By Frank Monahan
The Chief Editor of this magazine, Yazminh Beyer, and I recently caught up with the independent rock band, Whiskey Grin, a fantastic power trio of rock n’ roll! The band consists of guitarist and vocals, Jim Mayberry, bass and vocals, John Tidwell, and drummer extraordinaire and vocals, Dreem. They operate out of New Jersey right now and play pretty much the entire east coast rock scene!
I asked Jim how the band began, and I got pretty much a life story. Jim met John Stidwell when he was about 14-15 years old (John is in the same age range) and playing with a Christian rock group, Exodus AD. After this band broke up, Jim played with several bands that played the bar and club circuit, including a band called Sanctum. Sanctum recorded a sought-after CD during this period that ranked well with the underground charts at the time.
Some time after that stint, Jim got back together with John and a former drummer, Kevin Ayers, they entered the studio to record the tunes written and performed by Exodus AD. This period of time yielded three CD’s and took about 6 years. After all that studio time, Jim talked with John and said, “John, I’ve had enough of this shit, I gotta play live!” John agreed. On Jim’s 50th birthday in 2012, Whiskey Grin was formed!
I asked Jim about his roots in music and if there was a particular artist that influenced him to play. Strangely, Jim didn’t have any particular influencer in the rock music world…but he was influenced by his older sister, Margaret, to become interested in music overall. Jim related a story about his sister going out on a date with her boyfriend, and Jim would sneak into her room and listen to albums from her awesome collection of music. Bands like Deep Purple, Peter Frampton, Leslie West and other hard rock, guitar-driven artists would be among the first bands to steer Jim into music. His sister continued to encourage Jim’s love of this music by sharing any new music she found interesting with him.
Dreem started his music career in South Jersey at the age of 18-19 years old. His first paid gigs were with a country-western band, Lloyd G and the Rebels, a band that played classic country-western tunes. After that band, Dreem played with many rock n’ roll bands, both original music and cover bands, and has been at his craft for over 34 years! Dreem’s primary influencer was his grandfather, who had a set of drums himself and when Dreem was old enough to play, his grandfather gave him that kit and he was off and running. Listening to rhythm and blues, rock, country-western, Dreem mimicked many of these styles until he slowly began to develop is own style. He listed to people like John Bonham and Billy Cobham to learn the technical points of drum style.
Dreem joined Whiskey Grin in an unusual way actually. Jim and John were performing and Dreem approached a girl that Jim was seeing at the time. He asked if he could possibly get a conversation with the band. The conversation materialized and Dreem asked if he could audition. Jim recalled his thoughts then and couldn’t believe that this particular drummer with that crazy good reputation wanted an audition. But they went ahead with it, and Jim noted the look on John’s face and realized they’d found their drummer!
John Tidwell also started his career very young, and he determined that what he liked best was doing vocals. Even at the age of four years old, John would be sitting in the back seat of the family station wagon belting out the Tom Jones tune, ‘What’s New, Pussycat” at the top of his lungs! This brought quite a few chuckles and good-natured laughter from the band as John was relating his start in music, but the deep respect for each other in this particular band is extremely obvious.
John was raised around music all the time as both his parents played the organ. John told us about the fact that his Mother could play just about anything, but his Dad, who did not read music, could only play one song, an extremely well-executed version of ‘Green Apples’! John’s parents steered John into musical instruments, with flute lessons, clarinet lessons, piano lessons, organ, etc…but none of these were truly interesting to John.
John finally found his instrument in 9th to 10th grades, finding a bass guitar laying around the house that belonged to his younger brother, who was nit interested, and it stuck! John taught himself to play listening to music on the Hi-Fi, which is what folks had back in the day, and took it a step further by plugging the instrument into the INPUT of the Hi-Fi to amplify its sound. Jim Mayberry chimed in at that point and let us all know that they even had cars back during the day of the Hi-Fi, and we all laughed…especially when we learned that Henry Ford did not live in John’s neighborhood!
Whiskey Grin got its name in a pretty unique way! Jim Mayberry used to sit with their original drummer, Kevin, after practices and have a few whiskey shots. That spurred Jim to say that the band needed a name with Whiskey in the mix. After writing down dozens of other words to describe the band, he settled on Grin, because that’s what they were doing every time they played together!
One of the more interesting things we talked with the band about was their first album, the self-titled Whiskey Grin. Turns out that John Tidwell is the lyricist of the band, and while all members contribute to the music, Dreem turns out to be the unifying force between not only the drums, but the guitar riffs and bass as well. Jim Mayberry commented on how Dreem would vocalize the guitar riffs to him while they wrote the songs, Saturday’s Child and Black SUV. Having listened to this album multiple times and seeing them live I love these songs, but my favorite is Bad Feeling, a song that each member of the band loves too, but even more important, they hear their audience after the show singing the song, having that sound just imprinted in their ears. What an amazing feeling that must be to hear your fans singing a song you wrote and performed with such passion!
The upshot of this interview, and the true take-home message is that this 3-man powerhouse of a band is awesome! They’re all good guys, truly love music and what they do, and are more than thrilled to perform for appreciative audiences. As a musician you can’t really want for more than that. This band is GREAT, and you really need to check out their tour schedule at www.getyourgrinon.com and purchase their CD, Whiskey Grin, at CDBaby.com, Apple Music, and anyplace you purchase your music!
Photos by Robert Wood Photography
See Whiskey Grin LIVE!
2019 THICKER THAN WATER TOUR
With: Walk with Lions and Silence No More