Cherry Valence guitarist Cheetie Kumar is big on Thin Lizzy



By Steve Newton

The Cherry Valence guitarist Cheetie Kumar is napping in the band’s van when the Straight catches up with her. The riff-based guitar-rock quintet is en route to a show in Brooklyn; the night before, it played the first date of a North American tour in Washington, D.C. “It’s always good to get the first one out of the way,” relates Kumar as she gets her bearings, “ ’cause its not as tight as you want it to be. But everybody’s excited to be goin’ on tour. We all can’t wait to get to the West Coast again.”

The North Carolina–based outfit is touring in support of its second full-length CD, Riffin’, a raucous mix of bastardized blues rhythms and melodic guitar blasts, wherein Kumar gets to show off the licks she’s nicked from the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Billy Gibbons, and Jimmy Page—not to mention the underrated Scott Gorham.

“I’m going through a big Thin Lizzy phase right now,” she points out, adding that the band has also been paying tribute to the ’70s with a nifty version of Deep Purple’s “Space Truckin’ ”. But it’s not as if the 30-something Kumar has spent years locked away in her bedroom, duplicating Ritchie Blackmore’s intense Stratocaster freakouts. She’s only been playing guitar for seven years; most of her time in the music industry has been spent behind the scenes, managing bands.

“I’ve worked with Flat Duo Jets, and Motorcaster, and a band called Fingers, nobody big or anything,” she explains. “But I’ve learned about one side of the business, and it’s made me realize how much I didn’t want to do that—how much I really wanted to play. Before that, I just never really felt like I could, you know; I didn’t have the guts or something.”

Kumar’s introduction to the performing side of things hasn’t been all that glamorous, however. Signed to Bellingham-based Estrus Records, with independent distribution through Chicago’s Touch and Go, it’s not all caviar and four-star hotels. “We can eat peanut-butter sandwiches,” she says with a chuckle, “and sometimes we splurge on cheese. We’re sleepin’ on floors mostly, at friends’ houses, but it’s okay. We’ll get maybe a couple of [hotel] rooms in the whole tour, so we go camping sometimes.”

It’s also a DIY situation when the band’s van needs repairs, but the mechanically inclined Kumar is right there alongside coguitarist Jamie Williams, wrench in hand. “Jamie really knows what he’s doin’,” she says, “but between me and him we can usually screw the van up pretty well. End up with extra parts and throw them away.”

Hopefully those pesky spare parts won’t prove essential, and the Cherry Valence van will keep rolling right into Vancouver, where the band will visit the Pic Pub on Thursday (August 29). The group—which played here last summer with Nebula at the now-defunct Starfish Room—will be accompanied this time by touring partners Federation X. “They’re good friends and label mates,” notes Kumar. “They’re a trio with amazingly good riffs and powerhouse drumming. They’re awesome!”

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