I'm not even completely sure which '80s hard rock band I saw Vixen open up for about a quarter-century ago in the old Asheville Civic Center. Something tells me it was probably Poison, although there is an outside chance it was Tesla, a pairing that would have made significantly less sense. Some of that lack of recall may be attributable to my escalating age, while another portion of it could suggest that the concert wasn't all that memorable. Whatever the actual reality, one thing that was always most certainly notable about Vixen is that this was a pop-oriented hard rock band that had paid its dues and deserved to be viewed as a legitimate hard-working rock band. In the wake of the sad news that Vixen's founder and lead guitarist, Jan Kuehnemund, died of cancer last week at the far-too-young age of 51, I'm reminded immediately that the band often failed to receive due respect back in the day primarily because of the gender of its membership. That's a tough thing to admit even for rock music fans of the relatively backward late '80s, but it's probably an accurate statement. So in response to yet another tragically premature death of a prominent '80s music star (it's happening more and more every day, unfortunately), I'd like to take a moment to refocus on the positive aspects of Vixen's career that tend to be forgotten through the years by everyone but the group's most hard-core fans.
Minnesota native Kuehnemund started Vixen around 1980 as a local Twin Cities band while still in her teens. Although a relocation to Los Angeles didn't immediately pay huge dividends, the band labored within the club scene until about 1985, when its career truly began to take off. Lead singer Janet Gardner certainly had something to do with Vixen's success on the hair metal and glam metal scene of the late '80s, but Kuehnemund provided driving, nimble lead guitar work on top of her occasional songwriting contributions. Though not a well-known Vixen tune, the deep album track "Waiting" - from the group's 1988 self-titled debut - represents a perfectly competent, passionate pop metal companion to the best work of the period from arena rock forebears like Pat Benatar and Heart. Perhaps this is not the most groundbreaking rock music of the '80s, but it stands up far better than many of Vixen's male-dominated contemporaries that probably figured they held a given testosterone-based advantage. Don't get me wrong; Vixen was no Girlschool, but Kuehnemund & Co. were no mere big-haired posers. For these reasons - aside from the many more personal ones for those she knew and loved - Kuehnemund will be greatly missed by many '80s music fans with an egalitarian worldview on gender roles in rock.
- Sample or download "Waiting" here.
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- Top Poison Songs of the '80s
- Top Women of '80s Rock
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Razor & Tie