Saddle Up with Jenny Don’t and the Spurs
If you’re into garage and punk rock but want to dig deeper into the world of real-deal country music, Jenny Don’t and the Spurs make sense as the first bronco you break. You’ve already got a couple of Spurs’ past bands in your collection anyway, with rodeo rider turned musical revivalist Jenny Don’t fronting a band featuring ex-members of the Wipers and Pierced Arrows. Together, they keep shattering misconceptions country folks have about punk rockers, and vice versa.
The Spurs’ trail began with the future Jenny Don’t growing up around actual cowboys. Her mother loved horses and once claimed the Central Wyoming Rodeo Queen crown in the ’70s. As a kid growing up in Washington, Jenny took to her mom’s interests, competing as a barrel racer.
Mom and other relatives enjoyed country music, introducing young Jenny to sounds she’d later revisit as a songwriter. “There’s a photo of me and my family. I’m about five, and we’re all hanging out with Reba at one of her concerts,” Jenny adds. “My uncle was Reba’s personal sound engineer for a long time.”
Fortunately, other family experiences didn’t scare Jenny into rejecting music for life. “Dad is religious and played in a Christian rock band,” she says. “I was like, ‘I’ll never play music. This is so boring!’ They were Christian rock but psychedelic – sort of Love or Beatles-inspired stuff.”
As kids raised around horse manure and shit music are wont to do, Jenny left home for the big city as a young woman. She ended up in Portland, an ideal place for a budding songwriter with an appreciation for punk rock and D.I.Y. communities. Soon after arriving in town, she began charting her current path with the first of two famous Spurs – former Wipers drummer Sam Henry.
“When I moved to Portland, one of my roommates was good friends with Andrew Loomis, who was the drummer for Dead Moon,” Jenny says. “He’d take me out to the bars and stuff and introduce me to people, so I met Sam. I was first wanting to play music with Andrew Loomis, but when I met Sam, his head was more in the same place as mine was musically.”
Henry lived where he and Jenny could practice, setting the stage for the punk band Don’t. Its name came from a nickname already bestowed on Jenny. With the Spurs getting the most use out of the Don’t moniker, Jenny teased that her still-active punk band with Henry might be due a name change.
Aside from her duties with Don’t, Jenny began working on solo material that by chance sounded more country than punk. When her restaurant job created opportunities to perform at golf tournaments, she and Henry would perform some of this material as a two-piece.
Along the way, Jenny began dating future Spurs bandmate and then-Pierced Arrows drummer Kelly Halliburton.
“I went to a Pierced Arrows show at the end of 2008,” she says. “It was at a place called the Tonic Lounge. It was love at first sight. Watching him play, I was like, ‘That guy’s cool. I want to get to know that guy.’ Like a creep, I just kept going to shows. We never ended up meeting that way. I probably went to 10 shows or something before we ended up talking. I was at this place with a big circular bar. He was on one side, and I was on the other. I saw him make eye contact, so I waved him over. I was like, ‘Me and my girlfriend are going back to our place after the bars close. You should come over and have a beer.’ I didn’t think that he would. Then we were driving around, and I got a text from him, saying ‘hey, I’m at your house, where are you at?’ I was like, ‘Oh my God, we’ve got to get there now!’ Eventually, we started dating, but I’m a lot younger than he is. I’m about 16 years younger, so it took some convincing. Finally, he broke down, and now we’ve been dating for nine years.”
Up to this point in the story, Jenny’s Portland stay got boosts by three different drummers with ties to Dead Moon and Pierced Arrows founders Fred and Toody Cole. Henry played at one point with another Cole family outing called the Rats, placing him in the same musical family tree as Loomis and Halliburton.
When Fred and Toody needed another duo to fill out some bills, they encouraged Halliburton to start playing live with his partner. Jenny’s gigs with Henry and with Halliburton, plus her growing catalog of country-tinged originals, eventually led to the trio combining forces as a band. So basically, the Spurs exist in part because of the Coles, a famous couple that knew a whole hell of a lot about the grittier side of rock ‘n’ roll’s roots.
Before the Spurs, Halliburton did his own thing musically while assisting the band Don’t through his global network of friends. “With Don’t, we toured with Pierced Arrows twice, so Kelly always helped us in that sense,” Jenny says “And in Europe, Kelly used to live there, so he booked our first tour and would come along to dive. He was always with us anyway, so it made sense for him to play an instrument.”
What began as Jenny on guitar and vocals, Halliburton on bass and Henry on drums, whipping those three familiar punk rock chords into country and Western arrangements, expanded to include a revolving door of guitarists. Apparently, folks with that talent in Portland are like drummers in Atlanta. If you’re good at your instrument and good at being a half-decent human being, you’re already in a shit ton of bands. Since last summer, Christopher March has filled out the lineup, proving rather quickly to fit in musically and socially.
If she’s got a punk band and a country band with overlapping members, how does Jenny know which direction to drive her ideas for songs?
“With Don’t, the writing is actually more collaborative,” she says. “I’ve written pretty much all of the Spurs songs. My writing style is more country, so with the punk rock stuff it’s more challenging. So, if I’m writing a song, it’s probably going to be a country song.”
Even with Halliburton’s connections making the first stop in a city happen, it’s the songs written by Jenny, featured on such releases as the band’s 2017 album Call of the Road and an even more recent Christmas-themed 7-inch, that’re allowing for repeat visits.
“It wouldn’t be anything without the whole crew,” Jenny says. “I could go around playing as Jenny Don’t, but it’d be boring. I don’t know what I’d do without these guys. They’re appreciative, too, because I’ll bring songs to the table.”
Jenny’s songs, played in the studio and on the road with a stacked backing band, point country purists and punks to the recent spike in underground musicians inspired by ’50s and ’60s country music.
“We’re seeing more people from punk rock backgrounds just because they know members of the band, but we have been seeing people that we don’t know in the country scene because they’ve heard that they should check us out or that they’d have fun at our shows,” Jenny says.
Fans from either side of the aisle should come away from a Jenny Don’t and the Spurs show with a smile, as their live set should appease just about anyone with an interest in classic country and rock music.
“We’re not just a straight honky tonk band, and we’re not purely outlaw country,” Jenny says. “A lot of new people have been checking us out because they say, ‘We heard we’d like you although we don’t usually like honky tonk bands. This was cool.’ Or, you know, ‘We’re not into this genre.’ We’re wiggling into each category a little bit. We were thinking about calling ourselves garage country because of the broad scope of what we’re doing.”
Of course, when you’re saying garage at this point, it could mean something supposedly psychedelic and totally lame, issued by a dopey cassette tape label. Likewise, some people think country means they’ll hear that awful new Keith Urban album. Jenny and the band are fighting the good fight against those misconceptions, rewarding folks who come to see ex-members-of and stick around for a little Hank Williams crossed with Kitty Wells.
“People are getting more confident, knowing they can go to a show and have a good time,” Jenny says. “Not like, ‘We’re going to go, but it’s going to be weird!’ Especially in Europe, we played a lot of punk rock clubs, and people would show up and say, ‘Country? What in the hell are you doing?’ Then they were like, ‘Oh, this country! This is what you mean!’ Nowadays, people probably think that if you play country, you’re going to start rapping halfway through your show or something.”
Photo by Powell Imagery.