music morsels indie music March 2007

CROSSROADS - Vixen guitarist Jan Kuehnemund
by Mark E. Waterbury


Sometimes the glue that holds a band together can come from one source. About twenty years ago, a guitarist named Jan Kuehnemund formed a band with three of her best friends in the suburban Twin Cities area. Fast forward to 2007, where Jan is still rocking the stages with three new friends. The band we are speaking of is of course Vixen, and all uniqueness aspects of an all girl band pushed aside, Jan has persevered through personal changes, break ups and tough times to keep the rocking reputation of herself and the Vixen name intact.

When Jan Kuehnemund's father brought an electric guitar home one day in the early 80's, Jan and her brother basically fought over its possession. Jan won out by practicing more and mastering the instrument without any real formal training. The next logical step was obvious for the young Minnesotan. "I started out with my best friend who also played guitar, we rounded us some of our other friends and put a band together," Jan recalls. "We just started asking people if they wanted a band for parties or frats or whatever, playing for cheaply just so we could get out there." After trying a couple different names, the band settled on Vixen, an apt moniker as their line up consisted of four young ladies. Vixen played as much as they could in the Twin Cities and the surrounding area; handing out flyers, talking to people, and doing all the legwork they could to let people know they existed. The started growing a decent following in the area, and their hard work showed its first real signs of paying off when booking agent Bob Engle of Variety Artists came to one of their  shows. Impressed by the electrifying performance and the band's work ethic in cultivating a fan base, he decided to take them on. He began to send Vixen out of state, getting them on bills with other bands and signing them up for Battle of the Bands contests.  "Getting the agent was a big step for us," Jan recalls. "We played year round...almost two hundred gigs a year. We always tried as hard as we could to put on a great show, and then came back to the same places so they had a chance to get to know us. It was definitely helping us to build a following."

The early years of Vixen already had seen a number of personnel changes for one reason or another, with Jan being the only constant. Vixen ended up moving to L.A. in the mid 80's, where they kept performing live and began to make some demo recordings. During the early years, Vixen had trouble finding the right manager. An old business relationship helped them garner interest from Left Bank's Allen Kovac, who also managed Richard Marx. "We had gone through so many managers during the band's tenure, and could not find anyone who was right for us. Bob Engle, the booking agent that we had worked with in Minneapolis knew Allen, who ended up really liking the band, and he told us he could get us a deal. We had kept a good relationship with Bob and that ended up helping us find the right manager." With a new lineup joining Jan featuring vocalist Janet Gardner, bassist Share Pederson and drummer Roxxy Petrucci, Vixen started performing at showcases, including one for EMI/Manhattan, and in a little less than a year, they inked a deal. After releasing their self titled debut album in 1988, the band hit the road, supporting Bon Jovi, and the Scorpions. They soon found out that the work to keep the buzz going for their music was even harder than what it took to get there. "Allen told us that, 'you got the record deal, if you think that was a big deal, now the work really begins!'" Jan muses. "Well, he was right. It was hard work, but it was an unbelievable time as well. Getting out in an 18,000 seat arena opening for the Scorpions was scary, but it was also amazing and wonderful. And it definitely helped make us a lot more fans."

"Vixen" reached number forty-one on the charts, producing the hits "Cryin'" and "Edge Of A Broken Heart." In 1989, Vixen recorded their follow up album "Rev It Up," featuring the single "How Much Love" and of course a hectic tour. When the band went into the studios to start recording their third album, a conflict arose in the Vixen camp. "Roxxy and I were willing to work with outside songwriters, while Janet and Share didn't think we should do that," Jan recalls. "Right around that same time EMI dropped us because grunge was hitting big, so we didn't have anyone to put out a new album. All these factors made it impossible to keep it together." Vixen called it quits in 1991. Jan didn't stay idle for a long time, first working with a band called Population 361, and later playing guitar on Jeff Paris' album "Lucky This Time."  Jan did join Drawing Down the Moon with a couple other female singer/songwriters, and was performing and writing with them at the same time she was working with Population 361.

Jan still felt that Vixen was in her heart and soul, and although she loved making music with her new projects, there seemed to be something missing. In 1997, Janet and Roxxy took the Vixen name and released an album titled "Tangerine," which not only flopped, but prompted Jan to launch a lawsuit against them. "When we first broke up in '91, I thought we would someday get back together. Roxxy and I tried a couple times, and it just didn't come together. I always had the hope that either we would get back together or I would find new members. Right towards the end of my lawsuit against Janet and Roxxy, my manager at the time tried to make the best of it by asking all of us if we could put it all behind us and consider going back on tour. We thought is was worth giving it a shot."  Janet, Roxxy and Jan got back together with a new bass player to join the Voices of Metal Tour with Slaughter and Vince Neil's band. The first few shows were a bit rough, but then Vixen began to hit their groove. Unfortunately, more diversity lay ahead on the road. "The tour was very very rough, Gigs were falling through and the transportation was cramped. It was like roughing it and basically the tour didn't hold together." Janet left the tour and eventually Roxxy followed suit. As had happened several times previously in the history of Vixen, it was up to Jan to carry on the name. "I could have gone home and called it a day, but something made me want to find new people. Miraculously, I found the new players, and we have been together ever since."

With vocalist Jenna Sanz-Agero, drummer Kat Kraft and bassist Lynn Louise Lowrey joining Jan, Vixen continued to do what they do best. They hit the road and soon found out that a lot of Vixen's original die hard fans were coming to the shows, and bringing new fans as well. Although it is not the line up that achieved the most fame in the late 80's, Jan felt extraordinarily comfortable with her new band mates. "We really have a great chemistry together. We have a lot of fun on the road, and thought that maybe we could keep it going and put out another record." It took a few years, but Vixen finally released their first true album in seventeen years "Live And Learn" on Demolition Records in late 2006. Enjoying a renewed life with her new band mates, a new label and of course, more time on the road, Jan is hoping for a bright future with the revamped Vixen. " I am really enjoying myself right now, but in a different way. We may not have the big tour buses and fancy hotel rooms like I had with the band in the EMI days. What we do have is a lot of fun and we really enjoy what we are doing. I am happy to still be doing this and we intend to be around a long time."


Jan Kuehnemund's advice for musicians: "Don't give up and be true to yourself. Believe in yourself and don't let people change the music that you are trying to do. Keep playing live, too. That worked good for us."

Division of Serge Entertainment Group