Times, March 1986
BY LINDA RASTELLI
Don't wanna be a local hero
You're a legend in this town
Second to none—the best around
A gambler's game, you lay your bet
Even the best lose at roulette
The five musicians comprising Separate Checks cannot go into a restaurant in
Philadelphia nowadays without being asked facetiously, "separate checks?" As
"Philadelphia's Rock & Roll Sweethearts," Sharon Wilde, Mary Lee, Pamela Warner,
Judy Whitely, and Cathy Amerling are often recognized locally. But their
long-term goal is to take their hard-edged pop sound beyond the local music
arena and obtain national recognition.
Having played "every remote corner of Pennsylvania," and its environs, and
headlining frequently at Philadelphia's major rock venues, the band has
developed a loyal fol¬lowing. But the five Philly natives all concur that
opening for Nils Lofgren at the Ritz in New York City was their biggest thrill
to date. They are now considering a Latin American tour this spring, according
to manager Alan Newman, which would include Panama and Puerto Rico.
Just released is their first single, "Don't Ever Wanna Let You Go," b/w their
own unique version of Lulu's 1967 hit "To Sir With Love."
High energy characterized the band in performance. Vocalist Sharon can take
her voice from a raspy heavy metal screech that projects to the back walls to a
high, breathless, little-girl whisper in a matter of seconds, as she does in the
rocked-out cover of Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Were Made For Walking."
In fact, it has become a favored technique to take such "hokey" old tunes and
"rock them out," keeping the original melody but doing it with a twist. Rhythm
guitarist Pam and bass player Judy engage in a guitar duel during "To Sir With
Love," alternating riffs that were certainly never heard in the original
"I like to sing it and it gets the best crowd reaction; it's always very
consistent," says Sharon of the song.
Last April the Checks opened for the Hooters at Lafayette College, the
largest crowd they'd ever played for.
"You feed your energy from the crowd," explains Mary, who admits she doesn't
perform as well in front of small audiences. As one of the Checks' founders, the
main songwriter, and lead guitarist, she is the driving force behind the band.
"Melodic" is how she describes the music she enjoys and the sound she aims for,
matching her original music to lyrics drawn from personal experience and
All of the band members except Pam bring experience in other bands to
Separate Checks. What results from their differing influences and preferences is
a mix of styles, from the reggae-flavored cover "Disappearing," to the pure pop
sound of "Come Dance With Me," to hard rockers such as "Stop Wastin' My Time."
Separate Checks is Mary Lee's third and, she believes, most compatible band.
"The most important things are to get along and be musically cohesive," she
says. "If you don't have those two things, you're not going to get anywhere."
Above all, Mary believes the music should be danceable. 'We don't do too many
ballads," she says. "They seem to bore people."
The Checks are firm believers in entertainment first and politics second.
Says Sharon, "It's hard to be serious when we're having so much damn fun out
* * *
Preshow at the Chestnut Cabaret in Philadelphia, Pam is teasing Mary's hair
into thick waves that project from her head like spikes. She is the group's
resident hairdresser and wears her own swept over to the right side of her head,
so that it looks like she's caught in a strong wind blowing from the southwest.
She isn't known as "The Hurricane" for this, however, but for her unruly
habit of blowing into practice sessions and upsetting equipment.
She survived the hazards of waitressing ("One time I was walking up to a
table with about ten plates and tripped and slid on my knees down the aisle. I
kept all the food from spilling, and the whole place stood up and applauded")
and took the name Separate Checks from her former profession.
"Most of us worked as waitresses at one time or another," adds Mary. "These
women came in one day where Pam was working and ordered all this stuff and
halfway through the meal asked for separate checks, and she said to herself,
'That's it. I'll name the band after something I hate.' It stuck."
Pamela had never been in a band before meeting Mary, but soon thereafter they
began working together. She had been playing guitar since high school.
Five years ago, Mary was in a band called Minority Girls with Judy Whitely,
now the band's bass player and the inspiration behind "To Sir With Love." It was
Judy's idea to add the punchy bass line and include it in their set list.
"I always admired Heart, two sisters playing together," Judy says, crossing
one spandexed leg over the other. "I thought it would be really cool if me and
my sister could do that since she has brown hair and I have blond hair." She
leans back and laughs.
"I got my bass in high school. I heard about Mary when I was working at
United Parcel. We met and started jamming. I was so nervous for that first
The first Separate Checks, which they all emphasize was nothing like the
present Checks, had Judy, Mary, and Pamela, but a different singer and a male
Meanwhile, manager Alan Newman was looking for a woman to play drums.
"Otherwise people could say that there weren't any female drummers good
enough to play with them," he said. So he found Cathy Amerling.
