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Country's Foresters Going To Town

September 24, 1986|STEVE POND

They may be the most successful sibling act on this week's country singles chart, but back home in Lookout Mountain, Ga., the Forester Sisters are just four more locals who sing.

They may have a current Top 5 hit in "Lonely Alone," a Top 30 album in "Perfume, Ribbons and Pearls," a song with the Bellamy Brothers just hitting the charts and a tour that found them performing on Monday's Country Music Assn. Awards and brings them to the Universal Amphitheatre tonight with the Oak Ridge Boys--but when the four sisters started singing, they were looking not to stand out, but to fit into a rural town with a surprisingly large artistic community.

"Everybody there sang, so we sang too," said Kathy by phone from a roadside stop in Oregon. "If you didn't sing or play you'd be the exception. I don't know why, but Lookout Mountain is a very special place. It's got potters, sculptors, painters, musicians, quilting ladies.

"When you get more rural and get up into the mountains, I think you find people who need to do things, so you get a lot of whittlers, or people that make quilts. . . ." She trailed off and laughed. "And a lot of them still make whiskey. They have to do something to help pass the time."

For the Foresters, singing helped pass the time from grade school on, when Kathy and June sang in church and younger sister Kim joined in so enthusiastically that parishioners encouraged her to step up front with her sisters. Christy, the youngest Forester, joined in college.

And now, with two albums of commercial but rootsy, harmony-laden country music under their belts, singing has kept the Foresters so busy that they rarely see Lookout Mountain.

So they bring a bit of their hometown with them. Kathy is accompanied by her young daughter and her husband, the group's longtime bass player and road manager; Christy brought along her fiance; and the women also recruited their aunt, who Kathy says helps with baby-sitting, road managing, ironing and psychiatry.

It's a life style they used to dream about. "When we were little we always talked about what we'd do when we got our record deal," Kathy said. But at the same time, they went to college and prepared for other work--though while she studied Rachmaninoff, Kathy said, she also listened to country singers like Emmylou Harris and country-rockers like the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt.

Kathy got her master's degree in music, June earned a bachelor's in education, and they went to work as teachers--but still, the Foresters rehearsed in the evenings and often played bars a few nights a week.

"Music was our first love," said Kathy, "and we finally decided we were willing to risk the house payments. We gave ourselves two years. If we hadn't gotten attention in two years' time, then we'd get back to teaching."

But they figured they had a shot, she said. "You don't have four sisters in one family most of the time, and you also don't have four sisters who can sing together on pitch.

"So we thought that maybe that was a marketing point in our favor. Four sisters--that might be something people would go for."

Warner Bros. Records went for it, and just over a year ago the Forester Sisters released the first of their two albums for the label. The music is long on harmonies, and it makes sense that they've opened for musicians as disparate as Ricky Skaggs and the Oak Ridge Boys: With strong strains of traditional gospel and country, their music is slicker than Skaggs' but rawer than the Oaks'.

And it also includes such non-traditional touches as the new album's version of the Motown hit "Back in My Arms Again."

That tune came from a medley they do in their live show: "One Fine Day," "Chapel of Love," "Boy from New York City," "The Shoop-Shoop Song" and other songs originally done by female groups who'd never been near Lookout Mountain.

"When we first started making records, we weren't aiming toward the pop crossover market," Kathy said.

"A lot of people use country music as a means to an end, but all we want to do is make good country music. Our sound isn't quite as traditional as Ricky Skaggs or Randy Travis or Dwight Yoakam, but we're just plain ol' country girls, that's for sure."

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