Sunny Sweeney

Between having three dogs named Merle, Nash, and Dolly and an East Texas accent so pronounced you could pick her out in a crowded honky-tonk from across the room, Sunny Sweeney is so country she probably snores Loretta Lynn melodies in her sleep. That much was clear long, long before she ever got around to recording her debut album, Heartbreaker's Hall of Fame . So what the hell she was thinking when she skipped off to New York City shortly after graduation to pursue a career in theater or comedy instead of conquering the dancehall and opry circuit back home is anyone's guess. Maybe she was just testing herself — making absolutely sure she was born to be a country singer, not just another pretty young improv-comedian from Longview, Texas, lighting up the Great White Way.

Or, you know, maybe a waitress, nanny, dog walker or cubicle drone. Frankly, there was a spell there in her early 20s when seemed hell-bent on collecting as many different W-2s as she could instead of pursuing her destiny. And she actually did OK at the comedy thing — after leaving the Big Apple and returning to Texas to hook up with a comedy troupe in Austin. But every time a skit found her singing, it became more and more clear she was just putting off the inevitable.

“My friends in the improv group kept saying, ‘Man, you should try singing,'” says Sunny. “At first I thought they meant ‘cause I wasn't good at the comedy stuff, but they were just being supportive and wanted me to succeed at what they thought were my strongest points.”

Her family seemed intent on pushing her in the right direction, too. Her step dad, a musician and songwriter himself, had tried to teach Sunny guitar when she was a child, but it didn't stick. Years later, when he tried again, it did. So much so, she became obsessed. “He gave me a guitar for Christmas and taught me the three country chords: G, C and D,” she says. “The next day we drove to Colorado to go skiing, and I played the damn thing the entire way up there and back.”

That was all of three years ago. And she's been making up for lost time — with a vengeance — ever since. She played her first “real” gig, fronting her own band , in September 2004 at Austin's Carousel Lounge. In less than a year, she was holding down weekly residencies at multiple Austin honky-tonk bars and drawing a crowd at each show that countless other artists in the “Live Music Capital of the World” would kill for. She even scored a short tour or Europe, highlighted by sharing a bill with Dwight Yoakam at a festival in Norway. To say that even her most supportive friends were surprised not so much by her success as they were by how quickly she got her own ball rolling would be an understatement.