The Stairwell Sisters

The Stairwell Sisters

BandAmericanaBluegrass

All-gal old-time teardown from San Francisco - smart originals and trad tunes - fearless, urban, raw - their third release Get Off Your Money produced by Lloyd Maines out 2008 to wide critical acclaim.

Biography

Producer Lloyd Maines recalls hearing The Stairwell Sisters for the first time. “I happened upon this tribe of women musicians, playing old-time string music, with the power and excitement of a great rock band.”

Tribe of women indeed. Evie Ladin explains what holds sway with the sisters, themes similarly found in one of their early influences, Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard, “not exactly the sweet and tender ladies, but the stand up for yourself and face the world kind of women.”

Exactly the women that make up The Stairwell Sisters. Ladin, Stephanie Prausnitz. Lisa Berman, Martha Hawthorne, and Sue Sandlin are career women, organizers, activists and mamas; making ends meet working and living in San Francisco. They also happen to crank out acoustic, old-time music with a punk-rock intensity. Somehow, between raising babies, working and releasing records, they’ve taken their band to some pretty esteemed places – appearing on A Prairie Home Companion, as well as festival stages from Lincoln Center (NYC) to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass (SF), Celtic Connections (UK), and many points in between.

Their third release Get Off Your Money produced by Maines and out May 12, covers a lot of ground as well. There are fiddle tunes crafted decades ago from Alabama to Scotland and points unknown. There are old songs of trains, boats and possums. One song is translated from Swahili, an all-too familiar story learned from a street musician in Tanzania. There are new songs too – original songs of trial and work, loss and love, and all-night parties. The women run all of it through the “Sister Mill.” Regardless which era or continent the songs traveled, The Stairwell Sisters make such heartfelt and skillfully played music, that boundaries dissolve in the chugging force of old-time fiddle and banjo, the whomp of bass and guitar, the grit of the slide guitar, and tight, closely interwoven harmonies.

The Sisters all come from varied musical backgrounds, some from acoustic traditions, some through amped-up rock and roll. Sue Sandlin says hearing Flatt and Scruggs brought her back to the music her family loved, “It was akin to the hair raising excitement I felt the first time I heard The Clash as a teenager.”

The Stairwell Sisters are all about bringing that excitement to the stage. Lauded for infectious shows that combine buckdancing with balladry and sass -- the women always pick up their instruments hell-bent to drive the music.

The leadoff track, “Kentucky Winder,” is one such driving tune, with its crooked jump in the beat that fiddler Stephanie Prausnitz says, “really wallops the punch.” Stephanie also brought the mischievous title song to the group, having found it on an old recording of Alabama Fiddlers. Its happy nature is the essence of what makes playing together so much fun.

Lisa explains the communal lure of the genre. “You can be anywhere among friends, or strangers, and jump right in - the living room, the kitchen, the woods, even a demonstration. No outlets needed. It's an ever-changing music, grounded in a strong tradition.”

Evie, who grew up clogging and playing banjo in the unlikely locale of suburban New Jersey, elaborates why old-time music is timeless. "People have always sung of their struggles, with work, love, the forces of nature. Coal mining songs, union songs, not too much has changed when you consider the common person," she said in a recent interview. "Either way, it's about enduring and working for a decent life.”

Some of the original songs on Get Off Your Money have these socio-political struggles in mind. The imagery of “David and Goliath” inspired Sue to pay homage to the” generations of young people who stand up with incredible courage against unbelievable instruments of power.” The first line of “Shuffle and Shine” jumped into her head after seeing men in her neighborhood gathered, looking for day labor– “Hey there captain / give me a sign /sure could use a spot on your line.”

Martha’s job as a public-health nurse shaped “Who’s To Blame?,” “I place the blame for addiction and homelessness not on individual failures, but on a system that puts profit before people,” she says. “I tried to end the song on a hopeful note, that we can find love and comfort, despite the odds stacked against us.”

