Betty Ford and the GT Falcons are back for a reunion.
The band has a gig lined up at Talkin’ to a Stranger on Friday April 10.
“It’s really an excuse to plug into an amp and turn it up,” says band member Jet Odrerir over a beer on a hot afternoon.
The line-up consists of Odrerir on bass, guitar and vocals; his wife Melanie Brew on guitar, vocals and occasionally bass; Matt Fox on guitars and vocals; and Rupert Leighton on drums.
“We kind of swap bass and guitar, the three of us,” Odrerir explains. “If you wrote the song, you play guitar and sing.”
About 80 percent of the group’s music is original, while the remainder consists of cover songs from bands including Cheap Trick, The Rolling Stones, The Cramps and The Who.
“We try to do a Khmer song if we can find a singer,” Odrerir says.
With such a diverse set list, Betty Ford does not readily fit into established music genres.
“Some people call it punk rock; some people call it rock n’ roll; some people call it loud,” Odrerir says.
Band members each have slightly different leanings, in terms of what they like to play. While Odrerir listens to old punk bands, he tends to lean more toward what he describes as simply “American rock ‘n’ roll.”
“Melanie is really into that ‘kick you in the teeth with Doc Martens’ punk music,” Odrerir says of his wife.
A native of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Odrerir says the band alters its tempo during shows to appeal to different tastes in the audience.
“If we have a couple of hard songs we’ll back it up with something that’s a little slower or light,” he says.
The band has catered primarily to ex-pats and tourists passing through Phnom Penh. They would like to get more Khmers out to their shows, although Odrerir says advertising to that audience is a challenge.
“We would love it if we could get more of Khmer audience.”
The history of Betty Ford and the GT Falcons goes back to 2005 when Matt Fox, an Australian who was working for an NGO in Cambodia at the time, decided to form the band.
In those days, the band was known for drawing big crowds, but Odrerir recalls one occasion when that wasn’t the case — a show the band played at Maxine’s on the same day as a World Cup final.
“No one was there; it was a horrible show,” Odrerir recalls.
Along the way, Betty Ford has tried to encourage bands in the local scene. But their efforts have not always played out.
In 2007 Betty Ford had two back-to-back shows lined up one weekend at Zeppelin Café and Maxine’s with some Khmer university students who had formed an alternative rock band called The Sub-Students.
“They were good,” Odrerir says. “We were really, really psyched to play with them.”
The Saturday gig at the Zeppelin Café proved a big success. Sunday much less so.
Fifteen minutes before the show at Maxine’s on the second night, Odrerir got a text message from the The Sub-Students’ singer that read: “Sorry, we can’t play tonight – our parents won’t let us out.”
After performing at various bars around Phnom Penh the band stopped playing gigs due to various circumstances: Fox returned to Melbourne, Australia; Leighton became a father; and, in general, the remaining members were too busy to get together and jam, Odrerir recalls.
The band’s last gig was on New Year’s Eve 2006 at the FCC.
“We timed it so our last song would go off with the fireworks,” Odrerir says.
Fox recently announced that he was planning to return to Phnom Penh for a vacation, and in general, circumstances became much more favorable for the band to have a reunion.
“So let’s do it,” Odrerir says.
Betty Ford and the GT Falcons play Talkin’ to a Stranger on Street 294, April 10 at 9 pm. Cover is $2.