My parents met mamboing, which I believe is an auspicious start. The first live performer ! saw was Chubby Checker, and I’ve been twisting ever since. Raised on girl groups, Motown, Ella Fitzgerald, Cuban music, and the Beatles and Stones, I picked up the guitar at age 11, plowing through a Beatles songbook I borrowed from my best friend and still have not returned.
By 17, I was living on my own in Manhattan, and was hired as a live sound engineer at Home, an infamous NYC music bar. Musicians I worked with there influenced me and exposed me to more great American roots music, and by 19 I was in my first band, Gears, playing at CBGB's and other legendary bars and clubs. Major local music heroes like Jon Paris and Guy & Pipp Gillette turned me onto rockabilly and rootsy country music, and I spent two years soaking up George Jones like a sponge. Not long after that, I started teaching guitar at the Guitar Study Center (I still teach privately), and co-fronted The Twanglers, who cut a single for Diesel Only Records. Soon I was writing songs and formed the Monicats, just so I could swing a little harder. My time was split between dancing to Cajun and Zydeco music and recording four albums as Li’l Mo and the Monicats, co-produced and recorded by Hank Bones, my musical better half. We attracted great guest stars on the albums, like national treasure Steve Riley, Tony Trishka, Fats Kaplin, and Gary Mackey, and the Monicats live and recorded have included Skip Krevens, Bob Mastro, Jeff Somerstein, Eugene Chrysler, Drina Seay, Montana Bob Packwood, Bill Malchow, Homeboy Steve Antonakos, Dave Sonneborn, Steve Greenfield, and more. The current live combo features Skip, Eugene, and Jeff, with Drina singing harmonies as often as possible. Oh, and I learned to play bass so I could be in Drina’s own band. I also perform solo and in duos and trios. I have toured Sweden.
I have a long-time residency at the Treehouse at 2A, in the East Village, the last Sunday of every month, for which I created a singer/songwriter/players circle called The Field of Stars (originated at Banjo Jim’s), which features four artists (including myself) swapping songs, and a musical community called The Great Harmony Swap which brings together more than 30 artists to perform theme shows honoring vocalists and songwriters. The stars! The production values! A thrill a minute! Thank you, Tom Clark, for bestowing this opportunity on me.
In recent years I have felt compelled to honor in song what I consider to be New York City’s own “roots” music (which I sometimes call Urban Folk), e.g. Tin Pan Alley and the Brill Building eras of songwriting, and those instinctive musical leanings are co-existing quite comfortably with the vintage country music styles that grabbed my heart and wouldn’t let go. The current album, Whole Lotta Lovin’, is an aural trip from Buddy Holly-like rock to Buck Owens-y shuffles to New York Latin grooves, girl-group pop and r & b, with western swing and jive thrown in for good measure and good dancing. Always dancing.
Boy, can she sing. Monica [Li'l Mo] is a rare triple-threat, a chanteuse who can rock and write songs that you swear you grew up with. This is the real deal, a captivating singer with soulful new material, and a voice that breathes new life into some choice classics.
–––Bill Kirchen, Titan of the Telecaster (liner notes for the new album, Whole Lotta Lovin')