Jen aka Lil’ Bit must have one of the best voice on the rockabilly scene today. It’s powerful and clear in the same time. She’s also a remarkable songwriter and writes songs that make you rock or cry . The Customatics give her the best support you can dream for this type of band. The way Tomcat Miller gives the beat and the swing with his bass gains him a place near Kevin Smith or Ric Ramirez in the great bass players’pantheon. And he can sing and write songs too ! Follow my advice, catch them the next time they’ll come to your town.

by Fred "Virgil" Turgis

You’re back from a big tour to promote your recent release. How was it?
Jen - It was excellent, I have a great time every trip out we make and they seem to be getting better every time. We played the Shake the Shake Ball in Seattle this tour, and it was one of the best events I've ever been to-let alone been lucky enough to be part of. I got to hang out with Cari Lee a bit, and meet Sid & Billy King in addition to hanging out with tons of cool folks and hearing some great bands - what a memorable weekend that was. The whole tour was full of great crowds and a good response to the new CD. We actually sold out for the first time ever and had to order more to be shipped out to us when we got to Colorado. I don't believe I could have asked for more, except to stay out a bit longer!
Tomcat -
Tour's always great. There's something that goes along with a "in town one night only" crowd that's a little rowdier than when we're at home and folks can see us on any given weekend. I've also met a lot of friends on the road that I sorely miss when I'm back at the house, so it's always good to see them a couple of times a year.

Deke Dickerson recently said it was getting harder and harder to do this job due to the price of gaz and the general lack of interest toward live music. What do you think of that?
Jen -Gas prices are definetly a pain. As we travel farther away from San Antoniom the prices go up. Especially this time, as we left shortly after Hurricane Katrina when prices were skyrocketing everywhere. It makes you have to pay more attention to where your money is going on the road because you have to make sure there's enough gas money to get to the next destination. We travel with two vehicles as well, so that almost doubles what we're spending. But you do what's necessary to spread your music out there, and to that end, the price is worth it. I don't know that I've noticed a lack of interest in live music - or maybe I just don't pay enough attention. Sometimes there's a packed house, sometimes there's not. But, if there's more than 10 people at a show, well then hey...we were able to get these folks out of their comfortable houses and hopefully they're having a good time. We enjoy the music we play, and hopefully, that's infectious to the crowd - however big or small that crowd might be. W're still gonna be out there playing and having fun doing it whether the folks join us or not.

It seems you like being on the road…
Jen -Yep, I love it. I can't believe I get paid to travel and see new places and meet so many cool people. There's nothing like it. I wish we could travel more, I always miss the constant movement and excitement after we return home and things settle down.

What about you Tomcat?
Tomcat - Life on the road is a double edged sword because of the ol' saying "there's noo place like home", and I think we can all relate to that. Of course, I think we can also all agree that there's nothing like traveling to strange exotic places, especially when most of the time is spent with the party revolving around us. I'm always ancy to hit the road, but I'm always ready to head back home for some r&r after bustin' my hump for a couple of months straight. It's definitely a full-time job when touring, where it's pretty much part-time in our home community.

Have you been in Europe with The Customatics?
Jen -Nope, not yet, but we can't wait. I've never travelled to Europe at all, and to be able to do so with the band would be awesome.

  How did you get started playing music? Is anyone else in your family musically inclined?
Jen -
I started singing as a child. My dad has been a musican since before I was born, and I used to sing with him a bit in front of the family. They still have a recording of me singing "I Bought A Goat" with him when I was like 3 or 4 - it's a tad embarassing actually. My aunt likes to ambush me and play it for friends. As I grew up, I had a stint in the school choir, and I would occasionally get up with my dad's bands The Crawdaddies and The Rafters and do a few tunes but I didn't focus on it till college. Currently, I'm learning how to play the mandolin and hope to pick up the fiddle at some point.
- I started playing music at age 12 and continued through college where I recieved scholarships for music in Mississippi for the big band blues/ jazz band. Shortly afterwards, I came back home to San Antonio, Texas where I baounced around in several bands doing any number of styles before I started turning more to my roots (guess it's just in the blood around these parts). My father (from Portland Oregon) always showed great promise with his natural ability to pick up any instrument and make music in short order. He also had a phenomenal voice, but the big crowds didn't settle too well with him. My brother (Casey Miller)was the founding member of The Bopkings, with whom I had the fortune of being a member of for quite some time. Together, with friend Mike Nesloney, we were able to capture the crown at the 2002 VLV rockabilly weekender's battle of the bands, bringing the trophy back to good ol' San Antone where Cave Catt Sammy left it from VLV 2000.

