Monica "Li'l Mo" Passin's parents met mamboing, which is an auspicious start. The first live performer she saw was Chubby Checker, and she's been twisting ever since. Raised on girl groups, Motown, Ella Fitzgerald, Cuban music, and the Beatles and Stones, she picked up the guitar at age 11, became a teenage sound engineer in an infamous NYC music bar (Home,) and started playing in bands by the age of 19 at CBGB's and other legendary bars and clubs.
An early interest in rockabilly, insatiable liner-note reading, and exposure to many great musicians brought Monica to the discovery that despite geography, singing country music was natural to her. She spent two years in her apartment learning it, from the likes of George Jones, Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn, the Everly Brothers, The Carter Family, and Patsy Cline, to name a few, and soon she was co-fronting The Twanglers, who cut a single for Diesel Only Records. By the mid-1990s, Li’l Mo formed The Monicats, which quickly became a staple of the NYC country/roots music scene. At this time, she started honing her songwriting and guitar-playing skills. (Monica has been teaching guitar in NYC for many years now.)
With the four Monicats recordings, Li'l Mo has attracted world class musicians like Tony Trischka, Steve Riley, Fats Kaplin, and Gary Mackey as guest soloists, adding to her excellent line-up of Monicats band members. The 2009 release, ON THE MOON, takes the listener on the far-reaching voyage the title implies. It is a travelogue across a diverse musical terrain, and though it includes country and rockabilly styles, Monica now shows her other influences as well, like the pop songwriting style of her native New York's Brill Building era, and her love of the music of Louisiana, the early blues forms, R&B grooves and early rock ‘n’ roll. There are nine originals, but the album is named for her cover of Bill Haley's "Rockin' Chair on the Moon." Monica and her genius co-producer, Hank Bones, recorded most of the album in Hank's living room in Asheville, North Carolina, in pajamas with mugs of coffee.
UPDATE, April 2012: The fourth album, WHOLE LOTTA LOVIN' has been released!
Li'l Mo & the Monicats is a rockin' li'l combo featuring Skip Krevens on guitar, baritone guitar, pedal steel, and vocals; Eugene Chrysler on doghouse bass and vocals; Jeff Somerstein on cocktail drum; and Monica (Li'l Mo) Passin on vocals, guitar, and occasionally toy piano. Frequent guests include Drina Seay, harmony vocal, triangle, and occasionally toy piano; Bob Mastro, fiddle; Dave Sonneborn, upright bass and vocals; Gene Hicks, piano, fiddle, accordion, and Johnny Jake, guitar, fiddle, and piano.
The Monicats live and recorded include: Hank Bones (co-producer, multi-instrumentalist, and arranger on all four albums), Steve Riley, Tony Trischka, Skip Krevens, Fats Kaplin, Bob Mastro, Jeff Somerstein, Eugene Chrysler, Bill Malchow, Russ Wilson, Terry Day, Gary Mackey, Steve Greenfield, Doug Walker, Bill Troiani, Shannon Ford, Carolyn Dutton, Tom Meltzer, Nick Holmes, Drina Seay, Elena Mac, Montana Bob Packwood, Y'all (Jay Byrd and Steven Cheslik-deMeyer), David Hamburger, George Wurzbach