As a former longtime San Mateo resident, singer/songwriter/guitarist Sheryl Thirlwall still loves to perform on the Peninsula. And she particularly loves Club Fox, where she and sibling Kerry Carranza will open for the Jenny Kerr Band on Sunday, Jan. 12, as The Keller Sisters.
"We love Redwood City," she said, by phone from her home in the Contra Costa County city of Brentwood. "We go to the blues jam at (Club) Fox and check it out and hang out with our friends."
Sisterhood, both actual and musical, is a theme that comes up frequently when conversing with the elder of The Keller Sisters. Asked about her duo's relationship to the Jenny Kerr Band, Thirlwall replied, "We have quite a long history with them. Jenny is a wonderful songwriter and also does cover music. ... She plays guitar, dobro, harmonica and banjo, and has just a killer, soulful voice and does a really kind of swampy, rocky roots music as well as ballads," she continued. "It's just a real wonderful variety."
Thirlwall had discovered the Jenny Kerr Band online and appreciated the quality of recordings as much as the music. When she and Carranza went to hear the group in concert, she asked Phil Milner, Kerr's longtime guitarist and producer, if he might help them record some of her songs "so our kids will have it, that kind of thing," she said.
"We introduced ourselves and said, 'We love you guys, and we love the production.' And he said, 'Why don't you come up to the house, and let's have a listen?'
"And he told us afterwards that they do this all the time, and they thought they would listen and have to say, 'Oh, really nice. Well, we don't really have time to fit you in to do any recording...' But they loved the music, and we really hit it off on a personal level," she said.
As for The Keller Sisters' sound, she described the 8-year-old band's aesthetic as "everything from folk-rock to blues to sort of country-ish. The Americana roots scene, really."
While Thirlwall has been writing original material since the end of 2011, she and Carranza have been singing together for considerably longer. Their mother, Eileen Keller (stage name Eileen Christy) was a talented theatrical vocalist who was under contract at MGM in the early '50s and toured with John Raitt, acclaimed guitarist/vocalist Bonnie's father.
"So our house was filled with music from the time we can remember," Thirlwall reminisced. "And we would sit together in a big chair while she had her vocal coach at the house and while she was working on material. Then when we were in our early teens, she decided that we were going to do summer stock with her," she added, with a chuckle. "So we did musicals with her. The main one we did was 'The Sound of Music,' and we were two of the (von Trapp) children. And we've been singing harmonies together since I can't even remember when.
"Our mother toured my whole childhood," she said. "This was in the '60s, and my dad worked full time. But he took care of us. He had a woman who came in and stayed with us. But it was a pretty cool thing that, in those years, my father totally supported my mother. She was out on the road, and he was holding down the fort."
Thirlwall's teen years were when she also started to develop her own musical style. She started playing guitar, and those harmonies that she and Carranza sang together transitioned from ones they utilized for show tunes to Beatles numbers. Listening to music at home and seeking it at live performances became a pursuit that the sisters share and is something that continues to this day, she said.
After living in San Francisco, the family moved south. She and Carranza both graduated from San Mateo High School and established roots on the Peninsula until she moved to the East Bay (her sister is currently based in South San Francisco).
No longer living nearby means that Thirlwall can't just quickly pop over to her younger sibling's as she's in the process of writing a song any more. There's more commuting involved in their collaboration now, but the sisters are starting to establish relationships with venues out east as well as down here.
"A common thread for our whole life has been music," she said. "It just brings us joy whether we're listening to it or performing."
Freelance writer Yoshi Kato can be emailed at [email protected]
What: The Keller Sisters, opening for Jenny Kerr Band.
Where: Club Fox, 2209 Broadway St., Redwood City.
When: Sunday, Jan. 12, at 7:30 p.m.
Info: Club Fox.