Stephanie found the song “Selina” in Tanzania. A street musician named Claudi Beida was a one-man show on a two-string fiddle and wrote the original version, which everyone around the village knew. “I was struck by the universality of the message, and how similar it was to the old time and bluegrass songs we sing, as well as the rock songs we all grew up hearing,” says Stephanie. “Skipping school, getting pregnant, snubbing authority; laying with the dogs and picking up fleas.”

Lisa, who originally founded the group with Sue, practicing old-timey harmony singing in the stairwell of their workplace, brought the funky “Hangman Tree” to the Sister Mill. Lisa recounts that Lloy

Lyrics

Down To The Door

Written By: Evie Ladin

Down to the Door
© Evie Ladin, 2005

Chorus:
Come down from the mountains to the rolling hills
Where the mist lies deep in the valley
And corn grows tall on cold limestone
Come down to the door of my home

Head north over the Smokies up the blue highway to me
Tobacco barns and bluegrass rolls on up 273
Come up now and come alone
Come down to the door of my home

Chorus

Well the wind is warm and so am I awaiting for you dear
In the tall dark pines you’d be all mine if only you’d come here
Come up now and come alone
Come down to the door of my home

Chorus

Wish I Was

Written By: Sue Sandlin

Wish I was a country girl
With big blue eyes and long yellow curls
Bur my hair is black and my eyes are brown
I’m the kind of girl that hangs around
I’m the kind of girl that hangs around

If I’d been raised a preacher’s girl
You might be the only one in this world
Who’d wrapped your arms around my waist
Kissed my lips and touched my face
Kissed my ruby lips and touched my face

I’m not old, but I’m not young
My face shows all that my life has brung
Some days hard, some days kind
A hopeful heart and a worried mind
A hopeful heart and a worried mind

I don’t fuss and I don’t fight
But I can fill your long, lonesome night
So hang your hat up on my door
You won’t be a stranger anymore
You won’t be a stranger anymore

The Longest Night

Written By: Evie Ladin

The first time I saw him, darkness had fell
Hazel eyes, deep as a well
Long as a lifetime, and big as the sea.
They were looking at me.
That was you dear
On the longest night of the year.

All through the springtime, the lovin’ bloomed
Everything funny, all of it new
Everything glittered, shining like gold
Was a sight to behold
That was you dear
On the longest night of the year.

Chorus
On that longest night, the sun hardly shines
You wake in the dark and the moon’s in the pines
But I still remember, and I can still hear
Your voice in my ear
On the longest night of the year.

On a warm summer night, in a park across town
You made me your bride, in my grandmother's gown
You promised me everything I ever could need
Guaranteed.
That was you dear
On the longest night of the year

Ch.

That winter my lover lay in our bed
Damp raven hair curled round his head.
From peaceful slumber, he never awoke
The last words he spoke:
“I love you dear.”
On the longest night of the year.

I wake in the morning, chase the clouds from my head
I turn to the child who is sharing our bed.
He looks up at me when he crawls round the floor
His eyes are yours.
There’s a part of you here
It’s the longest night of the year.

Ch.

It’s the longest night of the year

Could It Be Him

Written By: Martha Hawthorne

Rise on up, before the light, can’t be late, gotta run
Call me Ana, that’s my name, mother of a son

He’s over there, I’m right here, think of him each day
Another one shot, another one down,
Could it be him today?

My son’s at war, I’m at work, All you hear’s a sigh
Do what I’m told most all the time, Seen too much to cry

He’s over there, I’m right here, think of him each day
Another one shot, another one down,
Why’d he go away?

Now they take girls there too, daughters die like sons
I just want to bring them home, give them books, not guns

He’s over there, I’m right here, think of him each day
Another one shot, another one down,
Could it be him today?

De Nicaragua vengo yo, al Norte yo llegué
Las lágrimas de mi país, nunca olvidaré

Está alla, y yo acá, mi hijo ya se fue
A vos que manda, pregunto yo
Tu hijo tambien fue?

