When Rebecca Roudman started the band Dirty Cello, she didn’t think it would go anywhere. Instead, it’s gone everywhere.
In seven years, Dirty Cello has released seven albums and had multiple tours in England, Italy and China.
After it returned from Israel and Iceland, the quintet fronted by cellist Roudman rocked the Valhalla Boathouse Theatre on Aug. 13, which it sold out two summers ago. This year’s show sold out a week in advance.
“When people come to Valhalla, they will hear bluegrass. They will hear blues. But they will also hear anything else we feel like playing,” she said before the show. “We’re going to play some rock. We’re going to play some Irish music, some Eastern European music.”
One of the first Dirty Cello songs to go viral on YouTube was Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.” The cello tone is hauntingly rockable. It also forces feet to stomp when Roudman plays bluegrass or a country lick, such as “Orange Blossom Cello.”
If Dirty Cello needs a category, perhaps it could be world and folk and bluegrass and blues, Roudman suggested. “Eclectic, maybe?”
Upon listening to the latest album, “Bad Ideas Make Great Stories,” a listener will be right to simply call it dance music. There are no ballads. It will be interesting to see if anybody actually sits during the performance in the Boathouse’s theater seats.
“We pride ourselves in playing in extremely weird places and this is a weird place that we actually love,” Roudman said. “There’s a lot of weird places we’ve played that we hate. The audience get the treat of getting to hear music and then looking at the beautiful view outside.”
In its song “California,” Roudman sings: “Tahoe’s lake is big and blue, and up there you can gamble too.Winter ski and summer swim, most beautiful place I’ve ever been.”
The band is made up of Roudman on cello, fiddle and vocals; her husband, Jason Eckl, guitar, flute, saxophone, penny whistle, banjo and cowbell; Colin Williams on bass; Ben Wallace-Ailsworth on drums; and Sandy Lindrop on piano, ukulele and vocals.
When she’s not playing with Dirty Cello, Roudman performs with the Santa Rosa and Oakland symphony orchestras. The classical realm is where her musical journey began.
“There was never any thought of learning any other type of music,” said Roudman, whose mother is a piano instructor.
When Roudman was 7 years old, her mother suggested that in addition to piano, she might try the harp. But the instrument didn’t fit in their car, so a miniature cello was purchased. She majored in music with an emphasis on cello performance. Her career destiny was set.
But there was a problem.
“Classical music doesn’t really do it for me like blues and bluegrass, world music and even hip-hop,” she said. “I really like music with a heavy beat. I like music with a message.”
She played cello to songs on CDs. She learned the Scorpions song “Rock Me Like A Hurricane” and performed it at Vallejo’s Got Talent.
“Somebody asked me if she could buy my album, but that was the only song I knew,” she said.
She began playing in various groups, including a blues band. That forced her into uncharted territory.
“I started improvising on cello and I was really horrible at it because I had the mentality of a classical musician,” she said. “I don’t know how to improvise.”
Roudman learned. And she was enlightened to the thrill of improvisation after she played a solo with a blues band.
“There was applause in middle of song after as solo,” she said. “That doesn’t happen with classical music. It was the biggest rush and I had the biggest smile on my face and I was like, ‘OK, this is what I want to keep doing.’”
A trained flautist, husband Jason Eckl learned guitar and they became a duo. The band quickly grew to a quartet and then a quintet. Eckl built a custom cello stand and instead of playing seated and reading music, Roudman was up front, swinging to the strings she played.
Dirty Cello became very popular, very fast.
“We’re something familiar but unique,” Roudman said. “People understand bluegrass. They understand blues. What’s unique is (the lead instrument) is not a fiddle. It’s not a guitar. It’s a cello.
“People are enough intrigued that we are able to book these crazy tours in these crazy places. Sometimes the name of the band Dirty Cello works against us. Think were a burlesque band. No, it’s just cello music that is really in your face, loud and crazy.”
Dirty CelloBand website: DirtyCello.com
Latest album: ‘Bad Ideas Make Great Stories’
Release: April 2019
Track highlights: “Rocking Chair,” “What Give You The Right,” “Orange Blossom Cello”
ABOUT Tim Parsons
Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.