Penny Jo Pullus has been kickin' up her boot heels coast to coast around America and Europe. She is an independent spirit and a songwriter who shuns the confinement of "pigeon holes." Her sultry voice can caress you with a feather or slap you with a bullwhip. Are you ready? Hold on tight for a fantastic ride...
"Growing up I had an AM radio attached to my ear," explains Penny Jo Pullus of the latest chapters in her musical explorations. "I slept with it under my pillow. I am also the youngest of four siblings so whatever my brother and sisters were listening to, I soaked up like a sponge." It's been 10 years since this firecracker, who led the Alt. Country band Penny Jo's Trailer Trash in Northern N.Y., defected South with two "Sammy's" - Best new artist of 1994 and Best Roots Rock Group of 1995 - tucked under her arm. She blew through Nashville and left it in her rear view mirror bypassing its high gloss and rigidity and headed for the musically eclectic and traditionally organic Austin, Texas.
Here she has been honing her songwriting craft and assembling her biting and twang influenced band, The Vanishing Breed. "We have more teeth than fur," she grins. I am not looking to be a retro-country museum piece. Similar to Roseanne Cash and Lucinda Williams, Pullus has dug deeper to find the right songs and voice of a mature song writer, to shake off the "country chick singer stamp." It is clear that she is showing a new and different side of Penny Jo. What she is now up to is decidedly different. She has combined a roots sound with the right pop influences due to Producer Ron Flynt (20/20) to develop a unique style that has her inspired as well as singing at her best.
She has charted admirably on the Americana Music Chart, Progressive Country Charts and various European charts with her last two musical efforts Lucky #7 and My Turn to Howl. Underdogs is slated to debut in 2007 with the host of regular suspects, Ron Flynt, Scrappy Jud, Eric Hisaw and Ian Maclagan.
"Ever since I decided that this is what I wanted to do with my life, it's been about gut feelings, about doing what I like to do, finding my own way of being me," Penny Jo concludes. And from her brother's record collection to the clubs of Austin, the Penny Jo Pullus we get to know on stage is someone who's not only well worth knowing - but someone who's found what she's looking for.
The Journal of Texas Music History
Country Line MagazineTexas' Only Country Music, Cowboy, Outdoor and Lifestyle Magazine - January 2003
Interview with Penny Jo Pullus
CD Warehouse Band of the Month
Q: What is your inspiration? A: It's in my blood. My mom is an entertainer. I sang my first solo performance in the 2nd grade play. I was hooked.
Q: What are your musical influences? A: I am the youngest of four. I raided my siblings' record collections... The Beatles, Wanda Jackson, The Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Linda Ronstadt, but REALLY, I was a radio JUNKIE. I had the thing attached to my ear whenever I could get away with it. I drove my family crazy because I was always singing.
Q: What is your most memorable performance? A: Blue Highways, "The Ultimate Americana Festival" in Utrecht, Holland. It was our first time overseas. We were sandwiched in with fantastic talent, Chris Hillman, Tift Merrit, Bruce Robison, Slaid Cleves, it was a gas! I couldn't be live I was in the thick of it.
Q: What are your favorite songs? A: Oh man... it changes day by day... The new Buddy Miller tune, the new Dixie Chicks tune, but my all time favorite would have to be "Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones. That riff kills me!
Q: Who are your favorite contemporary artists? A: John Hiatt, John Fogerty, Dwight Yoakum, Emmy Lou Harris, Lucinda Williams.
Q: What are your goals (musical or otherwise)? A: To live my life and play my music with integrity and heartfelt honesty for as long as the powers that be will let me have that much fun!
Contrary To OrdinaryKatie Key's "Stars On the Horizon," October 2002, Best In Texas: Texas Music for the Country Down Home Diva Issue
"It just kind of felt like a comfortable pair of boots that I didn't have to break in." That's how Penny Jo Pullus describes her move from Syracuse, New York to Austin a little over a decade ago. When asked why she chose Austin over Nashville, Pullus replied, "Well, I knew that Nashville was not really an avenue for me because I'm not a real glitzy fashion plate kind of singer-songwriter. And I felt that Austin was very forgiving of those who are eclectic."