Está alla, y yo acá, mi hijo ya se fue
A los que mandan digo yo,
Explíquenme porque

I just want to bring them home

Stranger Stop and Cast an Eye

Written By: Lisa Berman

Stranger stop and cast an eye,
as you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so you will be,
prepare for death and follow me,
prepare for death and follow me.

Life is a blessing, can't be sold
the ransom is too high,
Justice will ne'er be bribed with gold
that man may never die.
You see the foolish and the wise,
the timorous and the brave
quit their possessions, close their eyes,
and hasten to the grave

Stop here my friend, and cast an eye
Consider well that you must die.
Wisely conduct that so you may
Triumph in heaven at the last day,
triumph in heaven at the last day.

Black Eyes

Written By: Lisa Berman

Spin me round, round and round, ain’t goin’ nowhere
You say that you love me, you tell me true
But your black eyes…
Black eyes…. Oh, they look me through

You sneak around, keep me down, believin’ that your lies run true, Oh, those black eyes, there’s no telling what they’ll do
Black eyes….. Oh, I’m tellin’ you
Black eyes…. Let’s say we’re through

There was an old man, toothless grin, years of whiskey and sin, Years of wonder, stories did tell…oh fare thee well
Black eyes…
Black eyes…. Oh, near hell did dwell

Was an old man, near hell did dwell
if he ain’t dead yet, he’s living there still.

Cinderella

Written By: Evie Ladin

My mother married a rich man
My father had money to spare
Bells on my bicycle, dresses so fanciful
And a bow for my hair

Now I sing of misfortune
What has become, woe is me
My mother died, and my father’s new wife
Has no use for me

This woman has her own daughters
Precious gems to her be
They wear the finery, used to be mine and their
Ashes blacken my feet

Now I sing of misfortune
No home, no family
My mother died, and my father’s new wife
Has no use for me

There once was a man of intention
Wanted me for a wife
But he had no property or chance at prosperity
And I didn’t want that kind of life.

Fortune once’d been my shadow
But her best laid plans overheard
One night in goose down, the next on the cold ground
Light as a hummingbird

Now I sing of misfortune
No husband, no charity
My mother died, and my father’s new wife
Has no use for me.

Now sir could you spare me a nickel
I’ve got to find something to eat
I’ll share my plate when we reach Heaven’s gate
And my Savior will set me free.

Now I sing of misfortune
What has become woe is me
My mother died, and my father’s new wife
Has no use for me.

David & Goliath

Written By: Sue Sandlin

Oh aren’t you scared, boy
Oh aren’t you scared, boy
Oh aren’t you scared, boy
He’ll lay you in your grave

No I ain’t scared, man
No I ain’t scared, man
No I ain’t scared, man
I’m righteous and I’m brave

We have only stones, boy
We have only stones, boy
We have only stones, boy
Our enemies have steel

Let ‘em tell their lies, man
They can shut their eyes, man
But when my rocket flys, man
They’ll know that I’m for real

They do just what they please, boy
Want us on our knees, boy
Took up all our trees
They’ve surrounded us with walls

But we are in the right, man
The battle starts tonight, man
And I will stand & fight
Till the mighty giant falls

Fitch Mountain Waltz

Written By: Martha Hawthorne

Comin’ home to you, on the wing, two by two
Flyin’ high, in the sky
Swallowtails will soar and return once more
In springtime to our Fitch Mountain home

Comin’ home…………………………my home
On the wind fly to my sweet mountain home
To you…………………………… my home
Peaceful as heaven, my beautiful home
Comin’ home…………………………..to you
Brother so dear, I miss you so
My home…….Fitch Mountain home
Peaceful heaven, my Fitch Mountain home

Oh swallowtail, where do you sail
Flyin’high, in the sky
Have you seen him there, my brother so fair
Does he dwell in that great home on high?

I have been to the east, I‘ve been to the west
Flyin’ high, in the sky
In the sun rivers flow and flowers grow
There’s only this heaven I know

Chorus

The grass how it grows, so green down below
Flyin’ high, in the sky,
Swallowtails come home once more
To remember all those gone before

The clouds in the sky, they pass on by
Like blues and troubles will do
If you go far and wide come back by my side
Come back to our Fitch Mountain home.

