Celtic rockers Cutthroat Shamrock bring a little rowdiness
By Steve Wildsmith (firstname.lastname@example.org)
It’s not easy convincing those who think of vinyl albums as a thing of yesteryear just how big a deal Cutthroat Shamrock’s most recent accomplishment is.
Group vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Ben Whitehead even had to convince some of his bandmates that signing on with I Hate Punk Rock Records and allowing the label to release a limited-edition, 300-print vinyl album was something to brag about.
“I got a record player four or five years back, and I’ve got a good-sized couple of boxes of vinyl, but the rest of the guys were like, ‘Why do we want to be on vinyl? It’s no big deal,’” Whitehead told The Daily Times recently. “I tried to explain that it really is a big deal. They wanted their label on the back of one of our records, and to do that, they were willing to pay for it.”
The full-length LP will be titled “Dark Luck,” taking its name from two new tracks the band recorded for it — “Down on My Luck” and “Dark Hollow.” The remaining eight songs are a compilation from the band’s first two albums, “The Wake” and “Blood Rust Whiskey.” It should be out in the next couple of weeks, Whitehead said, and with any luck, the Celtic rockers may have some with them when they perform this weekend at the Smoky Mountain Highland Games on the Maryville College campus.
“It’s vinyl only, but it will come with an online digital download,” Whitehead said. “Plus, it’s colored vinyl — half red and half black.”
Cutthroat Shamrock started a few years ago when Whitehead, the group’s mandolin player/guitarist and vocalist, was couch-surfing with bandmate Derek McRotten. They were unemployed and homeless, so most of their free time was spent playing guitar together. Before long, they realized that their increasing speed on acoustic guitar and their driving rhythms fell into a Celtic vein, and by 2004, they were playing out as a duo in Gatlinburg.
Shortly after that first show, they picked up Johny Hyena, a hand drummer, and Guido Greaserag, an acquaintance who found a stand-up bass at a flea market and was recruited even though he didn’t know how to play it. The final piece of the puzzle was Suavo, a drummer for Guido’s old band, whose scatter-gun approach to the drumkit gave Cutthroat Shamrock some much-needed speed. (And by the way — except for Whitehead, the members of the band have adopted stage names.)
After practicing and playing all over Sevier County, the guys decided it was time to storm Knoxville, and by the time St. Patty’s Day 2005 rolled around, they were headlining Preservation Pub on Market Square. A couple of years later, they had moved up to The Valarium, a 1,000-person venue in Knoxville’s Warehouse District, and made a name for themselves on the Southeastern festival circuit.
Part of that appeal comes from the gritty, grungy approach to Celtic rock that Cutthroat Shamrock brings to the stage. Although as approachable as can be, they look much like the lives they’ve lived — like a group of hard-drinking roustabouts who got their start on cobbled instruments and friend’s couches, stealing malt liquor and generally living a roustabout lifestyle befitting of the image of a band of fun-loving pirates that they’ve fostered.
“We’re not really Irish or Scottish; we call what we do Appalachian music, because the Scots-Irish settled these mountains,” Whitehead said. “We’ve taken the bluegrass and the Celtic music and infused it with our own thing. That slides into a lot of genres, and it allows us to play a lot of different festivals.”
It also gives the guys a ready-made audience of punks, rockers, Old Time aficionados and bluegrass lovers wherever they play. I Hate Punk Rock, for example, is based out of St. Louis, where the band has established a loyal following.
“We’ve got a really good fanbase there; when we show up, it’s like a reunion,” Whitehead said. “We’ve played all over the place. We’ve got the Smoky Mountain Highland Games and the Philadelphia Renaissance Fair coming up this summer. We’re still going, man.”
Before summer begins, the band will go into the studio to begin work on some new music. The plan right now, he said, isn’t to make a full-length but to record a couple of separate EPs ... for the sake of the fans who live the hard-luck stories about which Cutthroat Shamrock sings.
“We run into people at shows who want to buy music, but they’ve only got $5, so they’ll try to bargain with you and get it for $5,” he said. “We’ve got more money and time in it than $5, but if we’ve got an album that’s just $5, that’ll take care of the lower-class crowd.”
This weekend, the guys will play to all classes at the Highland Games — but while the emphasis for the event is on Scotland, don’t expect the guys to show up in kilts.
“A couple of us own kilts, and we wore our kilts to the games in Gatlinburg a couple of years ago, but it was a straight mud fest, and they’re dry clean only,” he said. “We save them for special occasions. We’ll wear jeans in case the weather’s bad.”