In Pound for the Sound, Phoenix New Times gets technical with musicians about what gear they use to create their signature style.
Jere (pronounced Jerry) Gabriel, also know as "Washboard Jere" in the Valley country music scene, is a rare breed of musician in the local scene. She is a self-proclaimed "late bloomer" to the game of country music, but you would never know that by her stage persona and musical choices. And she has an amazing voice to back her rhythmic abilities.
Gabriel comes to us from the Great Lakes Area. She was born in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, and is definitely proud of the rubber (nearby Akron, Ohio, was then the tire capital of the world) and hillbilly mixed into her blood. As a girl and a teenager, she was involved in school plays, the fine arts, and sang in her church choir. However, with all of her love for music and the arts, she never actually picked up an instrument. The time came for the young lady to move on with her life and she landed here in Phoenix, more than 30 years ago.
Gabriel found herself in Arizona with a kind of square one attitude. She eventually found her way into the local country music scene in big part thanks to DJ Dana and Valley Fever at Yucca Tap Room. And how she started playing is purely by chance.
Her husband, Jim Dolhert (who has been inducted as a drummer into the Arizona Blues Hall of Fame), has been a huge influence on Gabriel's progress as a musician and had been pushing her to find an instrument to play. One morning he was serenading her in their kitchen while she was cooking breakfast. She felt inspired, grabbed a washboard off the wall, and they started playing together right then and there. That was truly her first time playing an instrument; the washboard has not left her side since, as she performs with two acts regularly around the Valley. You can see her performing with Barefoot and Pregnant. Her other act is called Jimmy Pines and Washboard Jere, a duo with her husband.
Washoard Jere, and the rest of Barefoot and Pregnant, have a show Saturday, May 5, at the Tempe History Museum as part of the "Women In Music" series. Gabriel graciously answered some questions for New Times via phone and email about her love for organic percussion, being a late bloomer in music, and her band's upcoming show.
Phoenix New Times: What's the secret weapon of your sound? And how did that help you find your "signature" tone?
Washboard Jere: There’s really no big “secret” to my sound; I love percussion and I’d describe my sound as “organic” and Americana, for sure. I just try to lay down something that’s just ever so slightly behind the beat, and try not pouncing directly on top of it. My husband, blues and country drummer Jim Dorholt, has taught me several basic beats: swing, waltz, surf, polka, train, rumba and such. He really impressed upon me that not smothering the beat is the way to go. He taught me that not stomping on the music, and what the other musicians are doing, really adds to the soul of a song. Sometimes it’s the dynamics of the spaces and pauses between the notes that create a song’s mood and put it over.
What's your favorite piece of gear in your collection and why?
I’ve got a couple of favorite pieces. I’m forever tapping on things with various utensils, just to hear what kind of sounds I can make. For scratching, I’ve tried various items, the customary thimbles, guitar picks, etc., but the absolute best for me are beer-bottle caps. And I can always find a couple of those!
Also, I gotta love the cowbell. “More cowbell!,” right? Anytime it’s used, someone always shouts that phrase! I love it when folks do that.
Any special pieces of gear acquired over the years? Any special story, or stories, behind your collection of tools?
I’ve scavenged washboards from all over, sometimes I get them as gifts, and look for vintage ones whenever Jimmy and I are travelling around. I usually find ones I like in antique stores or yard sales, but they are getting scarcer, and the largest manufacturer is out of business. For me the best ones are made out of zinc and have a split wooden back panel (with that split back panel you can get more clickety-clackety noise when you smack them). Glass washboards — forget about them, or just use them for laundry.
Some other items I use from time to time are wire brushes, a set of railroad spikes, bells & chimes, tambourines, and a leather strap of reindeer bells at Christmas time.
Just listened to “Perfect Woman” by Jimmy Pines and Washboard Jere. What do you enjoy most about “organic” percussion with the duo's sound?
Well, it’s definitely music that you don’t hear everyday; we like obscure tunes; they’re fun! Jimmy actually wrote that one, it’s crispy and it really scoots! I just love the challenge of trying to keep up with him. We have a lot of fun doing what we do. We spend a lot of time laughing together at our practices and gigs!
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You had said in our interview that you didn't start playing an instrument until you were about 50 years old. What do you have to say to people who say “it’s too late for me” to pick up an instrument?
My advice would be “Don’t die with your music inside you!” I was always artistic and creative as a kid, but I put performing projects aside to be a “worker bee.” That’s all good, but looking back, I put my creative side aside for way too long. Keep trying things, until something moves you. Share your gifts. And, most important of all, surround yourself with inspiration and inspired people who will support you. I wouldn’t be doing all this fun stuff today, if it weren’t for the people who gave me a chance and taught me (Jimmy, my son and daughter, and my amazing, generous bandmates from Barefoot and Pregnant).
Barefoot and Pregnant has a performance scheduled for Saturday, May 5 at the Tempe History Museum. Any words you wish to share with fans about the show?
We’ve been a band for almost 10 years now, I believe. Time really flies when you are having fun. We were all friends first, bandmates, second. We started out as a group of friends, ladies who played music, sang and shared some down-home cooking at functions we called Gospel Brunches. We share harmonies and the love of classic country music! This will be our 2nd time playing classic country and few originals on Tempe History Museum’s family-friendly stage, supporting their 2018 effort to showcase Women in Music!