Bay Area African American Women in Music: Vicki Randle Returns to Her Roots in Rock and Women’s Music


Vicki Randle snarled over her throbbing electric bass lines and the bashing beats of the other three Skip the Needle women band members during an original song, “We Ain’t Never Going Back,” last Thursday at Freight & Salvage in Berkeley.



“The status quo, Latin for slavery. Jim Crow redux, back to the way it was? Tear gas and bullets, no match for our bravery. That legacy trampled in the dust,” Randle sung.


“I just wanted to scream,” Randle, 60, said of her vocals on the song, for which she wrote the lyrics. She along with her bandmates, guitarists Katie Colpitts and Shelley Doty and drummer Kofy Brown – all of whom also sing – came up with the music.


“I’m not so sure I could do it every night, like scream on the edge of my voice,” she said.

Her raw, rage-filled tones were quite unlike the refined R&B and jazz vocal sounds heard by millions during her 18 years as the singing percussionist in the house band on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” or in her duets with George Benson as an eight-year member of his group. And they were also different from other songs she sang last week with Skip the Needle, the rock ‘n soul quartet that shared the bill with two other all-female bands at a show staged in celebration of LGBT Pride Month.


“It was right in the middle of the Black Lives Matter protests,” Randle added on writing the song. “Things were happening every night. They were turning into riots, and I was just mad. It [the song] was an honest representation of how I felt right then. Everybody in the band felt the same way.”


Skip the Needle is a side project for the San Francisco-born musician, who lived in Berkeley during the ‘80s and moved to Oakland three years ago after living in Marina Del Rey while working on “The Tonight Show.” For the past five years, she has toured as a backup vocalist and percussionist with the legendary Mavis Staples – whose former family group the Staple Singers, had been closely allied with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom songs that remain an essential part of the Staples’ repertory.


Initially inspired by the Beatles, Randle started playing guitar in a rock band while in junior high school, but later began focusing on percussion because she found that male musicians tended to be more accepting of girls who beat on skins rather than picked guitar strings.


During much of the ‘80s, she recorded regularly with Holly Near, Teresa Trull, Cris Williamson and other singer-songwriters who were part of the then-thriving women’s music movement.


Although that Oakland-based movement is now largely a thing of the past, Randle’s feminist and political interests continue to burn brightly, especially when she’s at home in the Bay Area and rocking out with a different kind of women’s music in Skip the Needle.


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