‘Bourbon Cowgirl’ Scooter Pearce won’t let anything, including homophobes, stand in her way
Being closeted was never really an option for Scooter Pearce; even when she was a little kid, when someone asked her name, she’d tell them, “Johnny Cash.” Still, being openly lesbian in the 1990s meant that the music business wasn’t welcoming her with open arms; even in the Outlaw music scene here in Texas, Pearce had a hard row to hoe. But she kept going, even when all the odds were stacked against her.
Pearce started out in the music business in 1991, playing country, southern rock and blues. By 1996, she was playing her own original music in her gigs, and by 2002, she was touring the state with her own band, The Gypsy Cowgirls. The band broke up in 2008, Pearce went back to working solo, and she was starting to build a name for herself; in fact, in 2010, Gabino Iglesias with The Austin Post dubbed her “the Voice of Authenticity.”
But it was that same year that she hit on a streak of bad luck that nearly ended not just her career, but her life.
In 2010, Pearce broke up with her partner (the impetus for the song “Ring Don’t Fit My Finger”), and on Thanksgiving Day, the studio where she had been working and living crashed, and she lost all the recordings she had been working on. By March 2011, the studio was back up and running. But a near-fatal car wreck on Father’s Day that year could have ended her career, if not for her friends. She told Austin Culture Map in 2012, “I wasn’t supposed to ride in a car for three months. I played my first show on July 9, and only missed one show due to being in the hospital.”
Still, her injuries severely impacted her ability to keep up with the hectic schedule she was used to, Dan Garrison with Garrison Brothers’ Distillery — where Pearce had often played gigs — set up a trust in her name and auctioned off bottles of the distillery’s best reserve whiskey to help fund it. Becker Vineyards held an auction, as did Alamo Springs Cafe. By the next summer — in fact, one year to the day after her accident — Pearce was back in the studio to begin recording her album, Authentic.
These days, Pearce’s touring and gig schedule is pretty much at a standstill, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But Pearce had already changed things up, taking a job in 2018 as the hospitality tour supervisor at Garrison Brothers Distillery, where she gets to put both her musical talents and her love for great bourbon to good use. And that slower schedule gave Pearce the time this week to answer a few questions for Dallas Voice.
— Tammye Nash
DaIlas Voice: I have seen several interviews about how a break-up inspired you to write “Ring Don’t Fit My Finger” and about how you fought back after the automobile accident in 2011. What kept you going through that breakup and your studio crashing and then the wreck? Scooter Pearce: A lot of heart and the love of the song. I knew that all I needed to do was keep going. As long as I had my guitar and my music, I knew I was ok. It’s just not in me to quit.
How did all that affect your songwriting? It was definitely a growing period, but it never really changed the way I wrote music or my types of songs either, just gave me more stories to tell! Every song is a story, whether it be mine or my favorite barfly’s. Some are funny; others rip your heart out. Each song is a gift from the Muse.
Talk a bit about being an out lesbian in the world of country music. Were you just always out? If you came out at some point, how did it affect your career? Did it affect your songwriting at all? I’ve been out since I was 14 years old. I never let my sexual preference stand in the way of anything, especially my career. I never pretended to be anything I’m not. I stayed true to myself, because music made me connect with people I wouldn’t normally connect with on a day-to-day basis. But, in doing that, I faced struggles in the business that a straight woman wouldn’t.
Half the time, even today, I get called “sir.” It’s been harder for me to get into some venues, and some I’ve had to go in through the back door! But once the music started, folks started seeing me as a human being, not just a lesbian. And when the night ended, I was usually invited back for more shows. All it took was my music.
Now, there have been those other places, the ones that had figured it out from the start and won’t hire me due to my lifestyle. But the Kerrville Folk Festival opened many doors for me in different directions and opened many hearts and ears of all races, sexes and creeds.
You are part of the “Outlaw Country” music scene, which has always been very different from the “traditional Nashville scene.” Is the Outlaw Country world more accepting of LGBTQ artists? Or are you seen as a rebel even among the rebels? At first it was hard to break into the scene. But I had a couple musician buddies call in sick to their gigs and send me in their place. Luckily, they let me play, and all was good. But, once Marge [Mueller] insisted I play Luckenbach Dance Hall for a friend’s memorial, I became less of a rebel.
