Another great band to emerge from the rich and vivid Seattle's music life, The Donettes are a quartet built around the fiery and deep vocal of Rebecca Kimberling. She's backed by Jonathan Stuart (aka Johnny 7 for his aptitude to play those jazz chords) on guitar, Kirsten Ballweg on slap bass and Tom Forster on drums. They released a bunch of fine albums and ep's, starting from straight rockabilly to evolve into a mix of rhythm and blues, country, jazz, rockabilly and some modern influences. If not disbanded the band is on semi-hiatus as Rebecca moved to Austin. The other three also perform as The Black Crabs, a band first built to back the legendary Wanda Jackson and have released a fine album of modern rockabilly under that name. Kirsten is also very busy playing with Marshall Scott Warner, The Moongazers and electric bass with The Heels a garage-rock type of band.

Fred "Virgil" Turgis

Tell us about your youth. Did you grow up in a musical environment?
Ahhh...youth…. My mother bought our family a piano when I was 7, and I haven't stopped loving music since. My parents exposed me to lots of great music growing up — Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, Ruth Brown, Roger Miller and Big Mae Bell were all records that were often spun on the family hi-fi.
Jonathan:My mother played early music instruments (Viola da Gamba, recorder, Crumhorn, etc.) when I was a kid. Her group performed in churches and at fairs as well as rehearsing at our house. I also had an uncle who played guitar and sang. He inspired me to pick up guitar and gave me his old Harmony electric when I started teaching myself to play! The only music lessons I ever had were piano when I was ten…
Tom:When I was a kid my mom sang while the whole family sat around the piano. My father was into 50s rock and roll music and do-wop. He had the American Graffiti album and we’d listen to that a lot. And my dad always wanted me to play drums. I think I was a pretty hyperactive kid, so my family said “Why don’t you play the drums?” I guess that was around 2nd grade.
My mom made me take piano lessons. I started when I was in first grade, and at some point I wanted to quit but my mom and my piano teacher wouldn’t let me. At first I was really angry, but now as an adult I’m very appreciative that they made me keep playing

How/when were you first "exposed" to rock'n'roll?
Rebecca:I used to babysit for some neighbors who had a great rock n' roll music collection. After their kids went to bed, I'd spend hours making mixed tapes of their records — The Clash, Elvis, Brenda Lee, Buddy Holly, The Ramones, The Beatles...I also bought ACDC Back in Black with my allowance in grade school...that was some GREAT exposure.
I found an old Beatles record when I was a kid and my brother and I became fans. We collected all of their stuff from the local used record store. From there I graduated to The Stones and then punk rock. The first big rock show I saw was The Cars. We rode our bicycles to the show and bought scalped tickets for $20! That was a lot for a 13 year old. After that I hung out in the underage punk clubs of Seattle.
Kirsten:As a very young kid I was always listening to the rock radio stations, making tapes by holding the tape player up to the little radio speaker and hitting record any time a song I like came on the air. And my parents were into a lot of cool music as I was growing up – The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, and as I got older they were playing stuff like The Talking Heads. So I had some good music around me while I was growing up!

Do you remember the first show, or album, that had a real big impact on you?
My grandmother took me to see Bobby Vinton when I was really young. When he sang "Blue Velvet" I got goose bumps. That was the first time I remember being physically affected by a live performance.
The first show I saw was Buddy Rich when I was…I must have been in 3rd grade… and my jaw just dropped. My dad took me and I was like “holy shit – this guy rocks.”

When did you start playing music or singing?
Rebecca:When I was around 7 I'd play piano, or put on rollerskates and head to the basement with a stack of 45s, and sing at the top of my lungs as I rollerskated around.
I have a photo of me when I was a kid at Christmas – I must be maybe 1 – and I’m playing a little toy xylophone. And I remember being in my room and playing the record from that Disney movie the Jungle Book over and over. I loved that song “I Wanna Be Like You”. I must have been around 5 years old then. And then soon after the dreaded piano lessons began!

How did you meet and how did you form The Donettes?
Rebecca: Kirsten and I met through a mutual friend we'd both worked with, and then she pointed out Johnny 7 one night in a bar and said "That guy's cute and he's a guitar player." We all met Tom when he was playing in a band called New York Jimmy & The Jive Five.
We met Tom that night, but we stole him later on, when we was playing with The Footstompin’ Trio.Boy, were those guys mad. But we saw what we wanted and we went after it!

