Review and interview by Dean Pedley, photos by Rich Ward
Whiskey Myers bring some East Texas Mud to Birmingham
Red dirt rockers Whiskey Myers finally made it to a Birmingham stage with a gig at the sold out O2 Institute on Friday night after an aborted attempt back in February when our much-maligned motorway network put paid to a support slot with label mates The Cadillac Three. Fortunately they were able to make it back over here for some headline shows that saw the (now) seven piece band play an exhilarating two hour show in support of latest release Mud.
Cody Cannon (vocals, guitar), Cody Tate (guitar), John Jeffers (guitar), Gary Brown (bass) and Jeff Hogg (drums) have been together now for some ten years, progressing from 2008’s debut album Road of Life to Firewater (2011) and Early Morning Shakes (2014), the latter two of which saw success on the Billboard charts. Coming to the attention of Dante Bonutto at Spinefarm Records led to a record deal for the UK and Europe and the demand to see the band live has been considerable with additional sold out shows in London, Glasgow and Manchester.
“Well we sat in the same spot for nine hours and by the time we got here to the venue it was 1 ‘o’ clock in the morning so we missed the show” reflects Cannon on their previous visit here. “The reaction until now has been great and I think all of our shows have been sold out so that’s a really good sign. The fans we’ve met over here so far have really been amazing we had people waiting outside in the cold for autographs and I think that this is just the beginning for us over here and we very much appreciate all of the support we’ve been getting.”
The UK remains very much in the bands future plans with a visit to mainland Europe also in the works. “Well we came over the first time with Cadillac and opened for them and played around thirty five minutes and we came back and did Download festival and Ramblin’ Man. So that kind of laid the groundwork to enable us to do these headline shows of our own and then we’re gonna be back in May 2017 to do some more UK dates and we’re also gonna do France and Germany.” And the relationship with Spinefarm is certainly one they value. “They’re great, we love everybody at the label, Dante is amazing and everything he tells us is going to happen happens and he says that the skies the limit and I hope so because we really like working with him.”
Kicking off the set with the grizzled rock and roll twang of ‘Early Morning Shakes’ Whiskey Myers may have their foundations in the Southern Rock traditions of Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Marshall Tucker Band but they have no problem mixing things up with the hard rocking numbers giving way to acoustic led narratives of rural life such as ‘Trailer We Call Home’ and ‘Broken Window Serenade’. This is a band that is equally at home sharing a stage with Hank Williams Jr. as they are ZZ Top or The Black Crowes. “We are a band that pride ourselves on our versatility and that we can play both Country festivals and Hard Rock festivals and the albums that we’ve made so far kind of show that we have some very hard rock songs and some country songs and live it is definitely heavier and more of a rock show.”
The versatility that Cannon speaks of oozes throughout the show with a seemingly unlikely revved up cover of ‘Seven Nation Army’ almost taking the roof off before they go back deep down to the South for the Rich Robinson co-write ‘Frogman’ with Cody Tate and John Jeffers trading some infectious electric guitar licks. Mud sees the band linking up again with Grammy Award winning producer Dave Cobb with much of the material taking shape during the recording sessions. “I don’t think too much about the song writing I just go with it. I procrastinate and write at the last minute. It might be about a month before when I think oh shit we gotta go into the studio so I better start writing and maybe I work better under that kind of pressure. Sometimes we’ll do joint efforts and sometimes John and Cody will have their own stuff too so it just depends.”
You sense there is real closeness amongst the band members with the line-up having remained constant for a decade until the recent addition of Jon Knudson (keyboards and fiddle) and Tony Kent (percussion) who are both now full time. “Yeah the family keeps on growing; Jon and Tony started playing with us, they played a couple of shows and it just kind of happened it was like well do you want to do a couple more and so they both just ended up being part of the band. So it’s probably fortunate that the stages are getting bigger now so we have more room.” On stage the band likes nothing more than to occasionally extend songs into a good old free form jam and the additional musicians affords them even greater opportunity to stretch out. And Knudson also gets to take centre stage with Cannon when the two offer up a wholehearted duet on the bittersweet ‘Trailer We Call Home’.
Whiskey Myers built their reputation as a must-see live band through extensive touring; starting off by playing lots of shows around their hometown of Palestine, Texas and then expanding further around the state and then further afield as word began to spread. 2017 will see much more of the same. “We’ll go back home and take Christmas off and then go on the road with Blackberry Smoke for a little bit and then we’re doing a Live Nation tour so we’ll be all over the States for three or four months and then we’ll come back here for the European dates. And then for the rest of that summer we’ll go back to our core markets; the ones that we haven’t played for a while. So we’ll be doing a lot of festival dates in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. And there is like hundreds of markets in Texas alone because Texas is so big. A lot of bands actually survive and make a lot of money just from playing Texas, it’s a huge market and you can play non-stop all year round.”
The show reaches a stirring climax with the heartfelt and sincere ‘Ballad of a Southern Man’ that has become very much their signature song and one which clearly remains special to them. “It’s a song that kind of explains where we’re from and in a sense it’s really a true story about how and where we grew up, and also a lot about what we thought was going on in the world at the time we wrote it and how we felt about that from our point of view.”
With the music they have released so far just the beginning of the story Whiskey Myers are worthy twenty-first century heirs to Lynyrd Skynyrd and getting the opportunity to play with the Jacksonville legends was clearly a bucket list moment. “Great band, absolutely. We toured Canada with Skynyrd and they were amazing guys and really hospitable. They are one of my favourite bands of all time so it was awesome to get the chance to play with them and for me to get to shake Gary Rossington’s hand.”
After a few more shows like this one the UK audiences will soon take these good old Southern boys to their hearts and Whiskey Myers can already look forward to a warm welcome back when they return here in May.
Mud is available now and further UK shows have just been announced for May 2017 including Birmingham O2 Institute (21st) and Nottingham Rescue Rooms (22nd).
For more information head over to http://www.whiskeymyers.com/