You know you’ve hit the mark as a songwriter when Elvis Costello’s drummer wants to play on one of your tunes. Local rock ‘n soul vocalist extraordinaire Andrea Gillis got that honor just last month.
“It’s all been a blur and I still can’t believe it,” Gillis said. The hookup happened when her producer and bassist Ed Valauskas was making the musical rounds in Los Angeles and met up with drummer Pete Thomas, whose association with Costello goes back to 1978. He played Thomas a few tracks he’d been working on, and one that caught his ear was Gillis’ “Last Shot,” which she wrote with guitarist Eric Salt and describes as a “swampy rocker.”
It will be her next single on the local Red on Red label, but she played it live when Gillis brought her band (which also includes drummer Eric Anderson and guitarists Melissa Gibbs and Mike Oram) to Atwoods Saturday.
That’s not been Gillis’ only recent brush with stardom. Last year she fell in love with “I Don’t Need You No More”– a deep cut from the second J. Geils Band album — and she and Valauskas contacted the writers, Geils Band members Peter Wolf and Seth Justman for permission to record it. Not only did they approve but Wolf praised it to the hilt, comparing her to the late Etta James and saying she’d kicked it high and rocked the house.
“I lost my mind when I read that,” she says. “It happened that I heard the song on the radio, probably Little Steven’s Underground channel, and told Ed that the song was incredible and we had to do it. You can’t get much more raw than the J. Geils version, but I wanted to maybe make it even rawer, more like (seminal garage-rock band) the Sonics — more garagey and less blues-driven. At the end of the day we wanted to make the song more our own, while keeping it real like they did. And I think we did a pretty good job being a little bit of both.”
Gillis has been a local mover and shaker for a couple of decades now, since she booked Somerville’s now-legendary Abbey Lounge in the early 2000’s. But she doesn’t get too nostalgic about those days. “One difference is that there are more venues now where you can play two sets of music — Not a lot of venues were doing that before. And it seems that there are many more female fronted bands, which I like to think the Abbey had a hand in. So things are different now, but I’d say they’re about as good.”
If raw rock and soul aren’t your thing, you may prefer a gig that Gillis is doing this month. For a year during shutdown, she and husband Marc Pinansky did weekly streamed shows as Devotion, playing cover tunes that ranged from romantic to ridiculous (or both). They timed the run to begin and end on their wedding anniversary but they’ll be reviving it live at the Lizard Lounge on Jan. 27. Expect to hear duets on songs you never thought you’d hear again.
“I can promise a double shot of Christopher Cross, and one by Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis” she said. “I think we managed to cheer a lot of people up with those online shows. One couple even mailed us in a Cheers backdrop, because we used to always do the Cheers theme.”
But is it easy to do these songs with a straight face?
“I laugh all the way through them. Not sure about Marc, because I’m not sure how seriously he takes it. I love some of it too, though — I mean, can I relate to ‘Ride Like the Wind?’ Absolutely not. But do I love the Michael McDonald part? Sure, and we’ve had plenty of arguments over which of us gets to sing it.”