Chorus

Who's To Blame

Written By: Martha Hawthorne

Bound for nowhere, yes I am
Who’s to blame
Got no money in my tin can
Ride that train

Tell me, tell me
Pretty Ida Mae
Tell me, tell me
Who’s to blame

Who’s to blame when I fall down
Who’s to blame
Off the wagon, get back on
Ride that train

Train won’t stop when it gets cold
Who’s to blame
Leave ya there to weep and moan
Ride that train

Tell me, tell me…

Tried to do the best I could
Who’s to blame
Never paid me what they should
Ride that train

To my name ain’t got a dime
Who’s to blame
Hire me, fire me, steal me blind
Ride that train

Tell me, tell me…

Pockets full, feel so fine
Who’s to blame
Lose it on a jug a wine
Ride that train

The rich get richer, we stay poor
Who’s to blame
Send my babies off to war
Ride that train

Tell me, tell me…

To the grave we all will go
Who’s to blame
The dollar cannot save your soul
Ride that train

Left my boots at your front door
Who’s to blame
Bare feet on my Ida’s floor
Ride that train

Tell me, tell me
Pretty Ida Mae
Tell me, tell me
Who’s to
Tell me, tell me
Pretty Ida Mae
Tell me, tell me
Who’s to blame

One Of These Days

Written By: Evie Ladin

One of These Days
©Evie Ladin, Evil Diane Music, 2010 (BMI)

One of these days it won’t be long
You’ll look for me and I’ll be gone
Hey hey drink a little whiskey
You know you’re gonna miss me

I don’t know but I’ve been told
Them streets of Vegas are lined with gold
Hey hey drink a little wine
I know you’ll be alright

But you know it ain’t alright
To drink away your every night hey hey

One of these days a long time ago
We were kids and life was so slow
Hey hey pop another beer
We gotta get out of here

So we packed it up and took it on the road
Out to the desert where the neon glows
Hey hey them free cocktails
Coins rain down like hail

Win or lose you have another round
Win or lose we all fall down, hey hey

Late one night out on a bender
You bet it all you lost your head, said
“hey honey would you pour me one”
I am gone

I loved you dear I loved you long
I’ll love you to the end of this song
I don’t want another round
I’m getting out of town

Win or lose you have another round
Win or lose we all fall down
And you know it ain’t alright
To drink away our every night hey hey

One of these days it won’t be long
You’ll look for me and I’ll be gone
Hey hey drink a little whiskey
You know you’re gonna miss me

Maybe An Angel

Written By: Evie Ladin

Maybe An Angel
©Evie Ladin, Evil Diane Music, 2010 (BMI)

Where have you gone, my blue eyed lover
Where have you been, my dear old friend?
I’m calling you way up in heaven
Can it be, I never see you again?

chorus
And so maybe you were an angel
Maybe your feet they never really touched the ground
And yet you wrapped me up so sweetly
With your wings, tell me where you flying now?

I stand right here at the edge of the ocean
I’m standing here at the edge of the ground
As I look out on the horizon
I see you sailing through the clouds

chorus
And so maybe you were an angel
Maybe your feet they never really touched the ground
And yet you wrapped me up so sweetly
With your wings, tell me where you flying now?

Where have you gone, my blue eyed lover
Where have you been, my dear old friend?
I’m calling you way up in heaven
Can it be, I never see you again?

