San Francisco’s all-gal old-time teardown, THE STAIRWELL SISTERS, play a deep and rowdy repertoire of timeless tunes plus a solid standing of smart, original material that is winning praise on a national level. The Stairwell Sisters lay down concerts and square dances for counter-culturalists everywhere, infusing the old music with intoxicating energy and soul. The stairwell has never sounded better.
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GET REAL WITH THE STAIRWELL SISTERS :
The Stairwell Sisters formed in a quick minute, in a flat overlooking the hills of San Francisco in the year 2000. Long-time music companions Lisa Berman and Sue Sandlin developed their signature harmonies in the stairwell of their workplace in that city, and the others fell right in.
The band recorded their debut CD, The Stairwell Sisters, in 2003. Their second CD, Feet All Over the Floor was recorded by Jim Nunally in 2005. Get Off Your Money (2008) is their third release, produced by Lloyd Maines. All three releases are on Yodel-Ay-Hee records, a loose association of old-time musicians, 'run' by John Herrmann.
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WHAT THEY PLAY:
STEPHANIE plays an old German Martin factory fiddle and prefers Pirastro Chromcor strings. On Get Off Your Money she also played her childhood cello, the one on which she first learned to draw the horsehair across the catgut; and a Stroh violin, created by German designer Stroh, manufactured in what was once Burma, by French colonials, and brought home by her brother on a trip. The Stroh violin was originally designed in the early days of radio, with a horn that amplifies the instrument in the direction of the microphone.
EVIE plays a banjo she believes was built in the 1970s, by MC DeFosche. If anyone knows how to contact him, please let us know. There's nothing exceptional about the instrument, except the way it sounds. Evie is endorsed by GHS and uses their JD Crowe Extra Light Strings. On Get Off Your Money Evie also recorded with a couple of banjos that came from the collection of our good friend David Jones - a 1920s era Vega tubaphone with nylon strings and a 2000 Brooks Masten fretless with a 1905 penny in the headstock. It must be noted that David has also given us a fine band banjo, as well as a completely unplayable banjolin!
LISA's dobro was custom made by Tim Scheerhorn in the '90s (#110), and her Hawaiian slide guitar is a '30s "Maybelle" model from Slingerland (yes, the drum company). Lisa purchased the slide on eBay when it first started out, and it came complete with "Mother of Toilet Seat" neck, cigarette stains and ashes inside the sound hole. On Get Off Your Money she also played her 1891 Martin 2-27 Parlor Guitar, built when Martin was still in New York, and it lives in it's original coffin case. Lisa also borrowed a Mike Ramsey fretless banjo from Erik Pearson, and a beautiful 1928 Sovereign Hawaiian slide made by Oscar Schmidt International Co. from Jeff Kazor.
SUE plays a newish Martin 000-15, the first guitar she bought herself. It's little but it's loud. Her tiple is a Japanese knock-off of a Martin (a quarter of the price, and half the tone!). The little black guitar in the pictures is an old no-name, probably made in the 30s, given to Sue by a design client and friend Charles Putris, owner of blues label Mountaintop Productions. The guitar once belonged to bluesman Paris Slim and before him, Otis Grand. Its got a cool bluesy dark sound, but is a little too quiet to cut through the Sisters' din.
MARTHA plays a 1950s American Standard bass with Eurosonic strings, and uses an AKG clip-on saxophone mic which people are always asking about. We all covet her buttery 1966 Gibson B-25N Flattop guitar, which she used to record Fitch Mountain Waltz, and sometimes brings on tour.
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STEPHANIE PRAUSNITZ - fiddle
Stephanie grew up at the edge of Berkeley, to the beat of hippie drums at sunny Lake Anza. When introduced to southern-style dance music in Atlanta, Georgia, Stephanie submitted to the call of the devil's box and started fiddling. Stephanie looks for just the right tunes to suit the Sisters' chomp and jive. She's been known to tell the audience to "Get up!" and challenges anyone to find a physically bigger mouth than hers.
Stephanie's got a soft spot for: nerds, bad jokes, good politics, brain science and non-fiction. Her favorite soft spot is the hachiya persimmon.
Influences: Tommy Jarrell, Arthur Smith, Bruce Molsky, Jerry Garcia, Jackie Burgess, Adam Tanner, The Crooked Jades, and picksters at Grass Valley & Weiser.
Brushes with Greatness: Played tunes with Art Stamper, Laurie Lewis, Mike Mumford. Was ignored by Bill Monroe. Won second place Bluegrass Banjo at the Chiliwack Festival in BC, Canada.
Brushes with Death: "I was hanging out in the middle of the road, and when a car came racing down the street, I ducked."
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EVIE LADIN - banjo, clogging
Evie Ladin has been playing clawhammer banjo and dancing since a very young age, with her sister Abby. Raised on Southern music and dance from Northern New Jersey, their home was seated on the path of the first Folk Revival. The house served as a hostel for musicians and dancers travelling through, prompting the common introduction of "I stayed at your house once" from both the who's who of traditional music, as well people she's never met or doesn't remember.
