Strange things happen when you sit in a tour bus sharing a bottle of whiskey. Some people even start writing country music. Which is exactly what happened to James Black and Rick Jackett, the two guitarists of Finger 11.

Strange indeed since Finger 11 is the rock band from Burlington, Ont., with the world-wide hit Paralyzer. It’s not what you’d call “twangy.” Not in the least.

But this week, under the name Blackie Jackett Jr., the two are releasing a new country CD called Whiskey And Tears. Replete with jangling banjo and honky tonk grit — it’s got a sound that’s a lot closer to Johnny Cash than Finger 11.

Blackie Jackett Jr. happened accidentally, almost as a joke. In between concerts and studio sessions — usually with the help of a shared bottle or two —Black and Jackett would pass time making up hokey country tunes, seeing how many times they could work hurtin’ or drinkin’ into a song.

But as they explored the maligned genre more, they began to appreciate the craft of songwriters like Townes Van Zandt, John Prine, the Merles (Travis and Haggard) and the Hanks (Snow and Williams).

Jackett and Black’s songs got more serious, more heartfelt. They recorded as they wrote, letting the tapes roll in hotel rooms, home studios, at friendly get-togethers and, yes, even on the bus.

“A lot of it was on tour, either late at night or early in the morning,” says Jackett, a Burlington native now living in Toronto. “We’d wake up with a somewhat nasty hangover, find a corner somewhere dark and play some songs.”

Jackett and Black’s country routine was limited to band parties and quiet moments with friends. That changed a few months back, when a member of the Finger 11 management quietly passed the Blackie Jackett Jr. recordings to the band’s record company.

Black and Jackett then got a call saying the label wanted to release it. They were shocked.

“We had no intention of releasing it, no intention of becoming a band,” Jackett says. “For the longest of time, it was just sort of a secret.”

To add weight to the music, they picked up a drummer and a bass player. Jackett even bought a six-string banjo. They started looking for a female vocalist to counter Black’s near baritone. Like everything else in this project, they found their backing vocalist while having a few drinks.

It was karaoke night at Hurricane’s Roadhouse on Bloor Street. A young woman took the microphone and sang a Dolly Parton tune. Her name was Sandra D. Jackett and Black almost spit out their drinks, she was so good. She’s been singing with them ever since.

The band has been playing at small clubs in southern Ontario in between songwriting sessions with the bigger band in preparation for the next Finger 11 album.

Don’t expect to hear Blackie Jackett Jr. Playing Paralyzer, though.

“I think if you went to a Blackie Jackett show expecting to hear Finger 11 songs, you’d be sadly disappointed.

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