Have you played in bands before The Donettes or was it your first musical venture?
I’ve played in several rock ’n’ roll and punk bands including one in Japan, but my love for rockabilly has always been there. Nobody Home (my old band in which I played guitar, sang, and wrote material for) used to cover The Sonics, The Stranglers, and The Kingbees. The Kingbees songs we did turned out to be their covers of Don Gibson and Buddy Holly songs!
Rebecca:The Donettes was my first "official" band.
I’ve played with New York Jimmy and The Jive Five, Footstompin’ Trio, and Kasey Anderson, and I’ve sat in with a lot of other bands, most recently with Chuckanut Drive out of Bellingham, Washington.
Kirsten:I started playing upright bass in a Seattle honky-tonk band called Pushrod and The Pistons. I also play electric bass in a garage band called The Hot Rollers.

I believe The Donettes started as an all-girl band. Was it something you wanted to do or was it just the way it happened?
Rebecca:We started out as an all-female band intentionally, and then we decided we also liked playing with men.
Plus it was very difficult to find a female drummer and a lead guitarist who were into rockabilly and were proficient at their instruments.

Let's talk about your influences. What are they?
Willie Nelson, Ruth Brown, Janis Martin, Dolly Parton, Patsy Montana, Roger Miller, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison...too many to list!
Tom:Huey Lewis of course, plus Big Joe Turner and Louie Jordan.
Kirsten:Who else but Run DMC! Actually I also am currently into Ray Brown, Milt Hinton, Kim Deal, Charlene Arthur, Klaus Flouride from the Dead Kennedys – I met him once actually at a Hot Rollers show where we covered their song Landlord and he said my bass line was perfect. What a great compliment. But I’m influenced by pretty much any music I listen to – I try to take something from it, whether it’s a sound I want to emulate, or something I want to avoid!

JF6T6: Rebecca, you're very good at yodeling. How did you start?
Rebecca:I was in film school, and decided to make a documentary about female yodelers in Western Swing music. I had an amazing opportunity to spend some time with Patsy Montana shortly before she died, and she started me out in the right direction with some tips and tricks.

How do you go about songwriting?
Songs usually come to me while driving. I'll just start singing and just keep singing until I have most of the song worked out. When I get home, I get out the guitar and figure out what key I was singing in! Then I write it down.

Who are your favourite bands and singers?
My favorite singers are Willie Nelson, Janis Martin, Ruth Brown, Dolly Parton, Raul Malo, Redd Volkaert, Roy Orbison & Jean Shepard.

One of the projects associated to The Donettes is The Black Crabs with Tom, Kirsten and Jonathan. The first purpose of this band was to back Wanda Jackson, right?
Yes, The Black Crabs were formed to back Wanda Jackson. We played with her before but without Rebecca, so we couldn’t really call ourselves The Donettes. The second time we toured with her she wanted us to open with our own set, and since we ended up with 45 minutes of material, we decided to keep playing as The Black Crabs on a regular basis.

How was it to share the stage with her?
Playing with Wanda felt really natural. We made a strong effort to be true to her original sound and it paid off when she turned to me onstage and said, “You play just like Joe Maphis.” That was a thrill! The response we got from the crowds was great so we were really encouraged to keep on playing.
Kirsten:It was an amazing opportunity to back her – she’s a rockabilly legend!

Eventually, the band kept going after the Wanda Jackson shows…
Kirsten:Right – as Jonathan mentioned, the crowds at the Wanda shows seemed to really like our opening set, so we figured we’d keep on playing as a three piece.

