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BY BOB KRASNER | Three quarters of the Liza Colby Sound have gotten halfway through their opening number when the lead singer, in a leopard print bikini and stiletto heels, explodes onto the stage at Lola (formerly Coney Island Baby).
Part Janis Joplin and part Iggy Pop, with a bit of Sheena of the Jungle and a stripper thrown in, Liza belts out the lines from an old Humble Pie tune, “I’m ready for you, I hope you’re ready for me!” Before the set of mostly original songs is over, she said, the audience comes to understand why she has been described as “Tina Turner backed by Led Zeppelin.”
An longtime East Village resident, Colby has been writing songs since she was 15. Born into a musical family in Connecticut, her parents surrounded her with music but didn’t push her into it. Her dad, Grammy winning pianist and composer John Colby and her mom, R+B singer Bev Rohlehr, understood when their daughter dropped out of college to pursue her dreams. Her mom said, “If you can’t live without it, pursue it.”
After a brief stint as a waitress in Rhode Island, Liza Colby was offered an apartment in Harlem and she jumped at it. A series of odd jobs — hawking salon services in the street, telemarketing, bartender, receptionist, catering — gradually began to turn into gigs as a backup singer, including miscellaneous recording sessions and tours with Denis Leary and Enrique Iglesias.
She found an apartment downtown and some occasional solo gigs, accompanying herself on piano and singing her own music — a bit, this reporter suggested, like Carole King.
“Oh no!” she exclaimed. “I was nowhere near the level of Carole King!”
Nevertheless, her music came to the attention of guitarist Adam Roth, who offered to put together a band around her. Featuring Roth and his brother Charly (on drums) and Alec Morton (bass), “The Liza Colby Sound ” (the name was Charly’s idea, Liza said) became a vehicle 10 years ago for Liza to express herself.
Sadly, Adam passed away in 2015 to cancer. He has been replaced by Jay Shepard.
“We’re a classic, four-piece rock band,” Liza Colby said. “I love the process of recording, but our live performance is the meat and potatoes of what we do.”
Her commitment to her stage show, whether in a small bar or a huge festival, is apparent every moment that she is in the spotlight.
“I love performing, being in front of people,” she said. “Singing feels like a superpower to me. It’s the highest privilege to sing my songs to people around the world … The performance has been a natural progression as the band forced me to find my place onstage.”
One of the more obvious aspects of her stagecraft is the blatant sexuality of her wardrobe and onstage style.
“It’s empowering for me,” she explained. “I’m young, I’ve got a body and I like to use it. You can tell how real a person is by their body language. When I’m singing my songs, I want people to know it’s real. My body is an expression as well as my voice — it’s a whole package.”
Colby loves hearing how her show has affected her audience. “If I can make someone feel something, I’ve done my job,” she said.
“Besides,” she added, “rock-and-roll and sexuality have been intertwined since the beginning.”
Colby credits a number of things for her success as an artist, including her parents, who gave her a “really open-minded upbringing.” She “thrives on the NYC energy” and notes that the band is a group of “unbelievable musicians who are completely steadfast in what they do.”
Then there is her own nature. “I’m just a seeker as an artist and a person,” she said. “You have to keep moving – stagnation is like death. I want to be in situations where I am constantly expanding myself.”
After a three week residency at Lola, 169 Avenue A, the Liza Colby Sound takes off for Europe. Tour dates and more info at thelizacolbysound.com .