s rare to find in a guy to fit in with the four of us,” she said.

In the end, the band members say it’s about art over ego.

“It’s about what’s the best for the song,” Pasqual said. “We’re also critical with each other. If it’s not working or good, we say it—it is honest.”