Across the country
“We’re a New Country band, but we’ve still got the old country sound,” says Johnny Myers, the lead guitarist of the band Whiskey Dawn. “Everybody in the band comes from different musical backgrounds. I grew up playing heavy rock stuff. Troy [Ferris], our lead singer is pure country. Our drummer [Kevin Maxwell] has funk, fusion, jazz background. And Mikey [Cook], our bass player, is into the ’90s alternative scene. When you mix it all together, we’re still country for sure, but it’s got sort of a modern edge to it.”
Myers and Maxwell live in Reno. The rest of the band is based down the hill in Sacramento. But the group is on the road most of the time—according to Myers, they recently played a couple of successful dates in Nashville—though they just finished recording a few new songs at Tom Gordon’s Imirage studio in Sparks, and they’re playing a four-night stand at Mustangs in the Grand Sierra Resort from Nov. 30 through Dec. 3. Myers estimates some of the group’s new songs will be available from iTunes within the next three months.
Myers is originally from Virginia—and has the slow drawl to prove it—but has lived in Reno for the last five years. Before hooking up with Whiskey Dawn, he played guitar in the Reno country band Clear Blue 22. He became friends with the other guys in Whiskey Dawn shortly after moving to Reno, and he joined the band a year and a half ago.
He says that it took some effort to develop the honky tonkin’ guitar style he now employs in Whiskey Dawn.
“When a lot of people think of country guitar they think—everybody thinks that rock is the way to go, and that’s the hard stuff,” he says. “But in country, you’ve got to cover—especially as a four piece, I’ve got to cover the guitar parts and so many other instruments.”
When performing cover songs, Myers transposes pedal steel, fiddle and mandolin parts to guitar. Country music also requires a guitarist to be more supportive of the vocal melody, and finding just the right musical spaces to fill.
“With the rock stuff, it’s really guitar driven music, so you can play loud, and you don’t have to compete with a lot of other things,” says Myers. “But in country, it’s all about the vocals, so you have to come up with cool parts and still be mindful of staying out of the lead singer’s way.”
Depending on the venue, the group plays a lot of cover songs—Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard to Garth Brooks and Toby Keith, and some sets are all covers. For their shows at Mustangs, Myers estimates they’ll play about 70 percent covers, though he says he prefers to play original tunes.
“We usually get a good reaction to our original songs,” says Myers. “We get more requests for our stuff than whatever’s hot on the radio at the time or other people’s songs. That’s always a huge compliment. It’s always cool to play your own songs and see fans out in the audience who know every word to your original songs.”
Ferris is the group’s principle lyricist, though Myers writes the guitar riffs and helps arrange the tunes. One new original song that Myers is particularly proud of helping write is “Loving a Leaving Man.”
“It’s about being in the music business and trying to have a relationship, have a girlfriend, when you’re gone five days a week traveling across the country,” he says.