Sounds Local: Twang and Tinsel
It will be a night of twang and tinsel when The Twangbusters take the stage at the Wendell Full Moon Coffeehouse on Saturday, Dec. 14, at 7:30 p.m. This show marks The Twangbusters’ debut at the coffeehouse and its members couldn’t be more excited. The Twangbusters are fronted by Paula Bradley, who plays piano, ukulele and sings in a voice that’s been described as “Patsy Cline meets Bessie Smith.” The band is rounded out with Peter “Dr. Z” Zarkadas on electric guitar, Brian “Hubcap” Rost on upright bass and Kathy “Bongo Belle” Burkly on drums.
All of the band members are from the Worcester area, except for Bradley, who lives in Lee.
Bradley is also the co-founder and the vocalist/keyboard player for Girl Howdy, a honky-tonk band with close ties to Franklin County. Bradley continues to work with this band and also performs old-time music with her husband, Bill Dillof, in a duo called Moonshine Holler.
The Twangbusters got together a couple years ago when Bradley started gigging with current band members Rost and Zarkadass (the band had a different drummer then) in a club called Vincent’s in Worcester. These musicians had previously played in a band with Rose Sinclair, who, at the time, was a member of Girl Howdy. When Sinclair moved to Austin, Bradley contacted Rost and Zarkadass to see if they’d be interested in playing some material she was working on.
“I went out there and played a bunch of gigs and it clicked and the audiences were receptive,” said Bradley. “So, we christened ourselves The Twangbusters and away we went.”
Local music fans may be wondering how The Twangbusters is different from Girl Howdy.
“Well, we don’t have the steel guitar and our focus isn’t traditional country and early country honky-tonk. It is more piano-based blues, boogie-woogie and swing,” said Bradley “It’s just different music all together.”
She added that The Twangbusters play party and dance music and looks forward to being in Wendell because of the large dance floor there, a feature that can be difficult to find.
“We try and mix it up and do different things, but it is all music that you can dance to,” Bradley said. “Whether it is a slow ballad or a fast, up-tempo boogie-woogie rocker or a two-step.”
Bradley says she isn’t the most prodigious songwriter, but she has written some songs that The Twangbusters perform, including a couple of classic “tear-in-your-beer” songs like the seasonal “Cocktail Christmas” and “One Whiskey To Cry,” which has great lines like, “It only takes one whiskey to cry, when two lovin’ hearts have said goodbye/I keep my heartache to myself/Until that bottle leaves the shelf.”
The band also plays a mix of familiar and obscure covers.
“I’m kind of a nerd in that I spend a lot of time listening to old music,” explained Bradley. “I get great joy in finding songs that the band (members) have never heard before and trying them out — and then getting those songs out to the audience.”
She went onto say that she has a soft spot for a piano-driven style of blues called jump blues.
“As a piano player, I am drawn to songs that have a strong piano presence and that is what we play,” Bradley explained. “Some of it is what I call roots rhythm, some of it is up-tempo blues and some swing and some boogie-woogie.”
And, of course in keeping with the season, we can’t forget the tinsel part of the show. (Bradley promises the band will be sparkly.)
“We aren’t billing this as a Christmas show, but we will definitely have that vibe and we will include a few danceable holiday songs that are light-hearted and fun,” Bradley said. “Last year, we played at the Iron Horse as part of the Sweetback Sisters Christmas show (which will be held this year at the Academy of Music in Northampton on Dec. 20) and we worked up a few Christmas songs. This is our chance to trot them out again.”
Bradley is a multi-instrumentalist with years of experience. In addition to her work with Girl Howdy and Moonshine Holler, she has toured with the old-time band Uncle Earle and has recorded and toured with banjo great Tony Trischka. But, The Twangbusters is the first band that she has fronted.
“It’s challenging in ways that I didn’t really see,” Bradley said.
“One of the things that is challenging for me is playing the piano and being the front person. I have both hands down and it’s hard to make eye contact sometimes. It is a leap of faith that when the music starts, everybody is going to be there.”
“If it wasn’t working or we weren’t having fun, we wouldn’t do this. But so far it’s been a blast,” added Bradley. “And this is going to be a good show whether you are a dancer or a listener. It will be fun.”
The Wendell Full Moon Coffeehouse is located at the Wendell Town Hall, 6 Center St. The show starts at 7:30 with an open mic followed by The Twangbusters at 8 p.m. Admission is a sliding scale donation, $7 to $15 (cash only) at the door. Partial proceeds benefit the Friends of the Wendell Free Library. Coffee, non-alcholic beverages and desserts will be available for purchase. For more information, 978-544-5557 or visit www.wendellfullmoon.org.
Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org