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The Name Game

When Austin's Little Sister found she had too many siblings, she became Sister 7

In rock and roll, being first matters. Austin's Little Sister found that out last month after signing a sweet deal with Arista Texas. The ink was barely dry on its contract with the major label when a problem cropped up: the band's name. Though Little Sister had been playing for five years without anyone questioning its moniker, the prospect of taking the group national meant checking into niceties such as who owned what trademark. As it turns out, a Boston act already had dibs on the name Little Sister. Apparently, there were others around using that identification as well. So, to avoid any confusion or fuss, Little Sister, the Austin version, became Sister 7.

"Somebody made a joke about how many Little Sisters there were in the country -- maybe five, seven. So we took number seven," says lead singer Patrice Pike. "But if people are digging the music, then the name can be defined by the music being played -- like Garbage, where their music and sound creates a definition in your mind. Originally, Little Sister was a nickname of mine, and we picked it one day when we were playing Scrabble. But I'd prefer to focus on playing music than this other stuff."

Pike has maintained that focus on playing for a long time -- ever since the day when, as a three-year-old visiting her stepfather's parents' farm outside Fort Worth, she was handed a blue wooden ukulele. Pike gave her first concert to a herd of cows standing passively in a field.

"It's not like I came from some famous musician's family, but music really was my whole life when I was a kid," she says. "I came from a local musician's family in Dallas, hanging out in the studio. My stepdad was Bugs Henderson, who was working as a blues guitarist, playing some slide. I was the little kid, and they thought it was cute when I sang into the mike."

At age 16, Pike moved out and started playing acoustic gigs around Dallas with guitarist Wayne Sutton. The pair formed Little Sister in 1991; soon after, they moved to Austin. By 1993, the band had established a solid following, and was packing Austin's Black Cat Lounge twice a week. It was at the Black Cat that the then-Little Sister honed its neo-hippie jam band image; hence the retro-inspired title of its 1994 live CD, Free Love and Nickel Beer. A year later, that release was followed by an eponymous studio effort.

Pike tries to downplay Sister 7's jam band identity. "My point is that you can jam, but not be what people think of as a jam band," she says. "It always conjures up images of the Grateful Dead, and that makes a false impression. We definitely don't sound like the Dead."

"I'm not running away from [being identified as a jam band]," Pike adds, "but it often means we get lumped in with jam bands that have a certain sound."

Still, there's no denying that Sister 7 attracts bong-loads of Deadhead types, most of them hooked on the band's deceptively unrestrained guitar doodling, fat sound and aggressive rhythm section, which consists of drummer Sean Phillips and bassist Darrel Phillips. (Though their last names are the same, the two aren't related.)

"Yeah, the Black Cat was a big pot scene," admits Pike. "You'd play for hours and people were grooving. It was a beautiful thing."

While she gives full support to the cause of marijuana legalization, Pike, who turns 26 in August, says she has eased up on personal consumption of the drug. Meticulous about what she eats, Pike runs, bikes and Rollerblades all over Austin. She even takes a mountain bike on tour with her, along with a lot of her own food.

"It's necessary for me to maintain structure on and off the road," she says. "It affords me the space to maintain my sanity."

So far, Pike has managed to maintain that sanity, as well as a strong sense of self, amidst some often perfunctory critical references to her singing, which has been compared -- not always glowingly -- to everyone from Janis Joplin to Aretha Franklin. It's true that Pike owns a few Aretha Franklin albums, but that's about as far as any of the "spot the influence" games should go, she says. It's also true that Pike has a decent set of pipes, but she knows that she's got some work ahead of her before she can live up to Joplin and Franklin comparisons. Right now, Pike says, she's more at home when the band rocks out as a unit and she's not the center of attention. Just such a group effort is reflected, she adds, in the songs Sister 7 is cooking up for its Arista Texas debut, which is planned for release in early 1997.

"What we're writing now is a little more rock oriented. Maybe that comes from being together longer as a band -- finding something that everyone can focus on," Pike says. "We have a real diverse [taste] for different kinds of music. When we're on the road, we listen to a stack of CDs, everything from Ella Fitzgerald to Tool or Miles Davis. So I guess it's important to try to stay focused, to solidify a sound."

Sister 7 performs at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, May 18, and Saturday, May 25, at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue. Tickets are $6. For info, call 869-

 
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