Acoustic Devils Go Flogging On The Road With Molly

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When Pete Bernhard received a package postmarked from Lynchburg, Tenn., he may have felt his mouth watering. That particular point of origin is the well-known home of the Jack Daniels distillery and indeed, inside the singer/guitarist for The Devil Makes Three found inside a little "thank you" from the whiskey folks for promoting the brand in their song "Old Number 7."

The question is then begged of the amber cargo -- did Bernhard take, um, a little bit extra than his bandmates seeing as he's the guy who sings the words "Thank you Jack Daniels/Old Number 7/Tennessee whiskey/Got me drinking in heaven?"

"Oh no, we divided it evenly! I think they sent us three bottles and we all got one," Bernhard laughs. "They sent us a bunch of other stuff too, but no offers. And no check in the mail."

So in that case, would the frontman and his musical partners Cooper McBean (banjo) and Lucia Turino (standup bass) ever consider penning a tune like, oh, "Budweiser Tastes Great" for their next record?

"Um...no!" quickly comes the answer. "I couldn't bring myself to do that. Well...maybe if there was money involved!"

While the sponsorship bucks may not be rolling in for The Devil Makes Three, the audience for their fusion of country, bluegrass, punk and rockabilly has increased exponentially recently as an opening act for the Celtic-tinged punk rockers Flogging Molly.

"Our biggest fear was that no one would be there when we started playing, but [Molly's] fans have been great to us. They show up early and go right to the front of the stage," he enthuses. "And we try to make the best impression with the limited time that we have, like a half an hour. We're cramming value into that time!"

The Santa Cruz, Calif.-based trio has been kicking around for a decade and released three studio and two concert records, including their most recent, Stomp and Smash Live.

Nationally, similar old timey-sounding bands like the Carolina Chocolate Drops, South Memphis Jug Band and Old Crow Medicine Show are finding popularity, something Bernhard is not surprised about.

"We've been through the loud indie-rock phase, and this is a reaction to that. People want something trim and are responding to the simplicity of this music," he believes.

And for the man who lists Townes Van Zandt, Jerry Jeff Walker, the Rev. Gary Davis, Steve Earle, Howlin' Wolf, and Bob Dylan as influences, one musical hero is a cut above the others: Houston's own Lightnin' Hopkins.

"He was my dad's favorite blues singer, so Lightnin' was my introduction to music as soon as I was aware of listening to records," he says. "And that opened my mind to finger picking and blues in general. I love his guitar playing, but also his delivery. He's a great storyteller."

On the band's Web site, though, Bernhard opines that "rhythm is what the band is about," he views the drummer-less lineup not as an anomaly, but as a continuation of the sounds of Django Reinhardt, Bill Monroe, and even some Hank Williams, performers who also eschewed skin thumpers in much of their music. And all of it was still danceable.

The Devil Makes Three has played Houston previously with Todd Snider at a venue lost to memory, and then in the House of Blues' Bronze Peacock Room. This gig will mark their debut on the big stage. After the current tour, the band will start on their next studio record, squeeze in a string of summer festivals, and then hopefully tour Europe.

But returning to his musical inspirations, Bernhard again advocates that more simplistic, and no-frills music like The Devil Makes Three plays can absolutely have the power, the raucousness, and the ability to make people move their asses as that made with electric instruments. And, he feels, you can sometimes do more with less.

"Look at Django," Bernhard laughs. "He did more with two fingers than most guitar players can do with five!"

With Flogging Molly and Seth Wheeler & Zander Schloss, 8 p.m. Saturday at House of Blues, 1204 Caroline, 888-402-5837. For more on The Devil Makes Three, visit their Web site.

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