When the music starts, the lean limbs of Twinkle Schascle Yochim seem hardwired to the beat, shooting out in every direction while her feet slither across the stage, strands of long blond hair forming a whirling blur atop her shoulders. The burly guitarists at her side emphasize the songstress’ slight build, but her smile remains the biggest presence on that stage.
To her right stands bassist Tony LeClerc. His long blond hair flows out from a straw cowboy hat, while his eyes hide behind mirrored aviators. Something about his body language suggests he’s protective of the woman next to him. For good reason. Twinkle is his half-sister. Even though, for most of his life, he didn’t know she existed.
Twinkle has been a presence on the local music scene since she sat in with Gregg Allman and belted out “Stormy Monday” at age 14. The daughter of local luminary Buddy Yochim, best remembered as the right-hand man of legendary guitarist Dickie Betts, she started performing at 15 and had a brush with the big time in the early ’90s, when Warner Brothers released her album Haunted By Real Life.
The Sarasota native signed the richest recording contract of any unsigned artist in the label’s history and, at a time when female solo artists were dominating the charts, was seen by many as the next big thing. Twinkle was soon guest hosting on VH1, while her songs appeared in television shows and an ad for her album adorned the back cover of Billboard magazine.
Then came the Time Warner merger. The new bosses didn’t think Twinkle fit their mold and pulled support for the album. Attempts at a second record floundered, and Twinkle returned to the beach bar circuit.
While Twinkle was recording with Warner Brothers, LeClerc was enjoying his own success as a bassist in New York City metal band Big Bad Wolf. LeClerc always knew he’d been adopted, but hadn’t given serious thought about finding out who his biological parents were until he was in his mid-20s and saw a TV show about reuniting lost families. The thought struck him: He might have unknown siblings.
In 1993, LeClerc’s search led him to his mother, who still resided in Bradenton. He learned that his father was Buddy Yochim, and that he had a sister, just one year older, who was also in the music industry.
“I had bought exactly one copy of Billboard magazine—ever—and it happened to be the one where she was on the back cover, so when I heard the name, I actually knew who it was,” says LeClerc. “It blew my mind.”
He set out for Bradenton. After a dizzying day of being introduced to new family members, he met Twinkle.
“His hair was as long as mine,” recalls Twinkle. “The resemblance was incredible. It was like looking in a mirror.”
LeClerc and his 30-year collaborator, guitarist Lenny Brooks, eventually relocated to Sarasota, and LeClerc and Twinkle grew close. But not until 2011 did LeClerc, Brooks and Twinkle perform together, at a show at the Van Wezel celebrating the 20th anniversary of Haunted By Real Life.
What was intended as a one-night-only affair led to more collaboration. In late 2015, the trio welcomed drummer Benny Puckett, and Rock Soul Radio came to life. Puckett’s high-energy percussion, the hard-driving chords of Brooks and LeClerc and Twinkle’s soft and soulful voice have proven to be a magical combination. The band has become one of the biggest live draws in the area.
A year after forming, Twinkle and band recorded Rock = Live, a live album of mostly original material. The response to the record inspired the group to shift the focus of their live shows from covers toward originals. Now, from stadium rock anthems like “Rock Is Love” and “Sanctuary” to tender piano ballads like “Sun Girl,” dozens of fans sing along to songs they know by heart at every show.
They’re booked up with gigs for the next few months, with a half-dozen festival dates and a summer tour of Europe. Fans can even book vacation accommodations to travel with the band.
The idea of Twinkle, now 52 and more than 25 years removed from her major label success, getting a second shot at the big time seems unlikely. Twinkle admits she spent a lot of time thinking about how things could have gone differently, second-guessing decisions and regretting not seizing creative control. Today, however, she’s found peace with the way the story has unfolded.
“My music is finally my own,” she says. “It’s more me than anything I’ve ever done, and as long I can keep playing with these guys and bring our music to our fans, I feel lucky.”