"She was five-foot-six and 215, a bleached-blonde mama with a streak of mean And the roller derby program said that she was built like a 'fridgerator with a head."
That's how singer-storyteller Jim Croce described his "Roller Derby Queen" 40 years ago, but times have changed. Today's player is a fitter athlete, chiseled by boot camps and regular competition, and there's no better place to see the difference than the South Side Roller Derby. The league began its season in January and continues with matches this Saturday evening at the Pasadena Convention Center.
Music has been a large part of what the Pearland-based league offers its fans. Since it formed in 2006, the derby's rough-and-tumble matches have routinely featured local bands at halftime or post-game activities. And now that it's grown to its largest following, the league is calling out to area bands to come play for its fans.
"Our fans like folk music, blues, country, rock, punk rock and yodeling," says Brenda Holley, the league's founder. "We have live music at our games. It's always a really awesome local band."
The Dirty Seeds fill the bill this week. Band member Tomas "Filthy" Sanchez said the gig should be a great opportunity to introduce new listeners to their heavy blues-rock, which has been likened to a mixture of early Black Sabbath and Mudhoney.
"The main reason we decided to play the derby is just that we love to play live," he says. "There's no better feeling than being on-stage, playing loud rock and roll, and feeling that energy between the band and the crowd. We also thought it was a great opportunity to get our sound out to a wider demographic that might not necessarily head out to local shows and check out who's making noise in their hometown. "
He's right about that; the matches draw hundreds of fans. But even beyond that built-in audience, there's something about the sport that makes musicians want to be part of the fun.
"Roller derby and rock and roll?" says Sanchez. "Sounds like a great match to me."
As fellow performers, there's a kinship between the musicians who play the derby and the players themselves. Whether it's band practice or derby training, all the work one puts into these pursuits is suddenly on display for hundreds of strangers. It can be daunting and thrilling.
"I was finally out of grad school, and I had time and money for a hobby so derby became a personal challenge to myself," says Kim Weiderhold, a blocker for the Biohazard Babes and a research doctor by profession. "I have always been a bit of a klutz, way more of a flight-than-fight personality, and as an adult never really part of a team. Derby was a physical, mental, and social challenge to force me out of all of my zones of comfort. So far it has done all three."
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Weiderhold, whose derby name is "Dr. KimVorkian," says music is part of her pregame routine, too. She loves classic country music, but says Blondie and Talking Heads are her favorite bands. When she's suited up and ready to take on opposition, she listens to Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" or Jakes' "Warface."
You know the way listening to Amon Amarth's "Twilight of the Thunder God" oddly soothes your weary mind and body? Well, according to Barbara Roberts -- aka "Sk8 Charmer" -- skating at breakneck speeds and crashing through crowds of musclebound athletes gives one the same feeling.
"Boot camp and roller derby is great fitness-wellness alternative," says Roberts, captain of the Maidens of Malice and a Katy Perry fan who chooses "Roar" for pre-game warmups. "You not only work out your body, but it does something for the mind too. It becomes more of a lifestyle then a sport."
The fitness initiatives and camaraderie these athletes enjoy are exactly what Holley, a former world-class competitive figure skater who started teaching skate lessons, hoped for when she founded the league in 2006. Once roller derby sped back into the conversation, she wanted to get involved. Today her allegiance is to the Cut Throat Cupcakes, and is better-known to SSRD fans as "Dick Tater #300."
"There were very few roller derby leagues around that time," she says. "There was one 50 miles away from me. I tried out for it and they didn't like me, they thought that since I was already a rollerskating teacher that I wouldn't be very trainable."
Holley says she teamed with the rink owner where she taught lessons, her youth-skating coach and a pair of boot-campers, Esther Conley and Mary Jo Gould, to start the league. They skated flat-track games and raised enough money to build a banked track. It's a point of pride for Holley and a testament to the hard work the league put in. She says SSRD recently became the fifth banked-track league in the world, and more than 500 women participated in SSRD boot camps and beginners' classes last year.
"I love derby because of the sisterhood between the skaters, the athleticism and the strategy of the game," she says. "There's a charm to women's roller derby."
Sanchez and his Dirty Seeds bandmates -- David Dollar, El Guapo and Mindchef --don't disagree. They're getting in the spirit by adopting their own derby names. Sanchez has dubbed himself "Denzel Squashington," while Dollar is going with the tried-and-true "Buster Cherry."
"We all think roller derby is awesome," agrees Sanchez. "David Dollar's girlfriend, who's done artwork for us and does our Web page, was on a farm team for the [Houston Roller Derby] Machete Betties for a little while. We have some other friends that have been involved in roller derby too...I'm just as excited to get to watch the derby as I am for playing. It's going to be a great night."
Holley says the derby is looking for bands for its May, July, September and November matches. Interested groups, and those looking for more information on the league or its boot camp, can contact her at southsiderollerderby.com
The Dirty Seeds perform at SSRD's doubleheader this Saturday at the Pasadena Convention Center, 7902 Fairmont Pkwy. Doors open at 5 p.m.; first match starts at 6 p.m.
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