Three Fingers Whiskey

It’s real country—and don’t even think about requesting a cover

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Heading into Thanksgiving, Three Fingers Whiskey’s utterly catchy and decidedly political song “Bush We Don’t Need Your Help” ranked No. 2 on Neil Young’s Living With War Today Web site, spotlighting anti-war songs submitted from artists across the country.

That’s No. 2 out of 2,270. Not bad for a local country outfit that laments, good-naturedly, the often sparse crowds at its Chico shows. Though Three Fingers Whiskey has had shows every weekend this year, vocalist Lindsay Pena says the band’s more enthusiastic and larger audiences are out of town—at venues like Plumas Pines Resort in Lake Almanor and The Wrangler in Elk Grove—where the exuberant crowds just can’t seem to get enough.

Rhythm guitarist and vocalist Jade Hopkins recalls Three Fingers Whiskey’s very first show, back in 2001 at what was then called Rocky’s (now the Optimo Club) in Paradise.

“There was no one there. Then a whole bridal party of girls showed up,” the jovial Hopkins chuckled. “The owner ended up telling us, ‘You’re the best band we’ve ever had! No one has ever asked for an encore before.’ “

The group’s worst gig also was at Rocky’s, after a change in ownership. Lead guitarist and lead singer Jason Beltz, a very likable guy with bright eyes and a small lip ring, said a particular biker came in and kept asking the band to play some Skynyrd.

3FW just doesn’t do requests—at least not of cover tunes. As Beltz succinctly put it: “We just won’t bust out the butt rock.”

The new owner ended up paying the band to leave midway through the show.

Beltz and Hopkins are the core founding members of Three Fingers Whiskey. Pena, who confesses to starting out as a 3FW groupie and is now Beltz’s live-in significant other, is the newest comer to the band. Original bassist Mike Riley is back after a hiatus during which he had a kid and the band went through three other bassists. Local legend Jimmy Fay (Spark ‘n’ Cinder, etc., etc., etc.) plays drums and sings. Other well-known local names such as Sid Lewis, “Super Dave” Breed and the late John LaPado have graced the band over the past six years.

The members of 3FW love country music—not the overly slick Top-40 stuff (don’t get them started on Kenny Chesney)—but real country like what you get from Dwight Yoakam, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. In fact, the band takes its name from a line in Jennings’ song “Willie, the Wandering Gypsy.”

But they play only originals—originals that are so good and authentic-sounding that, as Hopkins related, when people ask for cover tunes ("Radar Love” and “Bad Company” are high on the list of songs requested), Three Fingers Whiskey responds by playing one of their originals, and Beltz says no one even notices.

“We just tell them things like, ‘We’re playing the B-side of a Kenny Chesney song,’ and they love it.”

GIVE A LISTEN TO: “Bush We Don’t Need Your Help"—country boogie at its finest, calling our leader to task.