Monday, October 5, 2009

Klymaxx’s Awesome Rise and Turbulent Fall

Original Klymaxx Member Keeps Sound, Changes Faces

Something beautiful and amazing happens to a woman when her hairstyle is vicious, heels are fierce and her outfit causes men and women to pause. One R&B group with a splash of rock and pop in their music knew how to showcase, exude and celebrate a woman’s confidence on a level once overlooked in the music industry. Even if you don’t remember the lyrics, Klymaxx fans certainly know the hook and remember the boost to self-esteem many felt when “The Men All Pause” came on in the club or the radio.

Klymaxx tore through stereotypes and produced a string of female-anthems throughout the 80’s, in a way that’s been difficult to replicate. From the drums to the microphone, Klymaxx’s edgy look, undeniable skills and fan appeal was the dream and vision of Bernadette Cooper. Cooper, longing to fill a void in the music industry, had a hunch in 1979 that an all-female band could rock the charts and fill stadiums.

The name perfectly defined the group. “We wanted something that described hot, talented and exciting women in their 20s but we had to of course change the lettering,” says Cheryl Cooley, an original member and Klymaxx’s guitarist. However, convincing music industry executives to jump on board and finance Cooper’s idea challenged the group’s endurance and commitment. “People were not taking us seriously, when we were trying to get gigs,” says Cooley. “Some people even laughed and said, ‘yeah, an all-female band, that’ll never happen’,” she says.

So how did the six female musicians, crack the music industry’s glass ceiling? Cooley worked at a bank in Los Angeles. A co-worker related to record producer, Johnny Pate, became the answer to Klymaxx’s prayers. “I was bragging about being in an all-female band and she (Cooley’s co-worker) asked me for a demo tape, so she could give it to Johnny,” says Cooley. Pate was a bit hesitant and unsure about the group’s potential but still passed the demo tape on to Margaret Nash. Nash was at the time an executive at Solar Records. “She came to one of our rehearsals and she had a smile on her face the whole time but I’m sure she had to be worried because we sounded rough,” says Cooley, jokingly.

Apparently Klymaxx’s rough edges weren’t enough to scare away the record company. “In April of 1980, Margaret saw us and that August we were signed to Solar Records,” says Cooley. After about a year of fine-tuning Klymaxx’s sound in the studio, the group’s debut album “Never Underestimate the Power of a Woman” hit record stores and radio airwaves. It sent a message and set the tone for the group’s image and fan base.

Record sales were impressive but Klymaxx had another important hurdle to cross. Since they were the first, the group had to prove they weren’t straight studio singers. “I remember how the fans looked at us when we went on tour and opened up for Shalamar, says Cooper. “They just couldn’t believe that we were actually playing our own instruments,” she says.

Their talent put skeptics on mute. Klymaxx’s fan base grew substantially and so did interest from executives at MCA Records. In 1983, Klymaxx switched record labels and joined the MCA family, which teamed them up with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, well-respected writers and producers. The match-up led to Klymaxx hitting Billboard’s Hot 100, several times during the mid-80’s with songs like, “Meeting in the Ladies Room”, “I Miss You” and “I’d Still Say Yes”. “I thought I was going to be 75 years old performing with the same people onstage, singing “The Men All Pause,” says Cooley.

The lifetime of success with the original members Cooley anticipated fell apart, as the Klymaxx began to unravel. Cooley says the explosion of fan adoration, attention and the limelight evolved into a nasty mix, once egos surfaced within the group. According to her, Cooper was the first to leave the group. By the mid-90’s there were only three original members and MCA cut ties with Klymaxx. “I began to feel like I was a failure,” says Cooley. Even with Klymaxx’s track record and the fact that Cooley had played the guitar since she was 11, she could not get a new deal. “Nobody prepared me for what would happen if the record company dropped you,” says Cooley.

Realizing she still needed a check and faced with nowhere to go and no backup plan, in a surprising move, Cooley became an electrician. “I had to do something because I had to eat,” says Cooley. The job paid the bills for a few years, until Cooley was laid-off. Thankfully, a phone call in early 2000 turned out to be the financial support and necessary comeback Cooley desperately needed and wanted. “An old manager called me about setting up an old school tour. I called everybody from the group and no one was interested,” says Cooley. Cooley moved on with the original band members. These days because of a dispute and trademark issues around usage of Klymaxx’s name, Cooper and Cooley don’t talk.

Cooley created “Unruly Cooley” to meet the demand and book the venues the manager thought were appropriate for Klymaxx’s distinct sound. Unruly Cooley has the same concept that made Klymaxx successful, an all-female lineup of gifted, attractive and sassy musicians. The band tours West Coast venues, covering many of Klymaxx’s hits, and sings new songs written and produced by Cooley.

Her songs and the funky music that laces the tracks have the intensity, melodic groove twists, with lyrics that stress fun and female-power, all that you’d expect from Cooley. Although the sound and look loosely mirrors Klymaxx’s, Cooley’s learned from her mistakes. “Klymaxx (the original group) could have made a whole lot more money, if we’d known the business end of the industry,” says Cooley. “When you get the record deal, you’re so excited, you don’t even consider what could happen if you get dropped,” she adds.

Cooley hopes young women with the desire in their eyes and the dream in their hearts to break into the music industry, take time to learn about more than selling out a stadium and making a music video. “This business is 90 percent business and 10 percent performance.”
You can listen to some of Cheryl Cooley’s latest music at

Please forward all comments and suggestions regarding this story to Maniko Barthelemy at
Cheryl Cooley’s story is part of the “She Rocks” series on The stories give updates on some of the most popular all-female bands, groups or duos. In sharing their stories, the women featured hope to educate anyone looking to get into the music industry.

1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately Cheryl's band does a real disservice to the Klymaxx sound.