Known for vivacious live shows, The Blue Rock Boys leave drums and electric guitars back home. They prefer natural percussion -- instrument thumping and crowd racket.
"When the crowd's stomping, it's an organic feel you can't match with drums," singer Pete Wood says.
With influences ranging from The Dubliners to James Brown, their debut album, Volume I, released in August this year, was engineered by Phil Combs at Cincinnati's Wine Cellar Studios. Including remakes of famous songs such as "Finnegan's Wake," the CD's overall sound rings of traditional Folk, but convention strays when hit by original arrangements, Wood's Punk-sounding vocals, an assertive banjo, grunts, sounds of broken glass and a hard-line bass.
Make no mistake. Physically, The Blue Rock Boys don't appear as stereotypical Folk musicians clad in mountain gear. Rather, touched by planet Punk, strewn with tattoos and piercings, their musical backgrounds are diverse enough to start a slew of bands ranging from Techno to Bluegrass.
"We've played everything from basement Punk shows to Country shows to weddings," Wood says.
With a background including Reggae, Punk and Ska, Wood's interest in Folk happened gradually.
"Fiddler Kevin Burke got me into it the most," he says. "The Pogues got a lot of their juice from The Dubliners and The Clancy Brothers. I got interested in the intersection of the two," he says. And Wood's radio show on WAIF led him to deeply appreciate Soul, lending a bluesy sound to his vocals.
Poking fun at Folk, Wood says, "Just about every song we play, somebody gets murdered or dies in it. The banjo's not a pretty instrument. It's like a farm animal."
Explaining that Delta Blues give him his style, banjo player Bill Williams pushes up one sleeve, revealing a Celtic tattoo. His pierced septum gives the impression there are many more tattoos. Born in Dublin, Ireland, Williams' father, an Irish historian and musician, contributed to Williams' love of Folk.
Surely bassist Erin Daugherty is from overseas. He has an unidentifiable accent. Nope, he's local.
"He sounds like Christian Slater's stepbrother," Mike Oberst says, nailing it.
Daugherty began with violin. His father took him on childhood trips to Bluegrass festivals. Daugherty says, "My dad plays bass. He wanted me to play violin to have a fiddle behind him. It didn't work out." Instead, Daugherty learned bass for Hardcore bands such as Blood Money.
By September 2003, Wood, Williams and Daugherty were joined by fiddler Ben Dean, who soon moved out west. Naming the band after Blue Rock Street in Northside, the three continued, blending Folk and Celtic with Reggae, Ska and Hardcore, merging traditional songs with an unorthodox sound. Picture a stage holding Violent Femmes, a tenor banjo, The Chieftains and a tattooed, drunken sailor. Add a hollering crowd with oversized boots. Yeah.
Anyway, Williams and Oberst worked at Kaldi's together, but it took them a while to hook up. "I was stalking Mike," Williams says. Williams mentioned his stalking problem to a Skincraft tattoo artist who later relayed the message to Oberst while he got stuck. Literally, a bloody letter through needle mail.
Oberst plays so many instruments, they call him "the octopus." Mandolin, accordion, tin whistle and harmonica, to name a few. Oberst started with piano and guitar, playing in Punk bands. Taking a trip to Ireland with his mother before she passed away, Oberst says that this fond memory makes Irish music hit home.
Speaking of hitting home, as for The Blue Rock Boys' touring ventures, Wood says, "I just want to play local places with regular folks, decent crowds, stomp, clap and go crazy. It's not the kind of music you sell millions of records with. It's the kind that gets people excited in the moment."
THE BLUE ROCK BOYS (myspace.com/thebluerockboys) play Coopers on Main Friday and the Northside Tavern on the last Sunday of every month.