Petunia won’t give his real name when he calls from British Columbia, where he lives, which may be a self-protective habit grown of living on the streets and having busked his way across Canada and the eastern United States. He does say that he got the name from a music teacher/mentor, and it stuck. His singing voice is a quick instrument that jumps from Jimmie Rodgers to Hank Williams to Jerry Lee Lewis in a fluid jazz-like drive that is mesmerizing. I’d like to take it apart, his approach to vocals, but he wouldn’t. “I’m not thinking about it as much as you’d think. I’m just singing a song. I realize I have a natural ability. You’ve heard about Gestalt, about how the sum of the whole is greater than its parts? If you break a thing down, you lose its essence.”
And he’d rather I don’t go on about the yodeling, but it is a factor of his singing that is colorful and hard to ignore. “I used to do a lot more of it, actually. But I got pigeonholed by the media as that guy who yodels.”
The Vipers have been around as a unit for a couple of years, and Petunia has worked with each of the members in different configurations in the past. The band’s sound is lonesome cowboy and venomous rockabilly delivered in a tent-revival atmosphere, which is to say that emotion fuels a Vipers concert. In San Diego, Petunia & the Vipers will perform with Exene Cervenka of X. “We’ve never played together on a stage,” he says. “We’ve played a few parties together.” Will they split the bill between her music and Vipers tunes? “We’ll see what happens. We might even write some new stuff together. This is a starting point. This isn’t the last time we’ll play together.”
Phil Alvin also performs.
PETUNIA & THE VIPERS: Shakedown Bar, Thursday, February 16, 9 p.m. $10 advance; $12 day of show.