Does The Black Crabs give you the chance to explore new musical territories (tunes like Rink Lay or The Sonic's Dirty Old Man) you can't with The Donettes?
We are all big fans of the rockabilly sound and that is why we continue to play it and have it be an integral part of our sound. But I don’t feel I can create great music if we have to follow rules. Besides, you just end up getting called a retro or throwback band, and while we love that music we don't want to be stuck exclusively in that genre. So we bend the rockabilly sound so it reflects our influences and is complementary to our playing style. We acknowledge the styles of music that have developed since rockabilly, and we mix it into something we hope is relevant today. In The Black Crabs we have the opportunity to play something a little edgier than The Donettes. We also wanted everyone to take turns singing and to try some songs with double harmony. We play “Poor Jenny” like the Everly Brothers on speed…
Tom:Which one is Phil and which one is Don?”
I think Kirsten might be Phil. Did Phil sing the low parts? Anyhow, Kirsten and I sing together, Tommy sings a few numbers, I get to sing and scream…we just like to mix it up.
I think too that once you’re established as a rockabilly band like The Donettes are, it’s a bit harder to mix in more modern numbers. Since The Black Crabs were new, we decided to make music with a nod to rockabilly and 50s rock and roll, but we also wanted to fold in the newer garage stuff as well. And since there were no expectations about our music, we could get away with it! But I do have to point out track 6 on The Donettes Hello Baby — Got My Mojo Working — is certainly not a rockabilly song and it’s one of my favorite tracks on the CD. Must be that Hammond organ!
I also want to point out that with both bands we mix the old and the new in our recording process. The last two Donettes records and The Black Crabs Blast Off! were recorded in my studio – Cleopatra Studios – using a mixture of vintage ribbon mics, tape delays, and natural room sounds combined with contemporary gear and techniques. It’s a vintage sound with modern technology. Plus it’s all going to end up on CD or as MP3s anyway!

Talking about "new territories", Kirsten you've played with The Hot Rollers a more 60's garage/punk oriented band where you played e-bass andFarfisa. A word about that?
The Hot Rollers are a lot of fun. It’s an all-girl band, and we even have The Rollettes – our dancing girls – jumping on mini trampolines at our shows. We’re influenced heavily by Thee Headcoatees, The Delmonas, and that 60s girl garage sound, but we add a lot of distortion and a lot of attitude! I actually joined The Hot Rollers to get some experience playing electric bass – I had never played one before. It’s quite different than upright bass. And when we were gearing up to record our CD, Got Your Number, it was a great excuse for me to buy a Farfisa Compact. I’ve learned a lot from that band, especially about stage presence and putting on a show. I guess when you are wearing crazy outfits on stage you just can’t help but jump around like a freak! Certainly it's new territory for me and I know it's made me a better performer.

How is the rockin' scene in Seattle? It seems there's a lot of good bands in this town.
I think the Seattle rockabilly scene is still strong compared to a lot of other cities in the U.S. Bands like Roy Kay Trio, Marshall Scott Warner, Johnny Mercury (from Portland), and The Skirtchasers (also from Portland) are doing a lot to keep the scene alive. And obviously Seattle has a lot of other music too, like punk, grunge, stoner rock – I think it’s good to get out and see all type of music and bands. Anytime I go to a show I always learn something new or get new ideas.

Back to The Donettes. Listening to your albums, it seems that on the first one you tried to stay "true" to the rockabilly sound, and with the time you've found a more personal sound.
The progression of our sound mainly comes from being willing to recognize more of our influences and tastes outside of the rockabillly realm. Rockabilly music itself has such a varied base of influences. To be truly authentic, we felt it was important to approach our music pulling on as many of our influences as we could.

You did a mini album called "Kick Off The Covers". How do you choose a cover? What do you look for a cover?
We chose this covers based on the most requested cover songs from our fans. In choosing a cover, we look for a song that gets people excited, and that is fun for us to play.

What plans do you have for the future?
Jonathan:With Rebecca now living in Austin, The Donettes have become a long-distance love affair in which we get together for special occasions – Viva Las Vegas, Greenbay, Hemsby and other festivals.And look for future gigs in Texas.As far as The Black Crabs go, we are working on new material and will head back into the studio in the spring or summer of this year to release a new CD in the fall.
Kirsten:Also, The Black Crabs will probably also do some short tours this year.
Tom:My wife and I just had a baby this past December, so hopefully what’s next for me is catching up on some sleep!

A last word?


  The Donettes - Hello Baby
Their latest and richest album to date. A fine mix of straight rockabilly, jazz, honky tonk, rhythm and blues and yodel with the presence of some new instruments (steel guitar, hammond organ). And nicely packaged !
    The Black Crabs - Blast Off
Modern rockabilly with influences (and covers) ranging from Link Wray to Don Gibson via The Sonics and The Everly Brothers. Add a dash of Jazz, three skilled musicians and you have a mighty good album. A very good way to take a fifty year musical tradition into the new century.