"Four years ago I went into a club," says Cathy, now sitting backstage at JC
Dobbs. "I was watching the drummer and it looked really interesting and I guess
that's when it hit me; it starts gnawing at you, like, Oh God, I gotta play! I
got a pair of sticks at Sam Goody's and a lesson book. I took my first lesson
and the day after I got my first set. Four months later I was in a band. Three
months later I got into another one, Vital Signs, and finally Separate Checks."
She's known for her theatricality onstage, twirling her drumsticks wildly,
and for her constant grin, even on the rare occasions when she misses a beat. A
heavy metal fan, she admires the late John Bonham of Led Zepplin, "the perfect
In September of 1984 the band played their first date together at the Empire
Rock Club in northeast Philadelphia. Their new vocalist, Sharon Wilde, had only
been with them for two weeks and had to learn the songs in that time. Although
she claims she doesn't know how she did it, she somehow pulled it off.
Sharon always wanted to be a singer and has been performing and training
since the age of three.
"When I got to be a teenager I wanted to do rock and roll; you know, rebel
against my parents," she says. "I lived in New York for 3-1 /2 years. I played
with a band called Chet Bolins. But my luck wasn't going well." Newman had seen
her in New York and called her to come to Philly.
"I walked in and I said to the girls, 'Yeah, I heard about the deal you have
here. Alan told me you’re all getting a $200-a-week retainer for doing this,’ “
Sharon recalls. “The looks on their faces was great; it was happening! They all
just looked at me and I said, “Oh, I’m just kidding.’
"Well, the next time I auditioned, they played me a tape of this girl who was
awful and said This is your competition. We're going to hire her or we'll hire
you,' so they got me back."
Sharon likes to comment on stage that "This is more fun than people should be
having," but sometimes they have to deal with some harassment. If a fan yells
"Take it off," their standard reply is You take it off; we'll watch."
Mary Lee lists the Go-Go's and Heart as important in opening possessively
guarded doors in the male bastion of rock music. Even so, they still feel that
they are not always taken seriously as musicians.
"They're not boy toys," says manager Newman, who they call a "Jewish
mother.", "I insist that they be respected."
"Clubs were a little leery at first, because they didn't know what they were
in for:' says Cathy. "Now that everybody around here knows us, it's not a
"We always say if somebody walks into a club and doesn't look up at the
stage, they won't know it's a 'girl group' (a phrase they find distasteful),"
"We're a rock and roll band that just happens to be all women," adds Sharon.
"We write from a female viewpoint because we can't write from any other
No drugs, no sex, no perverted
thoughts in their heads
Behind the scenes the judges' faces would turn red
Men will be boys, girls are just toys
And Penthouse magazine will help them get ahead
God save the beauty queen
"Beauty Queen" was written in response to the Vanessa Williams' scandal and
be cause Mary Lee finds the Miss America pageant to be a "total farce." Although
outspoken, she does not want to be seen as making a political statement.
"I don't feel it's my place to go preaching feminism or anything else," she
stresses. Separate Checks does not consider feminism their issue and
deliberately de-emphasizes the political.
The Collegian May 3, 1985
Tangy sound of 'Separate Checks’ an
by Michael Beck
The Multi-Purpose room rocked Tuesday afternoon to the tangy sounds of
"Separate Checks," a Delaware Valley band consisting of all girls.
Although the band formed only eight months ago, the bulk of their material is
original. "Separate Checks" is better than most of the bands that have played
here this semester. The main reason is probably the fact that they believe in
their songs. There's a definite tightness that comes from playing your own
material and this band achieves it.
Mary "Pinky" Lee, daughter of BC3 teacher Bill Woodward, writes most of the
band's tunes. Her style is a cross between the "Go Go's" and "The Pretenders."
Pamela "The Magnet" Warner plays rhythm guitar and sings back up. She plays
inthe same chordy style as Jane Weildin. Her voice together with Lee and Wilde
blends to form a pleasant three part harmony.
The lead singer of the band, Sharon "Tiger 7" Wilde is equipped with a
powerful voice and has stage charisma that is fun to watch. She constantly plays
off Lee and Warner to further the excitement.
Judy "Booty" Whiteley plays the bass in a jagged single note style and
prefers to loom far to the back of the stage, in the same style of E Street bass
player Gary W. Tallent. She sways quietly from side to side and quietly mouths
the words to herself with a smile.
Cathy "Boom Boom" Amerling is probably the most noticeable member of this
all girl band. Her hair resembles Rod Stewart and she looks as much like a
drummer as Cyndi Lauper looks like a nun. But whe she sits behind her drum set,
the only adjective to describe her is...awesome. Every drum is wired and when
she plays, she plays hard and good. She flamboyantly twirls her sticks as if
she's been playing since birth.
"Separate Checks" is managed by Alan Newman and are currently trying to
scrape up funds to release a 45. If you're in the mood for some good original
music tonight, head on over to New Hope at John and Peters where "Separate
Checks" will be jamming up a storm.