In early 1979 a punk band formed in Florida called The Cichlids. With two girls – Debbie DeNeese on vocals and guitar and Susan Robins on bass – they stood out as an exciting and competent live act.
There’s a fascinating 2016 interview with DeNeese that gives all the details of a rollercoaster ride of rock, drugs, coercion and physically abusive relationships showing Debbie to be a feisty survivor.
DeNeese was an early starter as a musician aged 12:
“My aunt and uncle bought me a really crappy acoustic guitar, from Abraham and Strauss (department store). And I’m sure my parents wanted to kill them, but yeah, I got that. And I got a chord chart, and my father, who had never played guitar in his life, taught me how to do the chords. And bought me some of those little tab books, some John Denver (laughs), some Glen Campbell….and that’s how I learned to play.”
DeNeese then formed and joined several bands, but when punk rock group The Cichlids started, they realised that there was a passion – for good or bad – between the members. Soon after their debut, the band was signed by TK Records. The Miami label was best known for disco releases but was seeking to cash in on the punk craze.
The interview describes countless drug-fuelled episodes, including rows with Chrissie Hynde when The Cichlids supported The Pretenders, and having to fend off an amorous Andy Summers when the band opened for The Police in 1979.
Following the record deal, there were doubtless wrangles about the direction, sound and look of the band, and serious struggles with Producer Ann Holloway and then manager Robert Mascaro. We’d love to hear from the ex-members of the band about what exactly happened. However, the album ‘Be True to Your School’ was released in 1980 and the band promptly split up.
There hasn’t been a significant musical output from Debbie DeNeece since, as far as we can see, but she is one of those punkgirl pioneers who paved the way for those who came later.
DeNeece’s own words sum this up brilliantly:
“It was really hard. It was one thing to be a singer, but to be a guitar player, or a bass player, and to be taken seriously. I mean, I have to give a lot of credit to The Runaways, because they did…they really weren’t that well known yet, but they did give girls the incentive to say, “If they can do it, we can do it too!” For The Bangles, and everybody that came along after that.
But, I never really even thought about it like that. I never, ever looked at it like, “Because I’m a woman, I can’t do that.” I just liked to play guitar, and there’s no reason in the world why I shouldn’t do it. And yeah, I got made fun of a lot by other bands, I never really considered myself a pioneer. But it would be nice to think that, it would be nice to think there were some girls out there that decided to go and play because they saw us play.” Debbie DeNeece