On the Jersey Shore where she grew up, Betsy Cannon says, they never stopped playing the oldies.
The ’60s are also alive and well in the Capital Region and Cannon, the lead vocalist for Betsy and the ByeGons, is loving every minute of it.
A female-fronted group which specializes in songs from groups such as the Ronettes, Chiffons and Shirelles, Betsy and the ByeGons are enjoying a busy summer of playing music all over the area.
Based in Saratoga Springs, the group includes Cannon and her husband, George, the drummer, guitar player Tom Keller and bassist Joe Treiber. The group will be at Frosty Acres Campground in Duanesburg next Saturday night, and in the first half of August has gigs planned at the Altamont Fair (Aug. 14) and Freedom Park in Scotia (Aug. 16).
Cannon grew up in New York City and spent most of her summers at the Jersey Shore. After high school she formed her own all-girls band, the PastElles, and throughout much of the 1980s was kept busy performing. After marrying George Cannon more than 20 years ago, the couple had children, two boys, and moved to Saratoga Springs. When the kids, both musicians, moved out of the house, mom suddenly had more free time, and about five years ago decided to get back into music.
When she’s not singing with the ByeGons, Betsy can also be found with Keller performing as Bets and Frets, an acoustic duo that performs more show tunes and ballads than the ByeGons. Cannon is also heavily into health and fitness, and teaches yoga for the Saratoga Springs YMCA.
Q: Which singers were you heavily influenced by?
A: I don’t know if there’s any one particular singer, but I guess I really was a Barbra Streisand nut when I was a teenager. I also have a soft spot for Bette Midler. She’s got a terrific voice and she sings every song from the heart. You feel like she’s singing from personal experience. I really enjoyed listening to them, and I liked a lot of those torch singers, nightclub-like singers.
Q: How did you get into performing?
A: I always sang, even in the church choir when I was a kid. Originally I liked musical theater and pursued that for a while. Then in the early 1980s, all-girl bands like The Go-Go’s and the Bangles were really popular. It was very upbeat music, so I formed a group and we played around Hoboken and did pretty well for a while. But we were hard to book. We had three female singers and four pieces backing us up, and sometimes it was tricky to get all seven of us into these small clubs. Everybody was also working on other projects so eventually we all went our separate ways.
Q: Why did you go back into the music business?
A: Well, my boys were moving out of the nest, and since they were both musicians, sometimes I joined them and would sing a song or two. I really never thought I would start doing this again, but I suddenly had time on my hands and then I got the bug. I was teaching yoga at the ‘Y’ and one of the women told me, “You’re looking terrific, your kids are gone, you can do anything you want — except maybe that rock band you always wanted.” Well, she didn’t mean it as a challenge, but I said to myself, “I’m going to do it and show her.”
Q: What kind of music do Betsy and the ByeGons play?
A: The Oldies never went away at the Jersey Shore, so when we started thinking about doing something like this that’s the kind of music that came to mind. They were always on the radio. They’re great songs, and even the sad ones made me happy. So we’ll do a lot of Sixties, and I’ll do some Connie Francis and Lesley Gore, people like that. Also, even though it’s a female-fronted act, everybody in the band gets an opportunity to sing. I wanted to make sure everybody had a turn on lead vocals.
Q: Are you enjoying yourself?
A: It’s been amazing. I could talk anyone into hiring me once, but when they call you and want you back that’s really satisfying. This whole thing has snowballed through word of mouth, and yes I’m having a great time. I have to pinch myself to make sure it’s really happening. We’re booked nearly every weekend, and if we wanted to work every weekend we could. We just keep a few weekends open because we have things we have to do. But this is really what I’ve wanted to do my whole life. I can’t believe I’m still doing it, and I’m loving every minute of it.
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or firstname.lastname@example.org.