Music News

Close Encounters

When Los Angeles-based jazz singer Pamela Stonebrooke began billing herself as the "Intergalactic Diva," the smoky-voiced chanteuse was not yet renowned for mingling with non-human life-forms. A sign-up sheet for a jazz showcase overseen by a drummer friend asked participants to list their names and instruments--"and just as a joke, I put my name down and I put 'the Intergalactic Diva' under instrument," Stonebrooke remembers. "And that was it: From then on, whenever I went to sit in anywhere, that's what people called me. So it was just a little fluke that stuck with me." She adds, "Oddly now, it kind of works."

And how. On Experiencer, her latest album, Stonebrooke delivers Sade-smooth, Grace Jones-demanding tunes that deal with her alleged communions with aliens. But such esoteric lyrical content has not rendered her a difficult-to-acquire taste. Indeed, she is much in demand; she played the wedding of Hustler publisher Larry Flynt and entertained at several birthday parties for the late Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, who sat in front of Stonebrooke's band and applauded the solos even after most of the guests had gone home. Moreover, she recently inked a cherry publishing deal with Ballantine Books for Experiencer: A Jazz Singer's True Account of Extraterrestrial Contact, a tome she's in the process of completing. In other words, her career is boldly going where it's never gone before.

According to Stonebrooke, her earliest "conscious contact" occurred five years ago, whereupon she found herself aboard an alien vessel in the middle of the night. "It was pretty typical," she grants. "Although I don't know how typical this is: I was taken into a room and presented with my four hybrid daughters who called me 'mommy.'" The event leveled her pre-existing life like a hurricane, she says: "The first year and a half that I had these contacts, I literally couldn't do anything else. I let my music go. As far as I was concerned, I had to figure this out, and it was a primary motivating force in my life. I stopped doing clubs, I stopped doing gigs, stopped writing, and even though I missed it and felt bad that I didn't have that spark of inspiration, there was something more pressing for me to deal with."

That Stonebrooke became estranged from her craft was no trifle; music had been her main animator for decades. As a theater major at Ohio's Kent State University around the time of the infamous antiwar rioting that took place there, she performed with many bands, including, on occasion, Joe Walsh's James Gang. After graduation, she hastened to New York, where she sang in clubs and off-Broadway musicals. Three years later, she decamped for the West Coast, but she didn't stay there long. The newly opened Playboy Club in Tokyo was looking for a singer in residence, and after besting nearly 300 other women in an audition, she crossed the Pacific for what she thought would be three months overseas. She soon learned otherwise. "The band was so thrilled to have a woman who could really sing that after the gig was over at 11:00 or 11:30, they would take me to other jazz clubs and kind of show me off," Stonebrooke recalls. "I would sit in at these other clubs--and because the other clubs loved me, I ended up being booked for the next eight years."

While abroad, Stonebrooke began to pen her own tunes, but she found Tokyo a tough market to crack. "That was very frustrating because, obviously, I couldn't sing my original stuff in Japan. In fact, they wanted to hear the standards--and not even the obscure ones, which were the ones I wanted to sing. Because unless they knew the melody, it didn't mean anything to them. After a while, even though the money was just great, I didn't feel creatively expressed."

The pressing desire to perform her own compositions drove Stonebrooke back to the States, where disco was going full-tilt boogie. "I had several opportunities to join high-profile bands and do disco stuff, but they weren't interested in my original material because it was too weird," she says. "I was doing some dark alternative stuff at that point. But I had real R&B chops, so a lot of people wanted me to join this group or that group that had major record deals. Remember the three-girl groups? There were so many of those. Well, I had so many opportunities to join in on that--because I was the token white girl, basically. But when it got down to the final moment when I was supposed to sign the contract, my spirit wouldn't let me do it."

Instead, Stonebrooke toured Europe as a back-up singer for country crooner Hoyt Axton and spent nearly three years as the featured female vocalist for Sparks, an oddball combo fronted by brothers Ron and Russell Mael. But as she tells it, her varied and serpentine musical career came to a screeching halt after she was introduced to the "Greys," the species of alien commonly represented on bumper stickers and baseball caps. Stonebrooke claims these creatures visited her on a number of occasions, as did the "Reptilians," another type of extraterrestrial that most members of the UFO community prefer to avoid. Acclimating to these unearthly guest appearances took time, she notes, but "when I started to get comfortable with the fact that this was really going on and that it was manageable and was just another experience that I had to process and deal with, I started to write again." However, she adds, "what I started to write was about my experiences, and that's when I wrote 'Heart of the Grey Matter' and 'Resurrected Alien.'"

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Amy Kiser