Roots & Boots: Whiskey Sisters bring harmony to rock
Halfway through the first chorus. That’s how long it took Teal Collins and Barbara Nesbitt to realize that their voices blended beautifully. The first song the Whiskey Sisters tried together was a Jerry Garcia number, appropriate because Collins is originally from San Francisco and Nesbitt, who grew up in Georgia, began her singing career in jam bands.
“We have the same kind of vibrato,” says Collins, a natural belter whose other band, Mother Truckers, is on an indefinite hiatus. “I was looking around and realized that there weren’t any rock bands that I know of who have two badass chick singers. So why not?”
Collins and Nesbitt played their first set as the Whiskey Sisters less than a year ago, at South by Southwest 2012, when they were wedged into a day party lineup at Maria’s Taco X-press. Eleven months later they have a self-titled album that introduces them to the world as a band that takes sisterly harmonies to rock n’ roll in their own way. Although Collins and Nesbitt can really air it out vocally — hitting some notes that confound canines blocks away — this is no singing duo, but a rock band that can give you goosebumps.
With Collins’ husband, Josh Zee, on swashbuckling Fender guitar, the duo’s new, self-titled album is in that same roots rock pocket as the Truckers. But having two vocalists who sing their lipstick off gives “Whiskey Sisters” a new dimension. “We just clicked,” says Collins. “And we knew right away that in order to get to the next level, we had to have an album.” Collins and Nesbitt recorded the 12 co-written originals with their live band — Zee, Michael Davids on keyboards, Lonnie Trevino Jr. on bass and drummer Phil Bass — over a five-month period. They raised money to cover recording costs through fans with their “Whiskeystarter” campaign. “Since it wasn’t Kickstarter we could spend the money as it came in,” says Collins. Whenever they had enough for studio time, they’d book the Congress House or Summit Street studios.
Thursday, however, was when they took their music to the people. The Continental Club started the Whiskey Sisters off on Monday, but they passed the tryout and were soon moved to Thursday happy hour, the old Mother Truckers slot. It’s quite a romp each week, with the Sisters playing everything from ukulele torch songs to wall-shaking rockers.
Any other local act thinking about covering “Break It To Me Gently” by Brenda Lee needs to move onto something else. That one always gets a rousing ovation at the jam-packed W.S. residency. Even in the last light of the day, Collins and Nesbitt and their terrific band tear it up like midnight Saturday.
“I start looking forward to Thursday on Friday morning,” says Nesbitt. While Collins has been a mainstay on the local scene for more than a decade in Mother Truckers, Nesbitt is relatively new to these parts, moving here three years ago from San Diego. When the Padres third base coach Tim Flannery, whose musical side project featured Nesbitt on vocals, moved on to the Giants, Barbara took off for the live music capital.
“I had heard Teal sing and thought she was amazing.” says Nesbitt. After the pair hung out together one night, they made a date to sing and possibly write together, just to see what they might have. And that was it. Halfway through the first chorus. After two weeks of “intensive rehearsals,” the Whiskey Sisters were ready to gig.
“It’s been a long year, but it’s been a great year,” says Collins, whose work ethic, Nesbitt says, is an inspiration. “And now we’ve got this record that we couldn’t be prouder of.” True to their name, the band members each down a shot of whiskey in the middle of their sets. And now they have something really special to toast.
The Whiskey Sisters celebrate the release of their debut album at 10 p.m. Friday at the Continental Club (www.continentalclub.com).
If you didn’t get tickets to Ryan Bingham’s March 13 show at Gruene Hall, which sold out in minutes, you’ll still be able to see him in New Braunfels this year. Bingham confirmed he’ll be playing Whitewater Amphitheater on Fourth of July weekend. Bingham is touring with a brand new group — his second since disbanding Dead Horses in 2010. “It’s just fun to try different combinations, to see what comes out,” said Bingham, who will also play a short acoustic set at Central Presbyterian during SXSW … The 2013 season of the 5,000-capacity Whitewater, a cool concert setting if you can handle the hour drive, kicks off in earnest April 6 with Ray Wylie Hubbard’s fourth annual Grit N’ Groove Fest. Besides recent Letterman hero Hubbard, the show features Hayes Carll, Ben Kweller, Sons of Fathers, Dirty River Boys, Trishas, Wheeler Brothers, Uncle Lucious and Dustin Welch. Not a bad peanut in that handful. And tickets are only $27 in advance, for a day of great music on the banks of the Guadalupe.