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Sisters Wade: These sisters keep doing it for themselves

By Jeffrey B. Remz, September 1999

If you judge the CD by its jacket, then Sisters Wade probably would be pegged as some Nashville label's craving to cash in on the success of such flavors of the month like SHeDAISY or The Kinleys. In other words, femme-led sister groups sounding bright, cheery and very poppy.

Wrong!

Instead, Debbie and Julie Wade, who started making a name for themselves by playing weekly at Tootsie's in Nashville, go for a far smaller sound thanks to nary an electric guitar on their self-titled Blue Hat debut. The sister's harmonies certainly are there, but acoustic guitar reigns along with mandolin, slide and dobro.

This is a laid back affair having more to do with Emmylou Harris and Sweethearts of the Rodeo than SHeDAISY.

"A lot of people like to categorize," says Debbie. "It's easier to define things. 'Oh you're a trumpet player. Did you listen to Louis Armstrong?' We're definitely different from SHeDAISY and other sister acts. We have a different sound. We have different experiences that come through in our writing."

The duo's goal in recording was "to get a real live feel," Debbie says. "When you hear music live, there's a real take and give thing going on stage. It's not sterile. That's the thing we really wanted to capture where musicians are really listening. For them to know that, they had to know our material. That was the main reason we used a lot of players in our band. We spent a lot of time putting together our band."

The duo's backing band, The Hipwaders, includes former Nash Rambler Larry Atamanuik on drums, Martin Young on acoustic, David Spicher on upright bass and Chas Williams on dobro/slide guitar.

Singing harmonies together at the same time in the studio also was important, according to Debbie, 31. Typically, vocals are recorded separately. "That's not what happens in a live situation. You kind of lose some of that sparkle that happens live. (Producer Bill) Halverson was real keen on trying to do that kind of thing in the studio."

"We play with acoustic instruments, and that's what we wanted to do on our (recording)." she says.

Julie Wade, 29, says they "love acoustic instruments and the way our voices (go) with those. We didn't want to throw a thousand strings on that, and then there's no way we could do that (live). We just wanted to do what we do."

Blue Hat, the label started by Charlie Daniels, adopted a hands-off approach to the recording. "When it was done, we gave it to them," says Debbie.

"We really wanted to place where we could do it ourselves," she says, adding they did not want to sign "with a big factory where we'd be put at the end of the line."

The road to Blue Hat for the sisters, who hail from Bridgewater, Mass., was not a long one.

After a disastrous showcase three years ago with their backing band not knowing their songs and few showing up, the Wades put a real band together. They played at Tootsie's, the same club where Terri Clark earned her spurs, after a friend didn't have enough material for an entire evening.

"We did our show, and the owner wanted us to have our own night," says Debbie.

"We were a little concerned because we were doing mostly original material," says Debbie. "We learned some really old covers that were really obscure. Pretty soon, we started building up a following. People would come in, and we put this great band together."

Steve Miller, who runs Blue Hat, came in one night, heard Sisters Wade and later brought back a partner for a look. Soon, Daniels was in tow himself this past February.

"It still surprises me," says Julie. "Everything that happened from the time we met them...Nothing is slow about this. This is going fast, which is great. We have friends who have had major deals, who have sat there for two years."

The sisters grew up in southeastern Massachusetts listening to their parents' albums of Patsy, Merle, Loretta Lynn, Marty Robbins, Charlie Rich and Charley Pride.

The Wades sang in church, at family gatherings and area clubs growing up. After high school, they went their separate ways. Debbie went off to the local state college, majoring in aviation science, while Julie headed south to Nashville where she scored a job at Opryland USA performing in a show about the history of country music.

"For me, it was a way to come down here and have a job and to meet some music folks," says Julie. "I didn't think someone would come up to the park and discover me. I never wanted to do it by myself anyway."

"I performed in a way that I would never have experienced (otherwise)," she says. "There was some acting, working in an ensemble. You're always on stage and always performing, six days out in the heat, you're doing the same show every day, We call it industrial performance, but it's great experience."

She got to work with the likes of Chely Wright, Dean Sams of Lonestar, Ken Mellons, Rhett Akins and James Bonamy.

Debbie would come down for occasional visits, which included writing together and performing in such places as the Bluebird Cafe.

At Julie's urging, Debbie headed south in 1996 after getting a masters at a Boston conservatory.

"I had finished up school, and I wanted to be in the music world, and Julie was down there," says Debbie. "I really loved writing songs. I knew if I wanted to make that a career also, I'd have to be in a place that was happening."

"The whole music community is centered around songwriting in Nashville. I needed to be in Nashville full-time."

While not doing their day-time jobs of secretarial and corporate sales work, the sisters would continue writing and performing.

The Wades wrote all but one song on their debut. "Since I've moved to Nashville it's a little different because a lot of people want to write with you. I like writing with Julie probably the best. It's real easy. We know each other. When you write with someone new, it's not always productive."

"It just depends on the situation. You got out to lunch with somebody - sometimes it hits off great. Sometimes it doesn't.

"Julie and I are a little different. We are less regimented. We may not write a song in four hours. Especially I like to write really late at night."

The result is generally a series of songs dealing with the different angles of love and relationships. The song titles - "Don't Let Me Down," "I'm Not Over You," "You're All I Need," "Slipping Away" - pretty much tell the story line.

The sisters will take their songs with them and move beyond their three-hour Wednesday night gigs at Tootsie's for awhile, opening 23 dates for the Charlie Daniels Band for two months starting in mid-October.

"We are more country," says Debbie. "A lot of the (mainstream country) music is more pop. Yeah, that's going to be a lot more of an issue for some of the primary (radio) markets. It's going to be a challenge and one that the label knows. But it's country music. It's what we do. If we clicked up and did something else, that's not what we do."

She says she hopes the country music climate is changing to their benefit. "Hopefully our timing is right on it, and we'll be accepted too."