Even though they didn’t want my band to take the stage, we packed the dance floor with our first song, and we kept the crowd. We got invited back several times, and my first band, The Gypsy Cowgirls, had made their mark in the Outlaw Country Scene.
After [Gypsy Cowgirls] broke up, I remained true to the music. I had a master music producer, Rene Lawrence (a.k.a “Mo T. Rucker”) who taught me to stand alone, and I have been blessed with great musicians to teach me other tricks of the trade.
What would you say that being openly lesbian means in terms of your songwriting? Does it bring a different level, a different flavor to your work? I really don’t think it affects my writing much. All my music comes from the heart. But I have been told that I should flip my pronouns, so people wouldn’t know that I’m gay. But, I responded, “John Prine ain’t an old woman, but ‘Angel from Montgomery’ was a hit, damn it! I will write my songs as I see fit.”
Switching gears now, tell me about working with Garrison Brothers Distillery. How — and when — did you get started with them? What do you do at the distillery? Tell me about the tours you lead. Well, it’s kind of a long story. I met Dan Garrison one night while playing music at an outdoor venue in Fredericksburg. He liked my style and booked me on the spot to play for the very first Bourbon Camp, which was for the very first group of investors for Garrison Brothers Distillery, back when the whole operation was in one building and before the bourbon was even ready. But that white dog sure tasted good!
Ever since that night, I have always been treated like family. Like, when I had my wreck in 2011, Dan called me while I was in the hospital and said, “Scooter, I know you’re uninsured and need help, but knowing you, you’re not going to ask for it. But I’m gonna do what I can to help you.” A couple months later, Dan shows up at a benefit for me at Becker Vineyards and hands me a check. He had raffled off some bourbon in my name, with the campaign name of “Bourbon Drinkers for our Favorite Gypsy Cowgirl.”
Over the years, I have played all types of events for Garrison Brothers — public events to private dinners and, of course, Bourbon Camp every year, LOL. But In 2018, I put on a different hat and got myself employed at Garrison Brothers. Each show had become worrisome, because more people in these areas were becoming more open with their hate. As long as they thought I was a man, everything was ok. But as soon as they realized I wasn’t a cowboy on stage, their looks could kill, and their words were harsh. Now, don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t everyone or everywhere, and it wasn’t the ones that hired me. Just always seemed to be that one group that made everyone with me watch their backs.
So I figured it was time to slow down and only play for the venues that respected me and my safety. So now, I work in Hospitality as the tour supervisor. I get to give tours (public and private) of the first Texas distillery with my sixth-generation Texan flare, share my stories of the ranch and enjoy damn good bourbon!
When I’m not doing tours, I am working with my hands — building things and repairing the broken stuff that keeps hospitality shining. But I also get to spread joy with my southern charm and charisma, LOL. Even though they still call me “sir” … .
Can you give us a quick lesson on how to judge a bourbon? So, pour some bourbon in a glass. First observe the color, then you swirl it in the glass. Quality bourbon will have what is called ‘“legs,” similar to wine. Now you do what we call “nosing.”: that’s where you hold the glass under your nose and inhale deeply through your mouth. With good bourbon, you can taste it with inhaling, not sniffing, and without the burn. Bad bourbon burns all the way around.
A great bourbon to me is Garrison Brothers. What sets it apart from the rest is that we use No. #1 food grade ingredients — God-given Texas rain water, and we use smaller barrels so that the liquid gold has more contact with surface of the wood, giving it maximum flavor. And also because Texas doesn’t have traditional seasons, we have “hot,” “hotter” and “hotter than Hades,” LOL. But it works for us, because the bourbon ages quicker in our heat, so you get quality product in half the time.
When it comes to first tastes, you can never go wrong with our small batch 2020, but if you’re lucky enough to find Balmorrhea, you found yourself bourbon candy in a glass! It is double-oaked, meaning it ages in two different barrels. The other bourbon I would suggest is Cowboy — unfiltered, uncut, but hard to find. It sells out almost immediately at it releases on the ranch. Last year we sold 500 bottles in 58 minutes. Also, you can never go wrong with one of our single barrels — one barrel that yields about 100 bottles, and each barrel is different than the last, meaning each single barrel has it’s own flavor profile.
Don’t let the price tag scare ya about our bourbon, because it’s worth every drop.
