You Had Me At Hair
Les Carlsen was a handsome, charismatic singer. Joyce Macek was a beautiful, talented vocalist and dancer. Performing on opposite ends of the country in two companies of the Broadway show “Hair” – Les in Seattle and Miami and Joyce in Boston – it would seem unlikely that the two would meet.
That changed when both were cast in the “bus and truck” company of a nationwide tour of the production. Their connection was immediate and powerful. “When I first saw her, it was like a lightning bolt – it hit me real strong,” Les said. As for Joyce? “I was pretty enamored with him, too.”
As they performed eight shows each week at small theaters and collegesin different locations almost every night, their bond continued to grow. The constant close quarters and challenges of being part of a national company came with the benefit of the chance to solidify the relationship that had been undeniable from the start.
In 1971, Les took a break from the show and moved to Los Angeles to record an album produced by Michael Butler, the owner of “Hair,” who was attempting to produce another rock opera similar to the popular “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Joyce followed shortly after. The new rock opera didn’t materialize, so in 1972, they moved to the Northwest and settled in with Jeff, Les’ young son from his first marriage. The two married in 1974.
Ever the creative musicians, Les put a band together and Joyce joined a ‘50s musical group. But the couple didn’t like spending so much time apart, so they combined both bands, with the women, Les and Don Cromwell (former bass player for Eddie Money and Air Supply). The group changed backing musicians many times over the years as Les and Joyce performed all over the country in different venues as the Carlsen-Macek Band, evolving from stage to lounge and nightclub shows to more edgy duo songs.
In 1980, they were working as the house band at Meeker’s Landing and The Place in Seattle, continuing to write their own music and laying the groundwork for bigger things. The legendary Kenny Ortega (their friend from the “Hair” productions) put the steps together for one of the couple’s songs called “Against the Law,” which helped keep their band’s name forward in the industry. It was during that time that they were discovered by a record producer and offered a contract for performances and several record deals throughout the world, except in the U.S.
The pair capitalized on their dynamic, romantic image, traveling to Italy, where they appeared on a television show called “How Far Is America?” highlighting the differences between the two countries. They sang a romantic song called “Can You Give Me Love?” which featured a kiss that the Italian press reported as the longest on-air kiss to occur on Italian television. During these years, Carlsen-Macek recorded three albums and opened for the bands Heart, The Beach Boys, B.B. King, Three Dog Night, Cliff Richards, Quiet Riot and Steppenwolf.
In the course of their rock ‘n’ roll life, which can throw a lot of curves to a couple, a young musician named Don Garberg joined their band, called Sticker at the time, and the way he spoke and lived his own life intrigued them. When asked what guided his principles, he shared a book called “More Than a Carpenter” by Josh McDowell with them. This led in part to their decision to be born again, and committing to their Christian faith changed their lives in every way – they looked at each other differently, communicated differently, understood and perceived the world differently. “We got down on our knees to pray and when we got up, we were two different people,” Joyce said.
Along with these changes came a change in their lifestyle. For a time in the early ’80s, they put their musical careers aside to live differently, remaining open to “whatever God called us to do.” Joyce gave haircuts and Les worked roofing houses. In an about-face from his lead singer days, he used his equipment and experiences to work as a roadie for local bands on tour.
But their hiatus from music was short-lived. In 1985, their pastor entreated them to use their voices to share the words of God. Jeff, now 18, was a heavy metal fan who had amassed a sizable collection of records. When Joyce and Les “really listened to them,” they found several of the songs contained lyrics that they found to be rather shocking, and it occurred to Les that there mightbe a market for heavy metal music that was not so dark. He ultimately connected with Michael Bloodgood in Seattle and together they formed the band Bloodgood, with Les serving as the lead singer. They began writing original Christian “hard” metal songs in the style of Stryper, a hugely popular Christian metal band.
It wasn’t long before Bloodgood auditioned for a manager who needed a band to open for Stryper. Once selected, they quickly recorded a song that Joyce had written and drove it to the local Christian radio station, which obliged their request to play it immediately.
