Obituary: Jan Kuehnemund - St. Paul rocker led Vixen to MTV

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Jan Kuehnemund

Photo: Courtesy of Vixen,

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In what would be her last interview, Jan Kuehnemund recounted the confidence she brought with her from St. Paul when she moved with her band Vixen to Los Angeles in 1981.

“We didn’t even think of the possibility of not making it,” Kuehnemund told the YouTube webcast 80sgasm in August.

Kuehnemund, a guitarist who blazed the way for women in rock amid rampant sexism during the 1980s hair-metal days, died of cancer Thursday at age 59.

The St. Paul native formed Vixen while still in high school in 1973.

Considered the first established all-female rock act in the Twin Cities, the group cut its teeth for a half-decade at venues including the Cabooze, Duffy’s and the Union.

After moving to the booming L.A. metal scene, the band landed a record deal with EMI Records and short-lived, glammed-up MTV rotation.

Vixen’s Facebook page announced Kuehnemund’s death this past weekend:

“Though most well known for her gifted guitar playing and other musical talents, Jan was a rare friend and beautiful in every sense of the word,” read the band’s posting. “Humble, thoughtful, loyal and kind, she was the most gracious of women, possessing the quiet strength of a true warrior.”

In a Star Tribune profile in 1989, Kuehnemund recounted the struggles her band endured simply to be taken seriously.

“It’s been male-dominated for so long that I think a lot of people have to see the band to believe that we really play [well],” she said. “By the comments, we can tell. They say, ‘Oh, wow! We didn’t expect you to be any good at all.’ ”

After landing its first big break in the 1984 teen-libido fest “Hardbodies,” Vixen signed with EMI and went on to earn a gold record (500,000 sales) with its self-titled 1988 album, buoyed by the Richard Marx co-penned single “Edge of a Broken Heart.”

Both that single and the follow-up, “Cryin’,” climbed into the mid-20s on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.

Tours with the Scorpions, Ozzy Osbourne, Kiss and Bon Jovi followed, as did an appearance in the era’s definitive documentary, Penelope Spheeris’ “The Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years.”

By 1991, though, the popularity of hair metal had started petering out, and Vixen lost its record deal and split up, acrimoniously.

In 2004, VH1’s “Bands Reunited” series sparked an on-air reunion of the heyday lineup, but only included one other Minnesotan, bassist Share Pedersen.

The band reportedly was planning another reunion outing this year, but the plans were put off when Kuehnemund’s cancer was diagnosed in January.

Called “the best female guitarist around” back in the day — high praise then — Kuehnemund still lived in Los Angeles.

Her death was reported over the weekend everywhere from Billboard and the Hollywood Reporter to the hip music site Pitchfork.com.

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