Born in Hackensack ,New Jersey and coming of age in the 1960’s, Joanne Calabrese started writing songs and performing at her high school dances in 1967 with the group Motive Music, featuring then-unknown keyboardist Rupert Holmes. Calabrese released two singles, “Hey There Blondie” and “These Days”, for Scepter Records in 1968 and collaborated on stage with Dionne Warwick and B.J. Thomas. Motive Music disbanded in 1970 and, for the next decade, Calabrese performed with various outfits.
In 1980, she met guitarist Laurie Swerlin .Together, they formed Last Licks, a pop/rock band comprised of all women. While playing the Manhattan nightclub circuit, Last Licks recorded and released an E.P. for the indie label Stonehenge Records. “Kiss Me With The Lights On” was their first single which garnered a favorable review in Billboard and was designated “Single to Watch”. Four years later, Calabrese splintered off to do a solo album with musician/ producer Benjy King of the 1980s rock band Scandal (“Goodbye to You”; “The Warrior”). The album showcased the talents of artists such as guitarists Keith Mack (also of Scandal) , Bobby Messano, Hugh McCracken, saxophonist Crispin Cioe of the Uptown Horns, and singers Rachelle Cappelli, Ellen Foley, Lesley Gore, Lou Christie, and Frankie Previt.
The 90’s brought more changes. Along with former band mate, Laurie Swerlin, she went on to form the band “Where There’s Smoke”, with bassist Damon Loew, playing the late night NYC club circuit, numerous LGBT charity events and as the winners of New Jersey Pride’s “Battle of the Bands”, were the opening act for comedian/singer Lea Delaria (“Orange Is The New Black”) when she performed at the reopening of the historic Paramount Theater in Asbury Park New Jersey.
By the year 2007, musical downsizing gave birth to The Swippers. It featured Calabrese on rhythm guitar and lead vocals and Swerlin on lead guitar and backup. Calabrese’s songwriting and folk/rock/pop heritage melded the acoustic sound to the likes of The Byrds, the ease of Bonnie Raitt, and the jangly pop melodies of The Pretenders or Chris Isaak. The Swippers went on to open for Tret Fure, Ellis, and Betty Soo as part of the Power of Women music series at The Watchung Performing Arts Center, as well as a second opening with Lea Delaria at Nyack’s Riverspace Theater. Other stints included performances at Music at the Mission, The Turning Point, The Stanhope House, The Wonder Bar and Crossroads.
Today, Calabrese has set out on a new musical journey as a solo artist. She can be seen at various cafes and bars, performing her gorgeous original songs about life and love–the delirium and the lows, the seriousness and the absurd–delivered in Calabrese’s rich vocal tones that make listeners nostalgic for their own pasts.
*Bio by Brooke Kosofsky Glassberg