Country style

Whiskey Dawn covers Merle Haggard, but has a modern edge, too

The truck stops here. Whiskey Dawn is, (clockwise from the top) Troy Ferris, Kevin Maxwell, Mike Cook and Johnny Myers.

The truck stops here. Whiskey Dawn is, (clockwise from the top) Troy Ferris, Kevin Maxwell, Mike Cook and Johnny Myers.

Whiskey Dawn plays this Friday, April 6, at The Wrangler, 8945 Grant Line Road in Elk Grove; 9 p.m.; call for cover; (916) 799-0104; Whiskey Dawn also opens for Travis Tritt at the Bob Hope Theatre in Stockton on Monday, April 16.

Local outfit Whiskey Dawn is a new-country band with an old-country sound.

Johnny Myers chalks this up to everyone in the band coming from a different background. “I grew up playing heavy rock stuff,” he explained. “Troy [Ferris], our lead singer, is pure country. Our drummer [Kevin Maxwell] has a 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.”

Half of the band resides here in Sacramento, but Myers and Maxwell live up the hill in Reno. It’s no matter: The group is on the road most of the time; Myers says they even recently played a couple of successful dates in Nashville.

He’s originally from Virginia—and has the slow drawl to prove it. Before hooking up with Whiskey Dawn, he played guitar in country band Clear Blue 22. He became friends with the other guys in Whiskey Dawn shortly after moving to the West Coast, 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, 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, Merle Haggard, Garth Brooks and Toby Keith—and some sets are all covers. 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 principal 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 “Leavin’ 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.

A familiar story, perhaps.