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Real Music by Robert Feuer — March 2020 - Dirty Cello

Dirty Cello, a local band that generates pure excitement, was started by cellist Rebecca Roudman and guitarist Jason Eckl, eight years ago. Roudman chose the name Dirty Cello because “I wanted to go beyond the limits of what a cello can do.” Also, “so people would be like ‘what the hell is Dirty Cello.’” Their professed focus on blues, bluegrass, and rock understates the fact that they’ll play “anything that moves us emotionally,” she says.

The band has played some unusual locations. Once, at the bottom of California’s Moaning Caverns, they had to walk up and down 200 winding stairs seven times carrying instruments and sound equipment. Roudman recalls it as “painful.” Six months later, they did it again. They also played in a Nike missile base converted into a garage built into a hillside.

Dirty Cello has toured the Middle East, Iceland, and China. In the latter, their music had to be submitted to censors looking for subversion, even though it was all-instrumental. Singing wasn’t allowed. The ever-vigilant Chinese changed the band’s name to Rock & Roll Cello.

No wonder Roudman laughs a lot during our recent phone interview from her Novato home.

Growing up in Marin, her mother gave her a cello at age seven. She loves its sound. The girl studied classical music through college, and currently plays with the Oakland and Santa Rosa Symphonies as well as Dirty Cello and the San Francisco Yiddish Combo Band, a klezmer group. With the Oakland Symphony, she did an Acura commercial at Golden Gate Park. After eight hours of shooting, they were on film for one second.

Roudman has backed up artists Isaac Hayes, Melissa Manchester, and Chuck Prophet, but “I got jealous,” she says. “I wanted to be the person leading a band, getting these cool solos.” Some classical artists feel constricted by the structured compositions required. “I wanted to put my instruments to the limit, taking the cello and turning it on its head.” She sought improvisation, modeling herself after innovators like Jimi Hendrix and his “unbelievably crazy, impossible sounding solos.”

Dirty Cello’s six CD releases include their latest, Bad Ideas Make Great Stories. They have 65 songs available for live sets, with their selections depending on audience reaction. Their plugged-in acoustic music includes half covers and half originals by Roudman and Eckl.

An International Women’s Day show on Mar. 7 at Hopmonk Sebastopol will benefit The Living Room, a Sonoma County day-care center serving homeless and at-risk women and their children. The show’s first half will have Dirty Cello backing up some of the North Bay’s top female musicians - jazz diva Stella Heath, rocker Shelby Lanterman, singer-songwriter Claudia Russell, and newcomers the Muted Jewel Tones. The second half will be all Dirty Cello – Roudman, Eckl as emcee and guitarist, Sandy Lindop on ukulele and piano, Jeff Wheeler on drums, and bassist Colin Williams.

Roudman tantalizes at shows, running through the crowd with her fiddle. “We feed off the audience’s energy. We feel powerful on stage.”

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