Austin360 Artist of the Month: Peterson Brothers are hitting their groove
For two hours most every Monday evening in South Austin, the Continental Club stage belong to the Peterson Brothers. Guitarist Glenn Jr. is 23; bassist Alex is 20. If they seem young, it’s worth noting they’ve held this weekly residency for seven years: For the vast majority of that run, one or both brothers were teenagers.
Now old enough to drive and vote, the Petersons have also been kicking their professional musical pursuits into a higher gear the past couple of years. It helps that another former holder of a Continental Club residency, one Gary Clark Jr., has given them a boost by having them open shows for him, both on tour and at home. If you saw Clark at ACL Live in late 2018, you might have caught the Petersons’ opening set. Or perhaps you saw them join Clark on the Austin City Limits Music Festival’s largest stage for his “Come Together” encore last fall.
But respect for the Petersons’ talent and momentum goes beyond those endorsements from Austin’s Grammy-winning guitar hero. That’s clear enough from the lineup of Austin’s official New Year’s Eve celebration a month ago at Vic Mathias Shores. The event was scaled back from previous affairs featuring many artists in favor of a simple format with just two performers: Shinyribs and … the Peterson Brothers. It’s easy to see why we’ve chosen them as our Austin360 Artist of the Month for February.
Ask Glenn and Alex about all of this, or anything else pertaining to their musical accomplishments, and there’s really only one word to describe their attitude: humility. Watch them kick into a deep groove at the Continental, and it’s clear that they’re still having the time of their lives — but that it hasn’t gone to their heads.
“We’ve always just really enjoy what we do,” Alex said when asked about the brothers’ amiable demeanor onstage. “The music is always spontaneous; it’s always fun. We’re always smiling and just going at it.”
Those smiles are contagious. Look around the room and you’ll see the Petersons’ good vibes catching on with what’s typically a very diverse audience. And about that family support: It’s clearly a big part of the brothers’ success. At the Continental gigs, keep an eye on Glenn Sr., who’ll be up every half-hour without missing a beat to pass the tip jar through the crowd. Sitting with him at the back bar is mother Deanna, who handles management details for her sons.
“Ever since we were young, they were always just super supportive of whatever we wanted to try, whether it was sports or anything academically or whatever,” Alex says. “Once we fell into music and really started digging it, they were always supportive of it. Being able to have a family that’s really behind what you do is a huge blessing.”
The extended Peterson family was out in force in late January at Native Hostel as the brothers celebrated the release of “The Intro,” a six-song EP that follows their 2015 full-length debut. Back then, their instrumental support crew included renowned Louisiana drummer Brady Blade, known for his work with Emmylou Harris, Dave Matthews and others. The new EP features the core local players who back up the brothers most often on Mondays at the Continental: keyboardist Jonathan Deas (who also tours with Clark) and drummer Brannen Temple.
Whereas that self-titled first record mixed original tunes with covers of classics by masters such as Albert King and Little Johnny Taylor, “The Intro” is all songs the brothers wrote or co-wrote. It’s telling that one of their writing collaborators was Tomar Williams, leader of the red-hot Austin soul/R&B group Tomar & the FCs. He assisted with “So Fine,” one of two jazz-inflected romantic numbers on the EP, and brought along his brothers, Ishaq and Salih, to help out on the deep-groove opener “Lose a Good Thing.”
Clark did his part by hooking the Petersons up with his friend Ray Angry, a New York producer and composer they met when Angry was in town playing with Lauryn Hill a few years ago. Angry, known also for his work with the Roots, helped the brothers with “Give Me Your Love,” an upbeat swinging number with funk overtones.
Two brief instrumental interludes — essentially the same number split into two segments placed at the middle and end of the record — round things out and hint at the longer instrumental jams the Petersons gravitate toward in their live shows. That’s where much of the magic is. Watch them pass the melody and rhythm back and forth between guitar and bass, with each brother alternately handling lead and rhythm roles, and you begin to understand what makes them such a special team.
