Sister Mercy Shows No Mercy as They Take Portland by Storm
By Laurie Morrisey
Several years ago Roger Espinor was moved to write a song called “Sister Mercy” after hearing a PBS show about the oppression of women in Africa. In the fall of 2013, “As we formed the band, we tried out many different names but this one had the dual meaning of Sister (for our sisters who sing) and Mercy, a character quality we strive to achieve,” said Debby Espinor.
Sister Mercy is a rhythm and blues band. “We have an energetic rhythm section that allows us to play across many styles of blues. With strong female vocals, the opportunity to perform blues classics is endless,” according to Debby.
Sister Mercy is made up of many talented musicians: April Brown, lead vocals; her sister, Kelsey Brown, vocals; Debby Espinor, keyboards; Steven Savoie, guitar; Ron Camacho, bass; and Roger Espinor, drums and producer.
Most of the members have been performing since they were in junior high, although Kelsey said April was born singing. They grew up in a singing family. April said she always loved performing but wanted to be a zoologist or a stand-up comedian when she grew up. Kelsey never wanted to perform but instead wanted to be a missionary in India. While being musicians keep them busy, April also works as an Office Manager at Premier Window Coverings and Kelsey works at Eyecare Physicians and Surgeons in Salem.
As far as experience goes, April took voice lessons and participated in musical theater. Before joining Sister Mercy, she sang back up for Candace Devine and Tommy Walker. Kelsey also sang with Candace Devine. Her training came from being a part of the Youth Choir of Central Oregon and college choirs.
In addition to being a musician, Debby has been an Associate Professor of Education at George Fox University for the past five year. She started playing the piano when she was eight. When she was 16, she wanted to be a jazz pianist but went into music education instead. Before Sister Mercy, Debby played with The Love Doctors with Charlene Grant, based out of Seattle.
Steven jokingly said he wanted to be a male stripper but ended up a musician by night and works at New Seasons by day. His slide guitar playing brings an electric energy to the stage. His training comes from lessons he had from age eight to 13. He has played with a variety of club bands in Eugene and Portland over the years.
“I always wanted to be a musician over anything else,” said Ron. He garnered his talent from being self-taught, with a few lessons sprinkled in. He is happily retired from a career at Ferguson.
Roger also wanted to be a musician although he loves the engineering side of the profession as well. He writes most of the originals for the band and has deep ties to the blues, coming from the south in the 60’s and 70’s. His drum skills must come from heredity, both his father and brother played drums. Roger played with Big Sweet out of Houston, TX.
Additionally, Roger and Ron played for five years with the award-winning Rose City Kings.
The group has a long list of influences, with strong role models for their music. April credits Etta James, Aretha Franklin and Linda Ronstadt, for her love of music. Billie Holliday, James Taylor, and Anne Murray, are the forces that fuel Kelsey.
For Debby, the significant artists are Herbie Hancock, Dr. John, and Dave Brubeck. Steve says the music of Mike Bloomfield and Albert King made an impact on his style. While Jaco Pastorius, Paul McCartney, and Jimi Hendrix made a lasting imprint on Ron. Roger’s influence are Paul Butterfield and Bill Bruford.
Sister Mercy recently released their first CD, Head over Heels, on December 13, 2014. “Musically, this is a band that delivers. With brilliant guitar playing from Steve Savoie tearing into songs like Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine,’ ‘Sister Mercy,’ ‘Heavy Load’ and ‘I’m Done’ accented with nicely executed piano from Debby Espinor, the album consistently captures attention deeper with each listen. Former Rose City Kings drummer Roger Espinor, who also produced and wrote many of the songs for this disc, paces the rhythm with Gary Giacci on bass (the band is now filling the bass position with another former Rose City King member Ron Camacho). Add to this Kelsey Brown as vocal partner alongside April Brown and it comes across with depth and passion,” said CBA President Greg Johnson.
“We are beginning the creative writing process for the second CD now. We are planning for a 2016-17 release,” Debby said.
“We really want to recognize Gary Giacci, the first bass player for Sister Mercy. He did all the bass on our first album. He’s a great friend and band member,” Debby said.
Now is the time to get out and listen to Sister Mercy, before they start touring the world. “We have a goal to play in Europe in 2017.” Visit the Sister Mercy website at www.sistermercy.rocks for upcoming shows.