Cellist Rebecca Roudman leads a musical double life. While she is a serious symphonic cellist with experience in a number of Bay Area orchestras, her first love is Dirty Cello, her multi-genre quartet. They return to Blue Note Napa for two shows this Friday evening, Oct. 5.
On the phone from her home in Novato last month, Roudman talked about her early musical education. After starting out on the piano, she was introduced to the cello by her mother, who is a music teacher.
“She put the cello in my hands when I was 7 years old,” Roudman said, “and I instantly fell in love with it, not because I was playing beautiful music, but because I made the coolest, weirdest noises on it. I'd go all the way up the fingerboard, and all the way down, making it sound like a siren.”
She committed herself to the instrument, and as a student at Terra Linda High School in San Rafael played in both the Marin and San Francisco Youth Orchestras. After college at Cal State–East Bay, she played in the Santa Cruz Symphony and in the Bay Area Women’s Orchestra, and she continues to play in both the Santa Rosa and Oakland symphonies.
Roudman said that a few years after college, her passion for “alternative music,” as she put it, took over. “I like classical music, but it's never been my first love. I started playing with blues musicians, sitting in with blues bands, and a lot of singer/songwriters, and it sparked an interest.
“I usually wasn't the main person, I was backing up the other band members, or the singer. And I thought to myself, ‘God, this is fun. What would it be like to even be in my own band, and front my own band doing something like this?’ This was a weird thing because I'm not a guitar player; I'm a cello player. It was definitely sort of a risky thought.”
Roudman’s husband, Jason Eckl, was an integral part of her transition. “When we met in college, Jason played flute,” she said. “And so we would try to play cello and flute duos together, and try to rock out, and it just sounded dumb.”
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Eckl switched to guitar. “In our first year of playing together as Dirty Cello, Jason was literally playing an instrument that he’d only picked up that year. Fortunately, he's really talented. And that's where it started. Jason and I were just going to coffee shops, playing for free, playing for tips at BART stations, and just seeing where we'd go.”
Where they went was an evolution to a multi-genre quartet with Roudman as the principal instrumental soloist and lead singer. The full band is Roudman on cello, fiddle and vocals; Eckl as guitarist, bandleader and emcee; Colin Williams on bass and Cory Aboud on drums. They are busy, playing two to three Northern California gigs a week and touring a few times a year.
Dirty Cello is a band with few boundaries, moving from country to blues to mainstream rock to bluegrass to heavy metal. They play original music and their covers venture far afield, from Led Zeppelin to the Beatles to Stevie Ray Vaughan to John Fogerty to Janis Joplin and many more.
“We initially tried doing just one thing,” Roudman said. “For example, I really love the blues, so we tried playing just the blues for a set, and we found ourselves kind of like, ‘I'm ready to do something different.’ And the audience really appreciates it.
“So we'll look at what the audience is enjoying. We mix it up. We don't ever have a set list. Jason just calls them out. He just kind of feels what the crowd is into and calls out the next tune. On stage, it’s kind of like, ‘Okay, let's do this one.’” Appropriately enough, Dirty Cello’s latest album is 2018’s “By Request.”
Friday, Oct. 5, 7 p.m. (doors open 5:30 p.m) and 9 p.m. (doors open 8:30 p.m.). $22.50-$50. Blue Note Napa, 1030 Main St., Napa. 707-880-2300. BlueNoteNapa.com.