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By Tom Durkin
Musician found her groove in Nevada County
It all started with a little girl “dancing around my bedroom with a hair brush in my hand and a transistor radio,” Juliet Gobert recalled.

Some 50 years later, Gobert (pronounced GO-bear) is living the dream. She is a working singer/songwriter/guitarist and the leader of two all-female bands.

She also plays regular gigs with virtuoso harmonica player Homer Wills, sings with Kelly Fleming at the guitar bar at Friar Tuck’s, and is a star attraction with the Bob Woods Swampbilly rock band.

Furthermore, she’s recorded three albums that get good airplay on community radio KVMR.

“I have lucked out,” concluded Gobert, who until two years ago was an emergency responder and forensic interviewer for Nevada County Child Protective Services.

Learning by doing
Although she’s had no formal musical training, “I’ve learned so much from the women and men that I play with,” Gobert said.

After moving to Nevada County from San Carlos, Gobert found a semi-regular gig singing backup with Fleming at Friar Tuck’s in “about 1987.”

“She likes to sing, and she’s really good at it,” explained Fleming, which is why he invited her to join him behind the tiny guitar bar at Tuck’s 30 years ago.

“I’m really proud of her,” he said.

When Fleming moved away for seven years, Gobert spent that time learning to read music and teaching herself to play guitar from books with lyrics and guitar tablature.

“While I was learning to play guitar, I had a lot of song ideas,” she said. “Once I started fiddling around on guitar, I was actually making playable melodies instead of just singing a cappella,” she said happily.

Putting words to music is her true passion. “I love to write. I write a lot.”

She guessed she’s “only” written 100 to 120 songs.

Tin House effect
For a brief but spectacular run, Homer (The Harmonicator) Wills hosted an underground house concert venue called the Tin House Studio directly across from the Nevada County Fairgrounds.

Before the county shut the Tin House down several years ago, Wills brought in legendary performers like Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and fostered local talent like Gobert.

“There was something about her that just clicked,” Wills said, and soon they were playing together regularly at California Organics. In 2014, they recorded “Peach Pies,” 10 original songs written by Gobert.

“Homer has always been so encouraging. He’s given me a lot of pep talks,” Gobert said fondly.

However, “I think, musically, I learned the most playing with Bob Woods and Swampbilly,” Gobert revealed.

“Swampbilly really turned her on to the rock’n’roll style of playing,” agreed Wills, who is also a member of the band.

It took Woods some time to convince Gobert to sit in with his high-powered dance band.

“I was a little shy. They’re so good. I just was not confident of my ability to be with guys like that,” Gobert admitted.

But when she finally agreed to sit in, “they made it so much fun,” she grinned.

“Those guys always made me feel so comfortable, showing me how to play what I needed to,” Gobert said. “Bob answered every question I ever had.”

“She had to learn to play in a band,” said Woods philosophically. So, he taught her how to play rhythm guitar “up the neck.”

“She always brings it,” Woods reported. “Everybody has fun – and that’s the point of the band.”

Looking ahead
While Gobert talks freely about the men she’s sharing stages with, she’s playing it close to the vest about her signature band The Heifer Belles and her new band Las Niñas Muertos (The Dead Girls), a Grateful Dead cover group.

Las Niñas are still working up their repertoire, Gobert said. “We’re just having fun with it right now.”

Although their bass player left the Heifer Belles trio last year, the Heifer Belles are still an active band playing regularly at 151 Union, occasionally at the Willo and many other venues – not to mention the prestigious Kate Wolf Festival later this month.

Any given Heifer Belles performance is anchored by Gobert and slide guitar player Kim Patton Rogers, but there may be anywhere from one to three guest performers.

“We’re still in a state a flux,” Gobert explained.

Taking a cue from Bob Woods, she emphasized, “It’s got to be fun. Everyone has to want to be in this band, not just any band.”

Although she has a blast playing with the boys in Swampbilly, the Heifer Belles are where Gobert’s heart is.

Remembering her own childhood aspirations, she said, “I love that when the Heifer Belles play, little girls will come up and talk to us. They can see that they can start their own band. They don’t have to wait for somebody to invite them to be in a band.”

Tom Durkin is a freelance writer and photographer in Nevada County. Contact him at tdurkin@vfr.net or www.tomdurkin-writer.net.

Photo by Tom Durkin
Juliet Gobert is living her dream as a professional musician. Here, she performs with Bob Woods (left) and Homer Wills in 2014 at the Auburn Event Center.