"I remember the first time I got sick as a dog drinking whiskey," says Little Sue, as her beverage beads with condensation on a recent Monday night at the White Eagle. "In the ninth grade, I was on the school bus and, well, I grew up in Charleston, West Virginia, so somebody brought a giant bottle of J&B whiskey. We had those little water-cooler cones, and I drank about 12 of those. I got suspended that day because I passed out at school. That was the beginning of a long, hard road."
That last line is delivered with a punched-up Southern accent and a laugh, as Susannah Weaver and fellow singer-songwriter Lynn Conover traded stories about their wild childhood hooch. It's that spirit that has inspired many of the songs they've been singing together at the White Eagle for the past seven years. Officially, Monday nights have been a showcase for these two women with beautifully blending voices to sing songs from their deep and varied songbooks. Unofficially, it's been an evening of sad songs inspired by the lonesome wanderer's drink of choice.
The White Eagle has been a fitting locale for the duo to sing the songs of John Prine, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Jim Boyer and, if you're lucky, David Bowie. The lights are dim, the walls are dark wood, and the "hard stuff" is in abundance. But this past Monday, Little Sue and Conover played their last show after a dispute with the venue over a change in their pay. Now the duo will be spinning those tales to crowd at Pasta Bangs, where the whiskey also flows, but the water of life just won't taste the same.
Of course, booze takes more life than it gives. But if there's any liquid that duplicates and accompanies the highs and lows of everyday existence more than a good bottle of Jack Daniel's, nobody has found it-or at least the musicians haven't.
Little Sue's youthful tale of J&B and the bus is the beginning of what will be a very long conversation about that relationship. The goal? To uncover the reasons the bottle has inspired hundreds of musicians to sing its healing powers or damn its devilish consequences. But it's difficult to have a conversation about the comforts of moonshine without the guest of honor present, and soon the conversation spirals into nonsense, the only lessons learned coming from a buzzing head, a warm belly and the stories these women can tell.
"The first time I drank whiskey was for my 21st birthday," recalls Conover. "A bunch of people were coming up to my trailer in the woods, and some idiot brought up a bottle of Jack Daniel's Green and I, of course, partook of most of it. They all left, and I passed out behind my woodshed."
It doesn't get much more illuminating than that, which is what Little Sue has been trying to tell me all night.
"You're trying to get to the mystery of whiskey, and you just can't do it," she says. "It just works in some way, and people will just keep on writing songs about it, for it, because of it and in spite of it."
Little Sue and Lynn Connover will be playing Monday, Oct. 3, at Pasta Bangs, 3950 N Mississippi Ave., 287-2782. 8-11 pm. Free. 21+.