Long Road From Metal to Country Pays Off

DOYLESTOWN, Pa. (AP) — “So I started this damn country band, cause punk rock was too hard to sing.” – Ryan Adams

That lyric, from Adams’ former band Whiskeytown’s song “Faithless Street,” doesn’t exactly tell the story of the Sherwood Brothers, a locally based acoustic trio that has found its niche as an Americana-folk-country-bluegrass act.

But country and bluegrass were definitely not part of the original plan for Bensalem natives Darryl and Dennis Sherwood, whose musical aspirations began in high school in a glam-metal band playing Metallica, Poison and Ratt covers.

It was the early 1990s. The brothers were living at the time in Gillett, a rural town in Bradford County in north-central Pennsylvania, playing a local establishment called Gino’s Arcade, dances at Athens Area High School … and not many other places.

“It was a very rural area. There was nowhere to play,” says Darryl, who sang and played guitar, joined by year-older brother Dennis on drums and a friend on bass. “We basically played Metallica covers. Honestly, I can’t even remember the band’s name.”

Eventually, after a handful of bands (including one called the Canine Men), Dennis switched from drums to guitar, and Darryl ended up playing a lot of solo acoustic singer-songwriter material while a student at Drexel University.

It was their father, Donald, a huge fan of old-time country music, who inspired them to delve into that genre. Donald had gotten sick, and the brothers wanted to make music for him.

“We started getting back to roots music, digging the more acoustic stuff,” says Darryl, who moved back to Bensalem after graduating from Drexel and still lives there with his wife, Christine. “When my brother switched from drums to guitar, he and I dropped the band altogether and started playing acoustic, and that molded into the folksy, country music my dad liked. We pushed forward with that and ended up putting together our first batch of songs pretty much for him.

“He was always a big supporter. Even when we sounded like (expletive), he would put us in the garage or put us someplace out of the house.”

That first set of country material was self-released on a five-song EP in 2002. Four years after that, Donald Sherwood, who had suffered from debilitating rheumatoid arthritis, died of liver failure – a result of being under heavy medication for two decades.

The Sherwood Brothers’ first full-length album, “This Don’t End With a Smile” (2013), was a tribute to him. The album’s title is a lyric from the heartfelt track “Cold in Rochester,” which recounts the large Sherwood family – mom, sister, four brothers – on a grim two-hour drive from Bradford County to Rochester, New York, around Thanksgiving, 2006, after getting the call it was time to take Donald off life support.

“What do you say, what do you do, how do you pull the plug when he basically told us his whole life, ‘Don’t pull the plug on me?’ ” Darryl recalls.

The Sherwood Brothers band consists of Darryl on lead vocals and guitar, Dennis on guitar and backing vocals and longtime friend Neal Petti on upright bass, mandolin and dobro. Occasionally, the Sherwoods’ brother-in-law will sit in on drums when the venue requires a fuller sound.

Only Moorestown resident Petti is a full-time musician, teaching and performing in the popular South Jersey-based children’s act Ernie & Neal. Darryl has his own lumber company, Sherwood Forest, and Dennis is a guidance counselor at a middle school in Pennsauken.

But the brothers’ day jobs don’t prevent them from performing regularly, whether it’s original gigs during the week or covers shows on the weekends.

“We make our money doing covers,” Sherwood acknowledges. “We’d rather make $1,500 to $2,000 on the weekends than play original songs for a half-hour to 15 people during the week.”

Still, it is the group’s compelling original material that earned it one of five spots in the country/folk music portion of the prestigious PHL Live Center Stage Contest. A music initiative designed to highlight the Philly area’s top music talent in 10 different genres, the contest was to feature 10 live events before the final awards show scheduled for Dec. 5 at the Trocadero Theatre. There will be one winner per genre, plus a grand-prize people’s choice winner among all 50-some acts.

Beyond that, they’re determined to remain a genuine country act. At 39, Darryl Sherwood still dreams of a career in music, and he figures country is the best way to get there – even if he and his band mates still listen to the hard rock they grew up playing.

“I love traditional country,” he says. “I’m not the biggest fan of new country pop music, but I do like the traditional-style of country, and I’m a huge fan of bluegrass.

“We’re going full speed ahead with that. It’s such better songwriting. And after all those years of playing and singing Zeppelin tunes, Metallica, I think my voice lends itself to the unique aspect of country and bluegrass music.”

As featured in the Bucks County Courier Times, by Andy Vineberg – Associated Press – Monday, October 27, 2014