By Kristen Cusato
Janet Gardner recently walked down the hallway of her son's school, carrying a tray of cupcakes. Because it was his birthday, 8 year old Ryan was allowed to bring a drum and play it for his classmates. As Gardner approached his room, she heard two young girls gushing about her son. "Oh, he's so good on that drum!" That stopped her dead in her tracks. "He's got groupies already," she thought to herself. "This...is gonna be dangerous."
Is turnabout fair play? Janet Gardner did front an all-chick rock and roll band for several years in the 80's and 90's. She wore leather, had big hair, and as the lead singer for VIXEN, opened up for groups like OZZY and KISS on stages all over the world in front of thousands of fans. You think her parents didn't worry?
Today, Janet Gardner is a wife, a mother, and a dental hygienist in Connecticut. How did she end up where she is today? Let's start with where she came from. Gardner was the youngest of five children born into a very loving Mormon family in Utah. Yes, that's right. Janet Gardner, former lead singer of VIXEN, grew up a Mormon. "My Dad didn't push it. Up to a certain age, we were required to do the Mormon stuff, but then once we reached an age where we could make the decision for ourselves, we were allowed to," Gardner says. That included a tour of U.S. with the Young Americans, a show choir made up of high school kids from several states that mixed dancing and singing. After performing for a few years, she landed in Los Angeles, and started singing with a band. And one night, at a gig, someone told her she would be perfect for an all-girl band in town. She auditioned, but it didn't feel right. "Too Go-Go's like", she says. "I was into melodic rock, Pat Benatar, Heart." But they worked together, melded their styles, and VIXEN was born. "We did little mini-tours, where everybody was sleeping on the floor of one hotel room, it was really funny." Eventually EMI signed them. Then they changed their mind. Then they signed them again, putting these girls in their early 20's on one big rock and rollercoaster. They made a record, and went out on the road to support it with the only artist going out at the time, Eddie Money. Gardner called that pairing a mismatch, but said it was fun. And it lead VIXEN to their first arena tour, opening for THE SCORPIONS in Europe. Every night, she says, the lights would do down, the lighters would go on, and the crowd would roar. "It was like everything you dream about as a kid 'I'm a rock star! Ahhhh!' Constant goosebumps," Gardner says. Her 'we made it' moment? The day she was driving into Hollywood, and heard the DJ for KLOS radio in L.A. introduce her song on the radio. "'Here's VIXEN with Edge of a Broken Heart', I had to pull over! Although I did feel pretty confident about that song when Richard Marx, who produced it, played the final mix for me a few weeks before," Gardner says. It wasn't easy though, being part of an all-girl band. The members of VIXEN found they had to prove themselves over and over again. "People are always quick to write you off as some sort of novelty thing, so we knew every night had to be pretty amazing."
She has some good stories. Like the time she opened the bathroom door of the tour bus and found a male fan standing there. "Hello," she said. "How did you get in here? Did you climb in through the toilet?" Or the time a fan tried to go with the band to their next destination, by climbing onto the top of the bus and holding on for miles. She did date a few rock stars, although she wouldn't say which ones. But Janet Gardner doesn't have a lot of crazy partying stories. "Most of the time after a show, we'd get on the bus, pop popcorn and play pictionary," she said. Really? Really. "We had our moments, but nobody fell over drunk on stage or ended up in rehab." Which may be the reason VIXEN was able to tour for so long. They were on the road from 1984 to 1991, sometimes doing 200 dates a year, with BON JOVI, RATT, DOKKEN, and often headlining.
But the band broke up. Musical differences. It happens. Bands also tend to get back together, and when two of the members started playing as VIXEN again, the guitar player sued for the rights to the name. They settled. Then they tried to tour again with the original members. It didn't work. That was about the time Janet Gardner decided she wanted something more out of life. She had met her husband, engineer and guitar player Andy Katz while making the album "Tangerine" in 1998. "I said 'I want to have a family and can't be at the mercy of the music business anymore'." She had a son. And followed in the footsteps of her grandfather, uncles, and cousins and went into the stable field of dentistry. She graduated in 2005 from the University of Bridgeport with a degree in Dental Hygiene and is very content cleaning people's teeth at an office in Fairfield County. Does she get recognized? "Sometimes it comes up. I've seen patients four or five times and they have no idea who I am," she says. "And there are others who are musicians who come in and just talk music."
Janet Gardner is beautiful, by the way. She may look better today than she did back then. She has luminous skin, and gorgeous straight, thick strawberry blonde hair. And she's pretty animated, especially as she describes the technique shes used to get her hair so big back then. "It was so peroxided, it was crunchy. I'd blow dry it upside down, tease it really good at the roots, and use lots of Aqua Net. The white can, with pink letters. Extra super lacquer hold."
Who is she listening to now? She's a big fan of GRACE POTTER AND THE NOCTURNALS, PINK and JOHN MAYER. And she does still dabble in the scene occasionally. There was a VH1 Bands Reunited show that brought all the original members of VIXEN together for a one time show in 2004. And she's played the Mohegan Sun casino with "Scrap Metal", a band made up of old friends from WARRANT, MR. BIG and NELSON, who all sing their top hits for a nostalgic crowd. She admits she misses it. "I do think I'm getting to the point where I want to have some music back in my life," she says. "I went completely out so I could have a family life. But now I want to get back into it. We'll see how it goes." She and her husband have a studio in their home and they've been 'tinkering with some songs', preparing for what could be a Janet Gardner solo album. "It's time for that," she says. The VIXEN days may be over, but Janet Gardner's star may just be ready to shine once again.
(This story with pictures is here....in the July/August issue of VENU magazine page 54)