Evie's got a soft spot for Loretta Lynn, the Coalminer's Daughter, and therefore Sissy Spacek. Whitefish salad. Baby Clay.
Influences: Favorite banjoistas: Travis Stuart, John Herrman, Richie Stearns, Robbie Robertson, Jake Owen, Maxine Gerber, me.
Favorite fiddlers: Frank Hall, Sarah Westhues, Bob Herring, Sammy Lind, Joe Dawson, Earl White, Rhys Jones, June Drucker
Brushes with greatness: Full page article in the Windsor Heights Herald (Dec. 28, 1978) "The Secret Lives of Evie and Abby: students by day, cloggers by night.". Jiffy Lube Athlete/Scholar Awards (only student in history to receive both). Danced with my sister for the President of Nigeria, in their capital. Wheatland late at night. Ginny Hawker liked my singing. My husband.
Brushes with death: "My second concussion I pretty much got creamed on my bicycle by a traffic accident. Lucky to be alive. Especially lucky I can still dance."
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LISA BERMAN - dobro/slide, banjo, guitar
For Lisa it all began in Chicago. Blame it on her Grandpa Harry and his handmade one-string fiddle (complete with pink powder puff chin rest and optional walnut or pistacio shell bridges...tonal quality options, you understand). Along came her banjo-picking Pops...it was just a matter of time.
Soft spot for: Yard sales, crooked tunes, "sniff" art, underdogs, silly red gals, & her Grandma Berdie
Influences: Her dear crazy family, Hazel & other frisky singers (dead & alive), Paris-Texas slide, 10 yrs with The Crooked Jades, Son Jarocho, & her husband, Elton John.
Brushes with greatness: Sang Ira's part on "Runnin' Wild" with Charlie Louvin. Smoked cigars with Jerry Douglas. Raised a ruckus with Martha at Bush & Powell (see above). Met BB King in Vegas when her Dad's band "Kaliedoscope" played with him in the 70s.
Brushes with death: Did time in Disneyland's slammer. Ducking under telephone wires while riding on top of a bus in Guatemala. Survived drink-offs between her high school club BCDC (Brain Cell Destruction Co.) and EHFC (Eddie Haskel Fan Club). An out-of-body experience (due to all of the above).
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SUE SANDLIN - guitar, tiple, harmonica, jaw harp
Sue was born and raised in that mecca of high culture, Fremont, CA - a city known for its glittering strip malls, gigantic GM plant, and bored teenagers riding around in muscle cars. As the old saying goes, you can take the girl out of the suburbs, but you can't take the wine cooler out of her hands.
She's got a soft spot for loudmouths, accordion players, junkyards and underdogs. So naturally, this red sister grew up to be a socialist. When she's not pickin her guitar, she's pickin fights with The Man.
Influences: my sisters, my fella, Texas crooner JD Gilmore
Brushes with greatness: Partied in the Metallica Snake-pit. Slow danced with Shecky Greene. Was spit upon by former SF Mayor Willie Brown. Served as a bodyguard for Ralph Nader.
Brushes with death: Was once shot at by the Oakland Police. Nearly trampled after showing up late (and 'lil tipsy) to a contra dance.
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MARTHA HAWTHORNE - bass
Martha survived growing up in Orange County—homophobic arch conservative Bible thumping Nixon country—by eating avocados, raising corn, sheep, goats, chickens and escaping to San Francisco at 18.
Soft spots: dark chocolate, thrift stores, gender benders, union activists, all night jams, teenagers who play classical music and jazz, Texas two-steppers.
Influences: Mother Pluckers, SF Folk Club, Hazel Dickens, Ralph Stanley, Delmore Bros, Ola Belle Reed, Karl Marx, Leslie Feinberg, Franz Fanon, Harvey Milk, Victor Jara
Brushes with greatness: As a waitress served dinner to Angela Davis and breakfast to Francois Truffaut and Julia Child. Played electric bass with all gal Tex Mex Band, "Cafe Con Leche." Blocked traffic with other musicians at the intersection of Bush and Powell for 4 hours on March 19, 2003. Original song published in Folknik (Winter, 104).
Brushes with death: Born again at a Christian youth rally. Ran from cops at demo in fascist Spain. Hitched across Algeria disguised as a guy. Played bodran at an Irish session. Sorted tomatoes for catsup at Hunt's Foods.
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WHAT WE'VE BEEN CALLED:
The... Scarewell Sisters, Salvage Sisters, Stairway Sisters, Stare Well Sisters, Sterile Sisters, Stepford Sisters, Stillwell Sisters, Estero Sisters, Steroid Sisters, Sierra Sisters, Stairweell Suisters, Stairwell Si, Staircase Sisters & Snackwell Sisters...