[INTERVIEW] Joyce “Fenderella” Irby of Klymaxx Opens Up On Four Decades In Music, Upcoming Autobiography

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Most famously known as both co-lead vocalist and bassist for Los Angeles based all-female 80’s Funk/Soul collective, Klymaxx, quintuple threat Joyce “Fenderella” Irby, who hails from Eatonville, Florida, by way of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, has been a musical virtuoso for more than four long decades.

Klymaxx was comprised of members Bernadette Cooper, Lorena Porter Shelby, Cheryl Cooley, Robbin Grider, Lynn Malsby and Joyce “Fenderella” Irby. They would release four studio albums from 1981 to 1989, including their debut album Never Underestimate the Power of a Woman and their most successful release, the platinum selling Meeting In The Ladies Room. Two more albums were released featuring some members of the group, after disagreements led to a split in the group. They were groundbreaking independent women before the term meant something in music and entertainment.

Joyce Irby alo signed a solo deal with Motown Records and released her solo album, Maximum Thrust in 1989 featuring the single, “Mr. DJ” with Doug E. Fresh.

We caught up with Joyce Irby to discuss her upcoming book, her experiences in music and much more. Check out the full interview below.

Parlé Mag: Let’s hop right into this upcoming book, “I’d Still Say Yes,” whose name pays homage, of course, to Klymaxx’s ’87 hit ballad of the same name. Obvious reasons aside, conceptually what does that title represent both to and for you?
Joyce Irby:  I keep trying to retire from music, but I can’t seem to. So in spite of all the ups and downs, I’ve accepted it’s what I was born to do and I’m not going to stop again.

Parlé Mag: At this particular stage in both your life and career, what prompted your decision to want to write an autobiography?
Joyce Irby:  People have mentioned it to me before, but as a guest while filming another “UnSung” episode a young lady producer suggested it and thought my life story in music could make a good movie. She even suggested the title, and told me if I did the book it would be easier to turn it into a film. So I buckled down and did it.

Parlé Mag: When is the book slated for release?
Joyce Irby:  I am being cautious about how I approach releasing it. Probably early 2020.

Parlé Mag: What would you say can be expected from your forthcoming tome?
Joyce Irby:  I’ve kept diaries and extensive notes since I was a teenager, so I have many things documented over time. It’s an honest roller coaster ride that… and I think I will subtitle it, “A Dreamer’s Guide to Surviving The Entertainment Business.” People inside the business won’t be surprised about the dirty dealings I discuss, but some people will be shocked at some of the stuff that goes on. But also, part of my life has been the realization of many beautiful dreams. So just like everybody else, there are ups and downs. It’s just that mine, involve lots of famous people.

Joyce Irby aka Fenderella with Doug E. Fresh
Joyce Irby with Doug E. Fresh

Parlé Mag
: In the years that followed the band’s demise, what all exactly had/have you been up to, both personally and professionally speaking, during this lengthy musical hiatus?
Joyce Irby:  Well, I’ve had a lot to do with engineering Atlanta as an urban music mecca and soliciting labels and top producers to come here since the late ‘80’s. After I signed Dallas Austin to my production company, people started to pay a little more attention. Then I signed and developed a few young artists like Lloyd and Sammie. I signed them both as elementary schoolers.

Parlé Mag: Many fans, followers and even friends alike, probably don’t fully understand the magnitude that Klymaxx had on the industry, and just music in general. Did you all realize the true power that you all possessed as an all-female band with the barrage of hits you all churned out?
Joyce Irby:  Certainly not at the time. The younger you are, the more license you have to be stupid. So we were kinda clueless. When I look back, I am so frustrated that we couldn’t keep it together any longer.

Parlé Mag: That being said, and I know there have been several different stories, even different versions of the same story, over the years as to what ultimately caused the group to disband. In your humblest opinion, why do you think that this happened?
Joyce Irby:  In a nutshell, petty jealously and straight up “hating.” I kept meticulous notes in my diaries during the turmoil and give details in my book. But I’m not trashing anyone’s character; I will, however, be retelling factual events, as they happened.

Parlé Mag: Longevity, what do you attribute yours to?
Joyce Irby:  I guess just being versatile and wearing more than one hat.

Parlé Mag: Would it be fair to say you’re happy with the current state of music?
Joyce Irby:  HELL NAWWW!

Joyce Irby aka Fenderella with Councilman Michael Julian Bind June 2019
Joyce Irby with Councilman Michael Julian Bind June 2019

Parlé Mag
: To date, what has been your greatest career moment?
Joyce Irby:  I have many moments that I’m grateful for, but more recently the presentation from Councilman Michael Julian Bond to me in June, of a Proclamation from the City of Atlanta, for being the “wind beneath the wings” of the Atlanta urban music scene. I was doing a concert at the City Winery, and he surprised me on stage and declared it “Joyce Irby Day” in the “A.”

Parlé Mag: I know firsthand that you are almost solely responsible for introducing more than a few artists to the masses; most notably/also earlier mentioned Dallas Austin, Lloyd – N-Toon wasn’t it? – as well as Sammie – What was it that you saw in these specific individuals that made you believe in them?
Joyce Irby:  It was just a feeling. I’m very intuitive, and I really believe that it is…or at least it was my specific job to facilitate certain people. I feel like it was divinely set up. I was given the choice to accept or reject the assignment… so I did my job.

Parlé Mag: You also have Jams for Animals — What are your future goals/plans for your charity?
Joyce Irby:  To spend more time on it and get more audio and video done to promote kindness to animals. I am always active in cat, dog and turtle rescue and maintenance every day. But I have to get back to the music part.

Parlé Mag: Looking ahead, say five or maybe even ten years from now, where do you see yourself?
Joyce Irby:  Hopefully on many acres with lots of animals. And if I’m blessed to still have my voice… singing.

Parlé Mag: As for the immediate, what’s next for you, Fenderella?
[a monicker bestowed upon Irby when she originally signed on with George Clinton’s P-Funk crew.]
Joyce Irby:  I’m writing and recording for myself, and with a couple of music partners; Wirlie Morris and Zion Birdsong.

Parlé Mag: Any parting words?
Joyce Irby:  Yes. If you’re blessed enough to do what you love in this life, don’t take it for granted and live every moment. Women especially, as you age, don’t stop living. Get up and do something. And, most of all, LOVE YOURSELF!! For people who have aspirations in entertainment, understand this… nobody in this business really gives a “F” about you. If you want to be in the creative field, do it for the love of your art. Most people cannot make a living at this, but it’s priceless if you love what you do. And share your stories. Because there is a gift and a healing for other people sometimes when they realize that everybody else is also going through stuff.  It’s the human condition, but it can be such a beautiful thing.

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