In 2009, Jenny Don’t formed the unhinged punk rock band Don’t, backed by members of veteran Portland punk groups like The Wipers, Poison Idea, Pierced Arrows and P.R.O.B.L.E.M.S. Together, everyone wrote raging punk rock songs, with Jenny contributing cathartic, powerful vocals.
But then a few years later, Jenny set out to write some songs on her own, but they were much different: in the vein of Patsy Cline and Hank Williams. It’s just how they came out.
“I love writing country songs. I don’t know where it comes from necessarily,” Jenny says. “I grew up in rural Washington, but my mom’s side of the family all lives in New Mexico. I love the desert imagery. I like singing songs about the desert more than I like being in it.”
For a while, this Jenny Don’t and the Spurs project was something she did on the side. It even featured many of the same punk musicians. But then the cowboy-hat-wearing, good-time country side project was getting better and more frequent offers than Don’t. The music makes people feel good. And Jenny even makes her own outfits for the band.
“The Spurs can play breweries. We can play restaurants and venues,” Jenny says. “We can play a mellow set, or like we played with the Flesheaters. For that one, we’re like, ‘We’re going to play more of our faster punk rock country songs.’ It was a lot easier to book that band.”
Old country and western is quite popular currently in the Americana scene, but a lot of bands are pulling from the ’70s era, with Gram Parsons being a primary influence. The Spurs go back a little further to the up-tempo sounds from the ’50s and ’60s, which to some might seem more lighthearted. Jenny likes how the music gets people dancing, and that if you dig back in it, it’s sort of strange.
“’70s country is good, but it doesn’t knock my socks off. It’s okay, but it doesn’t make me want to party. Unless we’re talking about Johnny Paycheck, but his songs are just funny because he’s such a weirdo,” Jenny says.
Jenny Don’t and the Spurs take influence from some of the oddball country artists from back in the day that were less known, and who highlight some of the stranger elements of the Americana culture. Jenny cites Oregonian Buzz Martin, who penned several songs about logging, as well as fellow Pacific Northwesterner Bonnie Guitar. She also loves artists like Johnny Bond, who wrote several truck driving songs, and Johnny Western, who wrote a song called “Light the Fuse,” about miners getting blown up while they were working.
“It’s so easy to be like, ‘Here’s another song about whiskey.’ Well, okay, sure. But this guy is writing about getting blown up in a mine. That’s weird,” Jenny says. “It’s just super rocking. We start going down that wormhole, like, Johnny Western and Johnny Bond. I like pulling from that well.”
“Light the Fuse” inspired Jenny to write the song “Fire on the Ridge,” her own song about miners getting trapped by a fire. It’s the title track on the Spurs latest album, which was released in June 2021 after much delay. This record was the product of the Spurs becoming a more serious outfit. In 2018, a year after the Spurs released Call of the Road, she noticed that it was becoming harder to sing. Two bands were too many for her vocal cords, so she chose the Spurs because the songs felt more special to her.
In 2019, it got to be so bad that when they tried to record Fire On The Ridge, it sounded terrible.
“I wasn’t able to hit any notes. It sounded like a 100-year-old mummy was trying to sing,” Jenny says.
In September of that year, she got vocal cord surgery. After healing up, she was able to sing like normal again, and re-recorded her vocals. Now (and after also enduring a global pandemic) the group is back in full form.
“It was a great feeling. I think we did it in two days for all the vocals,” Jenny says. “It’s so nice to feel like how I always felt.”
Jenny Don’t and the Spurs will play at 9pm on Saturday, Jan. 15 at Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. $15/adv, $20/door. (831) 479-1854.