Barbara Puciul and Lorna Ashe have known each other for nearly 30 years, long enough to make beautiful music together. They’ve worked in bands from the country/bluegrass Okie Dokes to their current rock ’n’ roll band, the Space Invaders. They met at the mainstay of Island music, the Ritz, in 1990 when Barbara was playing with her ex-husband’s band, Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish.
“Barbara was playing with the Bluefish. I saw her and I was like, ‘Who is that?’ She’s so cool, she’s so beautiful. I just wanted to play music with you,” Lorna remembered as the two sat at the dining room table at Barbara’s West Tisbury home a few weeks ago.
“Well, there weren’t that many women in it back then,” Barbara said.
When she first began learning how to play the bass in the late 1980s, Barbara said, she was pregnant with her daughter Ruby Rae. Barbara was so shy that she put headphones on so no one could hear her when she practiced. She was taught by one of the Island’s best blues musicians, the late Maynard Silva.
“He was a big inspiration to everyone, a real bluesman,” Lorna said.
The two women have grown together, gone through the births of three daughters between them, journeyed to California (Lorna) and to Kazakhstan (Barbara) and all sorts of places in between, always coming back home to the Vineyard.
“As Vineyard women, we often play music with dirt under our nails,” Lorna said. “We’re gardeners, we build things. Barbara did masonry for 10 years; she was always covered with cement dust.”
Besides building, playing music, singing, raising children, traveling, both Lorna and Barbara are educators: Lorna works in a kindergarten classroom at the Edgartown School, and Barbara teaches ESL classes in Cambridge. Lorna makes jewelry and wedding cakes; Barbara creates incredible artwork using cutouts to depict women, cats, trees, flowers, and fish, and she did the artwork for a couple of the CD cover jackets for Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish, as well as designing T shirts for them.
“There’s a lot of inspiration here,” Lorna said. “Our daughters garden, do carpentry, landscaping, catering. It just feels old-fashioned to me; even though we’re in a modern age, it feels old-fashioned here.”
“The Vineyard has allowed us to be creative. The Island makes it easy for us to do what we want to do,” Barbara agreed.
Lorna remembers playing the Hot Tin Roof while she was pregnant with her daughter Seneca.
“Our children literally grew up coming to all our shows,” Barbara said. “Ruby used to put her hands over her ears.”
The women took a walk down their musical memory lane during their visit, and brought out photos of the 1990s, when they were in the Okie Dokes with Dave Davis and Stuart Kimball, who went on to play with Bob Dylan. They played for President Bill Clinton at a party on the Vineyard in 1999, and got a thumbs-up from legendary surf guitarist Dick Dale when they played a dive bar in Portland, Me.
“It was exciting to meet Bill Clinton,” Barbara said. “I presented him with a funny Disney hat to sign for Ruby, and he started singing that Ray Charles song, ‘Ruby.’ He was so charming.”
She said Clinton’s party was during a more innocent time, before 9/11. “We were right there with him, it was just so casual, so Vineyard,” Barbara remembered.
Both women praised Janet King, previous owner of the Ritz, for her support throughout all their band incarnations. Ms. King encouraged them to play as much as possible, Lorna said. They’re still playing the Ritz these days, under new owners Larkin and Jacqueline Stallings.
“The whole staff is great, they make it so warm and inviting. It’s got the same feel as the old Ritz. It’s all about the music,” Lorna said.
They practice with the Space Invaders regularly, sharing the stage with guitarist Slim Bob Berosh, bass player Anthony Esposito, and drummer Rob Myers.
With the Space Invaders, Lorna gets to delve into a catalog of songs that she loves, she said.
“Funk punk, ’60s garage music, and ’80s music, some of my favorite songs that aren’t necessarily well known, bringing them out to be heard again,” Lorna said. “And I wanted to sing with Barbara in this band, using a sound from the ’60s, like doubling the melody and occasional harmonies, singing in unison on a lot of the stuff.”
It’s been three years since they founded the Space Invaders, with musicians they have long histories with and some wild costumes to spice it up.
They play music that’s nearly impossible not to dance to, and their voices, while different, go together as well as their 30-year friendship. They say they can see themselves playing in a band together for years to come.
“I’m not sure I don’t want to be in another country band with Barbara,” Lorna said. “I can see myself getting older with a country band that plays the Ag Hall.”
“I’ve always liked Motown music,” Barbara said. “I’d love to do a little bit of Motown.”
“Oh yeah, wanna do a soul review?” Lorna asked. “I get a little bit ready to move on after a while, because it’s not a career, it’s an avocation. I don’t feel the need to stick to something. I’m sure it’ll morph into something else. Maybe get some male backup dancers.”
The Space Invaders take the stage at the Ritz as part of the Ladyfest, a night of female-led music, on Saturday, Oct. 28. The music begins at 7 pm, and there’s a $5 door charge that benefits Connect to End Violence. If you miss Ladyfest, you can catch the Space Invaders on Halloween night, Oct. 31, at the Ritz.