Cody Cannon - Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
Cody Tate - Lead Guitar, Vocals, Rhythm Guitar
John Jeffers - Rhythm & Lead Guitar, Vocals
Gary Brown - Bass
Jeff Hogg- Drums
One moment, Whiskey Myers is cooking along on a blues/rock groove and you figure you have this East Texas band’s musical ambitions pegged. And for that moment, you do.
But out of nowhere, the quintet slides into some hard-rock chords and arena-ready guitar solos, and you realize that no, this is what Whiskey Myers is. And in that instant, you’re right again.
But not for long. Suddenly, the band falls back into a country-rock beat that carries just a tinge of Gram Parsons undercurrent. Aaah, this is what the Tyler-based act is about. For that little period of time, once again, it’s true.
Ultimately, the bigger truth is that Whiskey Myers is sort of inexplicable. With its superb twin-lead guitars, Cody Cannon’s rough-cut lead vocals and a solid, uncluttered rhythm section, the band typically winds around a Lynyrd Skynyrd/Led Zeppelin-centered foundation, veering off in spokes of grunge, psychedelia, harmony-laden pop-rock and rockabilly. It’s a Southern-rock band with jam-band tendencies. Maybe.
“I don’t really know how to explain it,” drummer Jeff Hogg shrugs.
That is the essence of Whiskey Myers. It’s a creative, moving target, built around a hunger for music, a passion for new sounds and textures. What they are is not what they were. And what they are is certainly not what they will be.
That’s true from minute to minute in their unpredictable shows, fueled with the same intense flow as a well-played basketball game. If you step away just long enough for a bathroom break, you’ll have no idea how they got to the sounds they’re making once you return.
But those ever-changing sonics are also a part of the over-arching story. The nine songs Whiskey Myers put up on its MySpace page in April 2007 have all the grit and sweaty honesty of a typical red-dirt Texas band.
Three years later, the boys had built a show that took a more adventurous approach to that sound, steeped in swagger, technical proficiency and untethered creative juice.
Whiskey Myers is loud, raucous, proud and not really certain what comes next. Because they never have really known what’s around the corner. None of them had ever played in an organized group before they started bashing out songs together in a big, unkempt band house in Tyler, Texas. And the current vision of Whiskey Myers—an act that strings together shifting time signatures and multiple threads of genres and subgenres—is a far cry from the uncertain, inexperienced group of rag-tag players that started working together simply as a hobby.
They’ve come a long way, though how they arrived at this enticingly nebulous spot remains elusive.
“I don’t really know how to explain it,” bass player Gary Brown says of their progression.
That’s part of the real attraction of Whiskey Myers. The band coalesced for the right reasons—the guys simply loved music and had to be a part of it—and it’s propelled by an internal competitive gene that requires every member to evolve into a better player, and a better musical partner.
“You gotta keep gettin’ better,” Cannon insists. “If you don’t feel like you can get better, then you need to quit.”
Whiskey Myers’ roots extend back to two previous generations. Cannon and John Jeffers played baseball together in Elkhart, Texas, where Cannon dropped hints as a youngster that he wanted to play guitar. His grandfather—“one of those wild-ass biker dudes,” Cannon says—spent much of his life on the road, but he casually left an acoustic guitar at the house for a then-16 Cody to learn on.
Jeffers’ father, who was known to engage his sons in classic-rock trivia contests, taught both John and his pal Cody their first guitar chords, and the boys quickly became obsessed with making music. Cannon worked in a sporting-goods store, where he met Cody Tate, destined to take one of the lead-guitar roles in Whiskey Myers.
“The reason they hired me is Cody and his boss, they played guitar every once in a while, and the only job I’d had before that was teaching guitar lessons, so I put that down on the application,” Tate laughs. “They were like, ‘Hey, this guy taught guitar lessons. Let’s hire him!’ So we started all playin’ together.”