What first got you interested in music when you were young?
Jen -
Looking back, I'd really have to say it was my dad and grandfather. My dad was always playing guitar and singing, or listening to the stereo. I remember music being in the background throughout my childhood - even if I wasn't paying attention to it, it was still there. My Pawpaw (grandfather on my dad's side) played the fiddle and accordion. He would break them out and play cajun tunes or Hank Williams and just have the most serene look on his face. You could tell he really enjoyed it and that was infectious - it made you want to hang around and just listen.
Tomcat - Lots of music stemming from the Austin and surrounding areas. Growing up in San Antonio and the hill country, traditional music is pretty much everywhere and a huge part of our western heritage.

What were your early musical influences?
Jen -
Besides my family, I'd have to say Patsy Cline of course...Hank Williams, Johnny Horton, The Collins Kids. I remember one of my aunt's playing the Beatles a lot, and I'm sure that influenced me a bit. My influences didn't really develop fully till I got older and learned about other artists. Charlene Artur, Bob Wills, the gypsy flair and playfullness of Django Reinhardt, the comedy and fun of The Maddox Brothers and Rose, the harmonies and instrumentation of bluegrass and hillbilly artists, the pain in someone's voice (like George Jones). There's a whole mix of influences out there that I pull from.
Tomcat - My early influences, quite frankly, were typical of of the times here in the United States back in the 90's. I listened to anything from grunge rock, punk, heavy metal, and blues rock (any kind of rock really) to rap, raggae, techno, and house. Anything that rebelled against tradition, which is pretty darn common for most of us when we're growing up, I think. It took years of musical experimentation before I ended up falling in love with the very thing I rebelled against as a kid

You’ve played with a band called “Papa & the Texas Three”. Could you tell us more about that? Was it your first band?
Jen -Yes it was. After seeing me sing every week for 4 years or so at karaoke, Papa originally asked me to come up and start a singing a song or two at his shows, and eventually I became an actual member of the group. It's been awhile since then, I think that was 2000 or 2001 maybe. I only sang maybe 3 or 4 songs in a full night, but as months passed, I'd get to add a few more tunes here and there. The songs they were doing were more well known country artists like Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Ernest Tubb. Fifties to seventies country with some original tunes of Papa's. So I was singing popular songs from Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn with a Janis Martin or Brenda Lee thrown in here or there. As years went by, the band changed members and names, I was adding more rockabilly and hillbilly numbers as I started to sing more, and eventually became the lead vocalist. After that, it was decided the band needed an overhaul. So we took away the drums, switched to a stand up bass, changed up the songs we played (added more originals) and became The Customatics.

Could you tell us more about the Customatics? I know that Tomcat played with The Bop Kings,what about the other members?
Jen -That's correct. Tomcat joined up first, he's the only founding member besides myself still in the band. Brian Duarte came along about a year later as our acoustic guitarist. He had been playing upright for the San Antonio pyschobilly band, The Graverobbin' Bastards. Then eventually he stepped up to lead guitar and also now plays some steel.

I believe you have a new member on acoustic guitar…
Jen -
Rich Alcorta just recently joined this past August as our new acoustic guitarist, and will be doing a few tunes on drums as well. Rich played guitar in The Graverobbin' Bastards with Brian and drums for a local blues band called Step Aside. The three of them together are something else, let me tell you. Each one is super talented, professional, down to earth and a joy to work with. I look forward to every night on stage with them.

Tomcat, besides the BopKings, did you play in other bands?
Tomcat - I've been lucky enough to have shared the stage with a lot of amazing musicians. Some of the best ones are folks you'll probably never hear of, but yes as I mentioned earlier, I did play for the Bopkings for awhile, but my brother did 100% of the (rather impressive in my opinion) songwriting.

Weren’t the BopKings supposed to have an album on Rollin’ Rock after “Rock It To The Moon”
Tomcat - You're awfully informed to know anything about that Fred. Yes, it was part of winning at VLV 2002 that Rockin' Ronnie Weiser offered (for the first and last time ever) a contract to record under his label Rolling Rock. We never got around to another album before the unfortunate end of The Bopkings.