They performed for a small crowd in Bellingham on a Friday and in front of a much larger audience at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle the following night. The positive reactions resulted in the band signing with Frontline Records in Orange County, California, and their first album, “Bloodgood,” sold 40,000 copies in the first month of its 1986 release.
Maximizing their success, the band hit the road with their families in 1987 on the “Detonation” tour. Joyce credits their road tour experience with “Hair” as a huge help to the whole group. In that same year, Joyce appeared in the movie “Salsa,” choreographed by Kenny Ortega. She co-wrote a song for the movie with Cromwell and performed it as a duet with Bobby Caldwell. To this day, Carlsen and Cromwell continue to write together, recording an album in 2012, with Joyce singing background vocals.
Bloodgood recorded six studio albums, three live albums and toured the U.S. and Europe several times until 1993, and even played in Russia after the wall came down, where Les also sang in a Christian rock opera.
On the family side of things, after dedicating themselves to their faith, Les and Joyce tried for five years to have a baby, and they delightedly welcomed their daughter Faith into the world in July 1989. She accompanied Les and Joyce on tour with the other families and their children in 1993. Not surprisingly, although in many ways it was an exciting life, it was not easy to provide a stable family environment on the road, so they stopped touring.
Looking to settle down in one place with their family, they moved to Southern California in 1994, where Les had been hired to run an art business. During his 17 years in the position, they embarked on several excellent adventures, visiting faraway places, including Venice, Cairo, Spain for the running of the bulls, Amsterdam, Iceland, Ireland and France. For 20 years, Joyce served as a children’s pastor at Water of Life Community Church in Fontana.
“We were focused on raising our child and providing a life that was good and consistent,” they said. Music never left their lives entirely, with performances here and there throughout the years. This resulted in an award-winning documentary movie on Bloodgood, “Trenches of Rock,” which is scheduled for release in the U.S. this year.
In 2013, with the band members’ kids grown and in the midst of their own careers, Bloodgood ran a Kickstarter campaign to fund a new album. Jeff, who passed away unexpectedly in December that year, was able to hear the finished album, a blessing that they cherish. With their desire to be close to family stronger than ever, Joyce retired from her position at the church and they sold their house, moving to Tulare in 2017.
Since the move, the couple has performed in three concerts overseas, but they generally stay close to home. Every available moment is happily spent with Joyce’s 93-year-old mother, Dee, daughter Faith, son-in-law Joshua, and grandchildren Everly Love, Sequoia Jeffrey, Adalie Ember and baby River Ellen. Related to her former role at the Fontana church, Joyce will travel this winter to Australia to assist with starting a children’s ministry at a new church at the YWAM base in Townsville, Queensland.
No question that this pair has made the most of every opportunity and challenge they’ve encountered; their life has been happy, busy and anything but boring, but not without its tests. Through it all, they’ve kept their focus and their energies on the people they love.
Keeping two individuals with powerful personalities and distinct attitudes, perceptions and priorities together has been one of the biggest challenges they’ve faced in the last 44-plus years. Losing Jeff remains an unimaginable tragedy, drawing them back to their anchor of family. Les and Joyce agree that their unshakeable faith in Christ and each other has been the glue that holds them together. Just as the country song goes, Les drives Jeff’s truck and plays his drums to keep his spirit close. “Every time you get a chance to say I love you to someone, say it. Listen to people, to what they have to say,” Les advises. “Take joy in watching the people you love live their lives.”
Over the years, their musical message and style have changed. Their life experiences are reflected on their faces and in their eyes … and so is the almost visible aura that surrounds and connects them, as it has been from the moment they met. Their commitment and strength as a couple is evident and inspiring. “We’ve done so many things; we’ve traveled all over the world and seen some amazing things … having done all of that, the most amazing thing we’ve ever done is being grandparents to our grandchildren, spending time with our mom and family. Family is everything.”