The two Codys began writing music together and quickly added Jeffers into the mix under the working name Lucky Southern.
The trio moved to Tyler, where drummer Jeff Hogg—who was slaving away at a job painting railroad cars—saw them play an acoustic set that cried out for someone to sit in on percussion. Needing only a bass player to fill out a band roster, Cannon enlisted his cousin, Gary Brown, a real-estate appraiser and ex-jock who’d never played bass before.
“Me and John had to teach Gary how to play the bass—and we didn’t even know how to play the bass,” Tate recalls. “We’re guitar players teaching him root notes and stuff like that, little bitty scales, and he took it from there. Now he’s writin’ his own bass lines.”
The five band members changed their band name (if there’s a story, they ain’t tellin’ it) and all shared a big house that quickly became party central for college students and 20-somethings looking for a place to hang.
Since each member of the entourage had never been in a band before, none of the guys fully understood how they were supposed to function. So they wrote their own rules and bonded around their love for the music. The people who drifted in and out of their pad became a willing audience, and when Whiskey Myers gave its first official performance in Montalba, Texas, the band simply plowed into the set list, practically making it up on the spot in front of 400 people.
“It was kind of nerve-racking to get out there, get on stage and not know really what I’m doin’, playin’ a borrowed bass on a borrowed amp,” Brown remembers. “They’re talkin’ about ‘What do you want in your monitor mix?’ I’m like ‘What’s a monitor?’ I had no idea what was goin’ on.”
Brown did discover, though, that he liked the experience. As did his Whiskey cohorts, who were emboldened by the opportunity. They got an opening slot for a Roger Creager show in Gun Barrel City, and that date went over so well that the club owner booked them to open the next weekend for the Eli Young Band. In short order, Whiskey Myers was the hot new thing in the Lonestar State, sharing the bill with the Marshall Tucker Band, Reckless Kelly, the Randy Rogers Band and Cross Canadian Ragweed.
Cannon drew frequent comparisons to Black Crowes vocalist Chris Robinson. Brown and Hogg laid down a solid, uncluttered backbeat that left plenty of space in the music, which Jeffers and Tate filled with lengthy, proficient guitar solos that writhed and twisted and challenged the duo—and their bandmates—to hold it together. Every solo was different, every set list and song structure changed from night to night as they continually pushed their limits as musicians. By stretching their muscles, the band became stronger and more flexible, adding countless nuances and stylistic influences without knowing why the hodge podge worked.
“I can’t really explain it,” Jeffers maintains.
Whiskey Myers’ songs came together in the same unpredictable manner. Cannon, Tate and Jeffers formed the songwriting core, sometimes building the material as a team, sometimes on their own. Occasionally, the results resemble Paul McCartney’s “Band On The Run”—mosaics of short, seemingly unrelated melodies that fit together like a well-planned jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes, once the extended solos and drifting genres all got interlocked, they discovered the songs might stretch out like a Dave Matthews Band or Widespread Panic epic.
“When we timed it we found out it was 10 minutes long,” Brown says. “Ten minutes! But that’s the song, so that’s what it’s gonna be.”
Why those songs work and how they get assembled remains a hazy, mysterious process even for the band. But they definitely work. Whiskey Myers’ debut album, Road Of Life, established the guys as a worthy heir to Skynyrd’s blue-collar tradition. The sinewy sound and intense musical interplay worked well in concert, and dates began piling up in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. By September 2009, every member of Whiskey Myers had made the band his full-time job. In summer 2010, the group is ready to hit the studio for a sophomore project that will document its current incarnation.
How long the new album remains representative is perhaps the ultimate question for the band. As a moving, creative target, it will be just a matter of time before Whiskey Myers finds yet another way to hone, twist or completely upend its hard-to-define, off-the-cuff amalgamations. It’s part of what their growing fan base likes about them—and definitely what motivates Whiskey Myers.
“Five years down the road,” Tate suggests, “we’ll be a completely different band than we are right now.”