They tell me you are called The Bourbon Cowgirl. How did you earn that nickname? Because I’m a real cowgirl! LOL! No, really it’s because when Dan met me, I was a foreman for a 1,000-acre cattle ranch in Johnson City, Texas. I also wear pearl snaps, Wranglers, boots and a cowboy hat daily, ever since I was a kid. So, I guess I dress the part, too. But I don’t just look the part, I live the part. And I drank a lot of bourbon to get this smooth, baritone voice, LOL!
I understand y’all just recently raised about $300,000 in about three weeks for COVID-19 relief. How did y’all raise the money, and where is it going? We started a campaign at the distillery called “Operation Crush COVID-19.” We raised the money by auctioning off a new release of bourbon, “Laguna Madre.”. The money goes to Team Rubicon, a group of vets that help out in natural disasters, like hurricanes and COVID support. It also goes to help out the service industry workers that lost their jobs due to the epidemic.
Tell me what’s next on your agenda? I assume that the epidemic has put a lot of stuff on hold, but if someone wanted to catch a performance, where should they go? Well, pretty much everything is on hold. Most of the venues I play nowadays are house concerts, wineries and corporate events. Most have been canceled due to COVID, but I’m looking for more open venues for both the rest of the year and next year. I do, however, post music videos on my social media pages. and all my music is on major streaming platforms. But with the down time, it’s good for writing and studio time. And for tours, we’re hoping to kick ’em back up in the fall, but everything is still up in the air.
Last, but not least, what do you want to talk about that I haven’t asked about? It may have taken me longer to get to where I am today because I’m gay, but I wouldn’t change anything. All my struggles and hardships have been lessons, blessings of lifelong friendships and roads not for the weary to travel. Take those away, and I really have nothing.
Garrison Brothers: Texas’ first legally distilled bourbon whiskey
Garrison Brothers Distillery, located on a small farm and ranch in the Texas Hill Country, was founded in 2006 and in 2010 produced the first bourbon whiskey legally made in Texas. The extreme Texas heat originally caused Dan Garrison’s casks to crack, leak and even break altogether, wasting hundreds of gallons of the “white dog” distillate. But that same heat turned out to be Garrison Brothers’ secret weapon.
The Texas heat creates multiple aging seasons in a year, resulting in a darker, richer, fuller, bolder — and multiple award-winning — bourbon. The Garrison Brothers team was awarded a gold medal for its Single Barrel Bourbon, a silver medal for its 2016 Small Batch Bourbon, and another silver for its Balmorhea Double Barrel Bourbon at the American Craft Spirit Awards in 2018. In 2014 and 2017, Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible named Garrison Brothers Cowboy Bourbon “American Micro Whiskey of the Year.” Whiskey Bible recently awarded the same distinction to Balmorhea Double Barrel Bourbon for 2019 and again in 2020. Garrison Brothers was voted Best Craft Whiskey Distillery in America by readers of USA Today in 2017.
Garrison Brothers’ bourbons include
• Garrison Brothers Small Batch Bourbon (47% alc/vol, 94 proof, 750ml), Just 48,000 bottles.
• Garrison Brothers Single Barrel Bourbon. Visitors can buy a bottle of the Single Barrel that they bottle themselves at the distillery. Bottles include custom labels with details about the barrel and whom it was selected for.
• Garrison Brothers Balmorhea Twice Barreled Bourbon (57.5% alc/vol, 115 proof, 375ml), aged three years in new white American oak barrels made from wood grown in the Ozarks, and transferred to a second new white American oak barrel made from wood grown in Minnesota, and aged another two years.
• Garrison Brothers Estacado (53.5% alc/vol, 107 proof, 375ml), aged three years in a new white American oak barrel and finished for six months in eight heritage Llano Estacado Winery port wine casks. Just 4,710 bottles.
• Garrison Brothers Boot Flask Bourbon (47% alc/vol, 94 proof, 375ml), 2018 small batch bourbon sold in a 375 ml bottle ergonomically designed to fit snugly around your calf in your most comfortable pair of boots.
• Garrison Brothers Cowboy Bourbon (68.65% alc/vol, 137.3 proof, 750ml), aged five years in new, charred white American oak barrels. Uncut, unfiltered and bottled at cask strength. Just 4,725 bottles.
For more information about Garrison Brothers Bourbon or to arrange a tour of the distillery, visit garrisonbros.com or follow @garrisonbros on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.