With new members and a broader sound, Cutthroat Shamrock ready for another St. Patty’s Day
By Steve Wildsmith (firstname.lastname@example.org)
They may have parted ways with one of the band’s cofounders, but the members of local Celtic rock outfit Cutthroat Shamrock are soldiering on.
Ben Whitehead, the de facto leader of Cutthroat Shamrock, stepped away from the project several months ago to focus on his family. For some bands, such a loss might have meant calling it quits; if anything, the decision of the rest of the band to keep rocking is a testament to how they’ve all grown as musicians.
“He needed to do his thing, and we wanted to do our thing,” Derek McRotten, the band’s vocalist, guitarist, banjo picker and mandolin player told The Daily Times recently. “There were no problems at all.”
If anything, McRotten and the rest of the guys — bass player Guido Greaserag, drummer Suavo and percussionist/washboard player Johnny Hyena — have embraced the amicable parting as an opportunity to take Cutthroat shamrock in a new direction. They’ve added two members — banjo player Brad Carr and rhythm guitarist Marcus Bunch — and are working on filling out the old material with a new, more expanded sound.
“Brad’s made us do more bluegrass and stuff, and we’re working more on harmonies,” Greaserag said. “Me, Brad and Suavo all went to high school together, and we’ve jammed together for a long time as friends, so it just made sense.”
Cutthroat Shamrock started a few years ago when Whitehead and McRotten found themselves unemployed and almost homeless; when they weren’t scouring up cash or looking for jobs, they played guitar together to pass the time. 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 Hyena as a percussionist and 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 in case you haven’t figured it out, all of the members of the original members of the band, save Whitehead, have adopted stage names.)
Last year, the group performed at the inaugural Smoky Mountain Highland Games on the Maryville College campus. This weekend, the new lineup will debut in the headlining slot for a Market Square block party in downtown Maryville, co-sponsored by The Daily Times.
“I’m stoked — just super-excited,” McRotten said. “We’re looking at anywhere from 5,000 to 8,000 people. That’s a first for us in Knoxville, and any time they put on something in Market Square, it’s a blast. This weekend is going to be awesome.”
Part of the band’s 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 vagabond lifestyle befitting of the image they’ve created for themselves as a band of fun-loving pirates.
And given their command of the Celtic-punk feel over three albums — “The Wake,” “Blood Rust Whiskey” and last year’s vinyl-only compilation “Dark Luck” — it’s no wonder that for the guys in the band, St. Patrick’s Day is as much a celebration for them as it is for the fans who show up to party with them.
“Last year, getting to pull in over 600 people was unreal, especially for a Thursday night,” McRotten said. “It’s always a killer time all night. It’s the biggest show of the year for us, and to see that many people, it makes you feel good.”
It’ll be an ideal opportunity to help the new lineup gel, he added, and build up to a new recording that’ll signal the next phase of the band’s career. There’s no timetable for getting into the studio, but some new songs are in the works, and the band’s calendar is quickly filling up through the summer.
“We tell everybody that we’re Irish, bluegrass and punk all rolled into one, so when we get some time to actually sit down and work on a new album, it’ll be exciting,” McRotten said.