How did it feel to meet and sing with a musical icon like Wanda Jackson?
Jen -
It was two nights I'll never forget. The Friday before the show, Wanda came over to my house to rehearse her set. Tomcat and Brian were backing her up along with our friend Danny we brought in from El Paso on drums (who played with the late Star Mountain Dreamers) and another San Antoniolocal, Keith Magel on piano. So the first time I get to meet her is by opening the front door and saying "come on in!" The show the next evening was packed, and the excitement was contagious. Being up on stage with her and seeing the crowd reaction to her from that vantage point was almost overwhelming. I loved getting the chance to back her up, and I hope she was happy with the job the boys and I did.
Tomcat - Nothing like it. It's always a HUGE honor playing for the original artists that innovated the style and sound of traditional music and helped pave the way for live music to this day. You also figure that they can pretty much pick whoever to back them up, so it's always a good feeling when they pick you over so many other possible candidates.

As a woman in the music industry, do you feel some discrimination?
Jen -
I've had run-ins with my fair share of creeps and idiots, but I can't really think of any deliberate discrimination. Venues and the crowds seem to have been receptive to us and willing to give us a chance, and that's a blessing for sure.

If you could perform a duet with anyone, alive and dead, who would it be and why?
Jen -That's a tough one there. Dead - I would have to say The Maddox Brothers and Rose. Their recordings are so lively and fun. I could tell they always had a balst with eachother on stage and the show was never boring. I love all the inside jokes they would make like "there's friendly Henry, the working girl's best friend". Cracks me up everytime. Alive, I'd say Rosie Flores. I love her vocal style, song selcetion and I think we'd match well together. I've gotten to open up for her once, so maybe one of these days I'll be up there right along side her!
Tomcat - George Jones. No matter how much of an off-night I might have on the mic, singing like his will make ya shine every time. Truly, an artist that can move a real music lover to tears.

What was the biggest challenge making “Whiskey Nights”?
Jen -
Tomcat had the most work to do on it. In addition to playing, he recorded us, mixed and mastered, produced - you name it. He lost a lot of sleep making it sound the way it does. I spent a hefty chunk of my time designing and putting together the layout. Everything is done in house - recording, artwork, website, booking, media relations - everything. We were also preparing for tour, and training Rich to come on. The summer flew by and there wasn't much time to think, we just had to "do".
Tomcat - The fact that it's my first time actually running a studio as an engineer. Even after all my education and wallet emptying for high end equipment, it was a learning process the whole way. I'm looking forward to producing the next album.

The songs you write are either sung by you or by Jen. Do you know when you write who will sing the song or not?
Tomcat - Most of the time, but sometimes I have to make last second switches before presenting original material to the rest of the gang for consideration.

Who are your favourite bass-players?
Tomcat - Some of my musical influences include some of the very bass players that you compared me to in our latest cd's review. Guy's like Kevin Smith, Sasso Battaglia (DiMaggio Bros. "Rockabilly From the Boots Up" release), and, funny you should mention the very man that got me started playing upright years ago, Ric Ramirez. As far as my song writing goes, I'm a huge Johnny Horton and Delmore Bros. fan. In fact, I feel my harmonica playing is reminiscent of the Delmore Bros. style as well.

Well, it’s not really music related but tell us more about “Belle Starr”…
Jen -She is my great great great (I don't really know how many greats) aunt. When I was younger, I just knew she was an outlaw and that she wasn't much of a looker. I did some more research in college when I became more interested in our family history. There's a lot of different stories out there about her - lots of legends and tales that contradict eachother. She was an outlaw here in Texas (some proclaim her to be a murderer), the most I've been able to track down with accuracy is that she was a horse thief and smuggler,occasionally helping out on a bank robbery or two. She was a forward thinking woman, travelling all over the world performing in cabarets and saloons for a spell (maybe I got it from her - ha!), and she didn't let anyone push her around either. It's also reported that she helped out Jesse James' gang quite a bit when they needed a safe haven, and its claimed that she was Cole Younger's one and only. I like old west history and I think's it's pretty cool that we're related.

A last word....
Jen -To you Fred, I say thanks for taking an interest in roots music. This music is history and long living and I hope everyone out there gets as much enjoyment out of it as I do.
Tomcat - Not really sure about a last word, but I would like to thank you and your entire staff and organization for your continued support of traditional roots music. I wish you and yours all the very best and look forward to the next issue. Here's a big ol' Texas style thanks partners.