In New York, Penny Jo sang in an alt-country band called Penny Jo's Trailer Trash. "But people didn't seem to understand pop country or even twang country there. A friend of mine who owned a record shop gave me a bunch of Texas artist records, people like Libbi Bosworth, Angelea Strehli, Marcia Ball, Lou Ann Barton. Once I heard those, I thought "Wow!" There's all this great music coming out of that town, I just have to go there! And that's just what I did in 1990."
Before the move, the band released Penny Jo's Trailer Trash, which is only available on her web site. She describes it as country-rock. Her second album Lucky #7 was done two years ago in Austin. She says that when she came to Texas, she loved it very much and that comes across in the second release. "The sounds changed so much between the two records," she said. "You can tell I just love what I'm doing now."
Her third and most recent release, My Turn to Howl, fits between the two previous ones. She explains, "It has some rocky country stuff, as well as down home country music." Her duet with Kevin Fowler, "Baby Ride Easy," is starting to have success with the radio stations who report to the Texas Music Chart. It's been described as "contrary to the Austin ordinary."
When asked how she feels about being included in the Down Home Divas' Issue, Penny Jo saluted some of the women who have helped her, "I'm really honored. I know there are several women out there doing what I'm doing: Libbi Bosworth, Karen Poston, Floramay Holliday, Shelley King. Most of them just happen to be my close friends. We are all kind of a support system for each other. I'm really inspired by those women!"
What's on the horizon for Penny Jo? She's working on a return tour to Europe following her successful one with Karen Poston earlier this year. Penny says, "Hopefully, I can take my whole band this time!"
Austin State of MindRob Patterson reports from the Texas State Capitol
Excerpt from Country Music People, February 2002
Few people are a bigger fan of country music - real county music - than I am. But, with the rise of alternative country and the recent Texas music boom, I'm sometimes apt to wonder if the twang thing has done got a bit out of hand. It's come to the point where my favorite parlor joke in musical circles is explaining how I am the founding member of A.A. - Americana Anonymous.
Living in Austin it is not hard to become over-saturated by twang, even if this city does produce the best twang, per capita, to be heard anywhere in America
Yet there's so much more to the country sounds and the music's parameters, And because Austin is also a place where musical freedom is as valued as purity and honoring tradition, it's gratifying to see that 2002, will be offering some Austin releases that bring delightful wrinkles to our Texas country ethos.
One of the most appetizing hints of what's to come was on a chilly December night just before Christmas on the stage of The Hole in The Wall from singer Penny Jo Pullus. It was her first time playing material from her upcoming third CD release - and even though it was raw and a bit rough in spots, the great leap Pullus is making on the next set was still evident.
Pullus hails form Upstate New York, same as I do, which immediately earned her a soft spot in my heart when I first met her in the mid 1990's while she was visiting for South By SouthWest. She moved here not long after and recorded a solid disc that showed she had earned her Texas stripes with "Lucky #7" on her own Art Of Balance label.
But what she's now up to is decidedly different, combining a roots sounds with the right pop influences to develop a unique style that apparently had her inspired as well as singing at her best.
Sure, the disc will feature material from such Austin country veterans as Monte Warden and Jeff Hughes, along with musical contributions by Earl Poole Ball, Greezy Wheels fiddler Mary Hattersley, guitarist Paul Skelton and the late Camp Hood and his son Warren. There's also a duet with rising honky tonker Kevin Fowler and on the old Carlene Carter number, Baby Ride Easy, and vocal support from her peers like Karen Poston, Libbi Bosworth and Susanna Van Tassel.
But the influence of producer Ron Flynt formerly of the Los Angeles new wave band 20/20, brings a new pop/rock edge to Pullus's style, augmented further by material from two other expatriates from her home town of Syracuse, N.Y. who are now part of the Austin scene, Craig Marshall and Jon Notarthomas.
What I heard live whetted my appetite for the album, which promises to offer something contrary to the Austin ordinary - which just might be what the Austin scene needs right now. And ya'll over there in the UK will also get a taste when Pullus and Poston hit Old Blighty for a nine date "Women of Austin" tour in late March after playing the Blue Highways festival in Holland. Along with the gals will be Notarthomas on guitar and Poston's bassist and pal Vance Hazen to give you the sort of music we Austinites can enjoy in our nightclubs all the time.