Individually, they have specific strengths that stand out. Glenn is becoming a masterful guitarist, adept at coaxing an impressive range of sounds from his guitar. “It’s something I’ve definitely been conscious of in the last four years especially, just trying to have different sounds,” he says. “I could see how listeners would get fatigued if you just hear the same sound for two hours. So I try to give everything its own life and its own identity, from song to song and solo to solo.”
Alex’s musicianship skills are more visually apparent from his gear, most notably the unusual five-string bass he uses. “As soon as I got on the five-string, it felt really natural to me,” he said. “It gave me a lot more range just moving across the board, and it lets me make a lot of cool substitutions.” There’s also the fiddle he’ll usually pull out for a spotlight moment in the set, a reverent instrumental version of “Amazing Grace.”
While the new record is all about the Petersons’ own tunes, there’s still plenty of room for unveiling their influences when they play live. It’s common for them to weave passages from 1970s classics into their repertoire, whether stretching Al Green’s “Take Me to the River” into a 10-minute epic or slipping snippets of the Spinners’ glorious pop-soul nugget “I’ll Be Around” into an extended instrumental jam.
That their music is so distinctly influenced by music made well before they were born is intriguing. They give at least partial credit to their grandmother’s garage sale-hunting prowess for that, remembering a box of records she brought back from one outing when the boys were still pre-teens.
“It was a little bit of everything,” Glenn recalled, citing specifically records by the Isley Brothers, B.B. King, the Brothers Johnson and Earth, Wind & Fire among those to which he and Alex were drawn. “Those are the ones where we saw the covers and were like, ‘Let’s put this on and see what it’s about,’” he says.
That these were vinyl LPs also played into the attraction. “It wasn’t like clicking through streaming or an iPod and just previewing the first five seconds and going, ‘Next,’” Alex says. “It was almost like a divine intervention, like, ‘This is what y’all need to listen to.’ We just sat there with the guitar and started learning how to play.”
Back then, the Austin-born brothers were in living in Bastrop, where they grew up and attended high school. Nowadays, Glenn and Alex live in Austin, which makes it easier to accommodate their frequent appearances around town. In addition to playing every Monday in February at the Continental Club, they’ll also play on Feb. 6 at the Parish for a Kids in a New Groove event; on Feb. 14 at Shooters Billiards & Sports Bar in Northwest Austin; on Feb. 21 at Antone’s, opening for Scarface; and on Feb. 26 for a HomeAid benefit concert at Saengerrunde Hall.
Antone’s (when it was at Fifth and Lavaca streets) and the Saxon Pub gave the Petersons brief residency gigs in their early teen years, but the Continental has been their home base since 2013. True to form, they still remember their humble beginnings there. “I remember the first one,” Glenn said with a smile. “It was empty.”
Now, those Monday gigs are usually packed. The brothers said it’s been that way for more than a year now. There’s no cover charge, but by the time Glenn Sr. makes his final pass through the crowd with the tip jar around 8:30 p.m., rest assured that Alex and Glenn Jr. have gotten their due for the night.
They appreciate the tips, but first and foremost, they’re grateful for “being able to play music, especially with the people you love onstage, and having your family supporting you, and everybody in the room who’s helping to make it happen,” as Alex puts it. “We’re always really thankful, and we always have a good time any time we’re up there.”
Members: Glenn Peterson Jr., guitar and vocals; Alex Peterson, bass and vocals.
Releases: “The Intro” EP (2020), self-titled album (2015).
February shows: Every Monday at Continental Club, 1315 S. Congress Ave.; Kids in a New Groove event Feb. 6 at the Parish, 214 E. Sixth St.; Feb. 14 at Shooters Billiards & Sports Bar, 11416 N FM 620; opening for Scarface Feb. 21 at Antone’s, 305 E. Fifth St.; HomeAid benefit concert Feb. 26 at Saengerrunde Hall, 1607 San Jacinto Blvd.
Austin360 Facebook Live: Catch the Peterson Brothers performing live in our Austin360 studio at noon on Feb. 5, on the Austin360 Facebook page.