One Of These Days

Written By: Evie Ladin

One of These Days
©2010 EVIE LADIN, BMI

One of these days it won’t be long
You’ll look for me and I’ll be gone
Hey hey drink a little whiskey
You know you’re gonna miss me

I don’t know but I’ve been told
The streets of Vegas are lined with gold
Hey hey drink a little wine
I know you’ll be alright

CH But you know it ain’t alright
To drink away your every night hey hey

One of these days a long time ago
We were kids and life was too slow
Hey hey pop another beer
We gotta get out of here

So we packed it up and took it on the road
out to the desert where the neon glows
Hey hey them free cocktails
Coins rain down like hail

CH Win or lose you have another round
Win or lose we all fall down, hey hey

Late one night out on a bender
You bet it all you lost your head, said
“hey honey would you pour me one”
I, I am gone

I loved you dear I loved you long
I’ll love you to the end of this song
I don’t want another round
I’m getting out of town

CH Win our lose you have another round
Win or lose we all fall down
CH And you know it ain’t alright
To drink away our every night hey hey

One of these days it won’t be long
You’ll look for me and I’ll be gone
Hey hey drink a little whiskey
You know you’re gonna miss me

Dance Me

Written By: Evie Ladin

Dance Me

Baby turn out the light, it’s too late to fight
The kids are all sleeping, let’s call it a night
Honey, stay, don’t go away
I know there are more words still left to say

No matter how hard, no matter how rough
Money gets tight, times can be tough
Baby look in my eyes and remember your wife
The one that you danced down the aisle

I waited my lifetime for just such a man
Who can dance me the way that my baby can.

There’s years now between us, more still to come
I know it ain’t easy, it’s not always fun
If you just hold on tight, we can make it alright
Someday look back and remember

Though it was long ago I meant what I said
When I told you forever, until I was dead
Baby look in my eyes and remember your wife
The one that you danced down the aisle

I’ve waited my lifetime for just such a man
Who can dance me the way that my baby can.

Now the song’s ended, another begins
Step on the dance floor and give me a spin
Hold me and rock me and turn me around
Let’s dance while we’ve still got the time

I’ve waited my lifetime for just such a man
Who can dance me the way that my baby can.

Float Downstream

Written By: Evie Ladin

3. Float Downstream
©Evie Ladin, Evil Diane Music, BMI

Floating in the sunlight
Close my eyes and smile
Water be my lover
Hold me for a while

Float downstream
My baby left me

Woke up in the morning
See you’re not around
Your shape is on the mattress
I feel like I could drown

The thunderstorm came last night
Lightening rent the sky
And the rain came falling
Falling from my eyes

Float downstream
My baby left me

The coal fire in my heart love
Burns without a sound
But in the cool cascade of water
I can hear it beating loud

Floating in the sunlight
Close my eyes and smile
Water be my lover
Hold me for a while

Float downstream
My baby left me
Float to the sea
Till you’re gone from me

How Did You Know

Written By: Evie Ladin

How Did You Know
©Evie Ladin, Evil Diane Music, BMI

Didn’t I always know that, you would never let me go
No matter how I tried, you kept pulling me back
Inside our love - mmm

I knew it would never last, didn’t want it to get nasty
When I tried to leave you, you took my hand
To lead me back home - mmm

chorus
Now after all these years
I can tell you I’m still here
How did you know back then
I’d be saying “You knew me when.”
I’d be telling you how I love you
That I couldn’t get enough of you
I have always known you
How did you know

Didn’t you always say so, I would never get up the get-go
Pack up my things and leave you, that I’d end up quietly pleading
“Hold me. Never let me go.”

chorus

Discography

Get Off Your Money (2008)
Feet All Over the Floor (2005)
The Stairwell Sisters (2003)
Buckdancing for Beginners Instructional DVD (2002)

Set List

From 2 45-minute set concerts, to a 1-1.5 hr festival set, The Stairwell Sisters' sets include rowdy fiddle tunes, narrative original material, and always a waltz.

Jump Back (Hambone)
Kentucky Winder
Boat’s Up the River
Who’s to Blame
Swing Low →
David & Goliath →
Charleston #1
Selina →
Nancy Blevins
Hangman Tree
The Longest Night
Wish I Was
Sleep When You're Dead
Black Eyes →
Stay All Night

Cindy
Get Off Your Money
Buckets Of Rain
Red Gal
Cinderella
Farther On
Wild Horse
No Never No
Cannonball →
Shuffle & Shine
Silly Liza Jane
Down to the Door
Fitch Mountain Waltz
Sugar Hill