By Michael Picarella
Twisted Gypsy isn’t the music group Mom and Dad remember. It’s a Fleetwood Mac tribute band with a twist.
Santa Clarita Valley native Tim Gilmer and Niki Bente, who play Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, respectively, of the British-American rock band known for hits like “Landslide,” “Little Lies,” and of course, “Gypsy,” said Twisted Gypsy is breastfeeding their hunger to play rock music while giving them a chance to step into the shoes of artists they grew up with.
The Fleetwood Mac Tribute Band will perform at the Senses Block Party in Old Town Newhall on August 18th and then as part of the City of Santa Clarita’s Concerts in the Park concert series on August 20th.
“The chemistry in this band is some of the best I’ve ever had,” Gilmer said along with Bente in an interview with The Signal. “In my years of playing – about 40 years of playing – I’ve never been in a band that’s quite like family… It’s a happy place to be and I’ve never felt that. It is wonderful. It really helps the energy on stage and I think that carries over to the audience because we have a lot of fun up there.”
Gilmer, originally from Chicago, said his family moved west in 1979 when he was 14.
“I had a hard time making friends,” he said. “It wasn’t until after high school that I started making friends. And it was because of the music.”
Gilmer started playing guitar in his senior year of high school, and about a year after graduating, a drummer friend asked him if he wanted to play rhythm guitar in his band.
“So he gave me the setlist,” Gilmer said. “I was learning maybe 10 heavy metal songs and I went in to play rhythm guitar and literally after we started rehearsals we finished rehearsals, our bass player quit and they immediately asked me if I could play bass. And I was like, ‘Yeah, sure. Rhythm guitar is just the root of a bass.’ So I ran after the bass player – he was a friend of mine – and I asked him if I could borrow his stuff.”
The next day, Gilmer continued, he rehearsed as a bassist and liked it so much that he bought his first bass guitar on the second day of rehearsals.
Gilmer said he would be making music in bands on the Sunset Strip from about 1983 to 1996. But the lead singer of his first band, a guy named Billy Derian, would later become the manager of Twisted Gypsy. Derian would not forget Gilmer.
“He called me after not speaking to each other for 32 years for no particular reason. We just drifted apart,” Gilmer said. “He called me and asked if I still played bass.”
Derian brought Gilmer in for an audition and eventually, with the help of band members, got him to become a sub for the band’s permanent bassist.
“Three days later they fired their bassist, made me their #1 bassist, and I had to learn 34 songs in two weeks and stand up to a sold-out stage in Ventura. And I was scared. It was great,” Gilmer added, laughing.
He said he started playing on Twisted Gypsy in early 2018. During the pandemic, three band members moved on.
“And Billy looked at me again and said, ‘You have to play Lindsey,’ and I said, ‘I can’t do that.’ He said, ‘Yes you can. I heard you play the guitar.'”
Gilmer was reluctant because the character of Lindsey Buckingham was a frontman in the band and Gilmer was used to just playing guitar in the background. But he accepted the challenge. For the first time in his career he felt stage fright. However, once he got going, he had a blast.
“Thank god Niki because she really helped me along,” Gilmer added.
Bente, who grew up in the Santa Clarita Valley and graduated from Valencia High School in 2004, said the feeling was mutual. She joined the band at the same time Gilmer was tasked with doing something new in his career.
“I love that I’m new to my role and you were new to your role,” Bente told Gilmer. “Because I think it just helped us bond.”
Bente said her overall experience with Twisted Gypsy came as quite a surprise. While she enjoyed acting as a child — eventually joining the drama program and jazz choir — she really wasn’t sure what she wanted to do for a living.
“I didn’t even think of making a career out of it,” she said, “although I would write and play guitar just enough to write my own songs. But it kind of just kept going.”
Bente said that Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks has always been one of her favorite singers, and when Twisted Gypsy asked if she could sing any Stevie Nicks songs, she agreed.
“I never thought,” she continued, “that I would say that my career consists of playing my idol. So, it’s pretty much a dream.”
Gilmer and Bente said that while they play the roles of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks in a band meant to be Fleetwood Mac, their version of the group is a more rock-rock one, and they sometimes infuse their own personalities and musical styles into their characters.
“We’re basically trying to update what we think Fleetwood Mac would have been today,” Gilmer added. “We’re also throwing in a few flavors of today’s music.”
In another case, they might play a Fleetwood Mac song like “Little Lies” and then insert parts of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.”
“It kind of spins people up,” Gilmer said, “and they’re like, ‘Wait a minute.'”
Anyone planning to see Twisted Gypsy in concert should expect a synergetic good time between band and audience.
“We like to involve the audience instead of just making them sit and watch a show,” Gilmer said. “We like to bring them on the show. You know, laugh with us, cry with us, sing with us, dance with us.”
Bente said fans of Stevie Nicks often approach her as if she really is the music legend in the flesh, or somehow maybe a vessel to communicate with Nicks.
“People will come to me after the shows and tell me what it means to them,” Bente said. “And they’ll say how grateful they were to me for portraying them that way. And for me that’s the ultimate compliment because I never, ever want to mock her.”
Gilmer mentioned a case where a young woman came up to him after a certain show and expressed her dislike for Lindsey Buckingham, but then admitted that she really liked the way Gilmer played the part.
“So she kind of has a love-hate relationship,” Gilmer continued. “She keeps looking at me and saying, ‘I don’t like you. I do not like you. Can I have some (guitar) picks to make earrings?”
Gilmer, Bente and the rest of Twisted Gypsy hope to create the same kind of fun and interaction with their Santa Claritan counterparts this summer.
For more information, visit the band’s website at TwistedGypsyBand.com.