Seven is a lucky number for left-field country specialists The Muckrakes
By Sam McDonald
August 24, 2009
The Muckrakes play the sort of country music that you won’t often see on cable television or hear on the radio alongside Kenny Chesney and Taylor Swift.
Their sound includes elements of bluegrass, older country from artists such as Merle Haggard, and the rootsy rock of bands ranging from Son Volt to the Grateful Dead.
Bassist Billy England — a veteran of punk bands including The Pimps and The Bottle Babies — says The Muckrakes came together through online ads placed on Craigslist. Musicians got together and — boom — a band was born.
“We said, ‘Hey, we have something here!’ ” England remembers. “It was an automatic click.”
Originally a nine-member ensemble, the band eventually pared its ranks to a lean-and-mean seven.
“It’s a lucky number, man,” England said. “It’s worked with us so far.”
How do The Muckrakes keep seven instruments from sounding like a muddy mess?
“Practice,” England said. “The violin doesn’t need to be playing 100 percent of the time. Neither does banjo or guitar … So it’s knowing when to come in and when to drop out … Less is more in a lot of places.”
England answered the following questions with help from bandmate Dave “Gravy” Jackson:
Explain your name. We took our name from the farming tool, but it’s also a term used to describe investigative journalists who exposed corruption in American public life during the early 20th century.
Where is the band’s home base? The band has members live in most areas of Tidewater. Band members reside in Portsmouth, Newport News, Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Chesapeake (one or more member from 5 of the 7 cites in our area). I suppose Newport News is our home base because that’s where we practice.
When did the band start? The Muckrakes started in late September of 2008, but it took a little ironing out to get our sound and get the current lineup in place. Our first “official gig” was an open mike at Marker 20 on Oct. 21 of last year. We took a few months to get used to playing with each other, honing our skills, chops, and stage mannerisms.
Who plays what? Jon Owings, vocals, banjo, guitar, mandolin; Melissa “Butterbean” Troutman, vocals; Mike “Spider” Turner, guitar; Cory “Juicebox” Nealon, lap steel, guitar, banjo, vocals; Billy England, bass; Steve Campbell, fiddle; Dave “Gravy” Jackson, drums and percussion.
Describe your style. We’re what has been called an “Americana” band. Some terms we’ve heard to describe our sound: newgrass, alt-country, ya’ll-ternative, even newbilly. But we’re pretty hard to pinpoint stylistically. If you come to a show you’re going to hear hints of bluegrass, ol’-timey country, folk, rock, blues, rockabilly, as well as a few other surprise musical variations and styles.
Sample set list: We pride ourselves on being an original band, but we do play an occasional cover here and there. When we do choose a song to cover, it’s usually something that you’d find on a B-side, something rare yet familiar. Even with those songs we always put our own spin on them … Some of the songs that we have covered in the past have been “Are the Good Times Really Over” by Merle Haggard, “Jolene” by Dolly Parton, and a “mucked-up” version of “Just Like Heaven” by The Cure.
What’s your favorite local place to play? There are a lot of great venues in this area and each one is special in its own way. But as a whole, the band really enjoys County Grill in Yorktown and The Taphouse in Norfolk. In Richmond, our favorite place to play is The Capital Ale House Music Hall.
What local entertainer deserves more attention? Two we really like are Rylo and Pawn Shop Lifters. That said, any band in the area that’s making good original music is good in our book. There are some great bands and musicians in Tidewater that are creating some great music and adding to the local or regional scene.
What does your group hope to accomplish? The Muckrakes are just trying to have a good time, hopefully give people a break from their day-to-day grind with rollicking, good-time music — and maybe inspire others to do the same. We want to record more (we just released our self-titled freshman CD/EP last week), entertain as much as possible, and make sure the crowd has a great time listening to us.
News to Use
Catch The Muckrakes at a bar near you:
Thursday — The Cactus, 6401 George Washington Memorial Highway, Yorktown. 898-8500
Friday — Clutch Bar and Grill, 1485 General Booth Blvd., Virginia Beach. 491-2229
Sept. 18 — The Taphouse, 931 W. 21st St., Norfolk. 627-9172
Sept. 20 — Tribeca, 1000 Omni Blvd., Newport News. 873-6664
For more on The Muckrakes, visit myspace.com/themuckrakes