Pirate bands are as scarce as the treasure-pillaging rogues that inspire them. Darby O’Bill and His Matees 3 have entertained the music scene with their original pirate tales and rock and roll influences. Their music presents catchy bass hooks, drumbeats and an accordion player that is known to cause audience members to dance a pirate jig. The men’s deep vocals are exaggerated with thick accents, annunciations and plenty of pirate slang.
Unfortunately, the group will be disbanding after a few remaining shows in August and the release of a full-length album.
Contrary to the band’s name, there is no member named Darby O’Bill, nor are there only four. The story behind the band was conceived mostly by guitarist and vocalist Greg Rhodes (also known as Peg-Leg-Greg), who is so convincing with the story that you’d think he was a real pirate. The story goes that during the summer of 1743 in the Netherlands, the Dutch Harbor Pirates took schoolboy Hermann-Maria von Gustafson II captive. He later grew accustomed to the pirate life at sea and found his talent in music. He changed his name to a fitting pirate title, Darby O’Bill, and went on to write several songs and gain infamous success with his pirate band.
“We’re more like a tribute to Captain Darby O’Bill and His Matees 3, who are a fictional band,” said Rhodes.
The truth behind the band is that the idea was a fluke. Rhodes and guitar player Chris Eisert were with a friend, John Bowen, during the summer of 2000. The trio originally considered being a holiday band and writing original songs for each holiday. Another possibility was a band of zombies. But the pirate theme seemed to fit after a writing session of three songs late one night. Most of their lyrics have been written on bar napkins with a round of drinks.
“All of us were kind of laughing and coming up with a ridiculous story that makes sense and rhymes,” said Rhodes. “We have a lot of fun doing it. It’s really fun writing pirate songs.”
Eisert’s brother, drummer Jason Eisert, figured out a marching beat to play along and created pirate drumming. Rhodes says it’s a combination of imperial drum marching and rock and roll.
“We started off with a comedic, folk-shanty style. We’ve turned into a bluegrass rock pirate band,” said Rhodes.
After three years, the Eisert brothers and Rhodes continued their pirate endeavors with new material. Two summers ago they added accordion and bass player Ryan Bohac to the group. Since then, they’ve added Nate Foerster on bass, flutist Ezra Coffman and fiddler Gwen Bradshaw to complete their band of seven.
It was originally a tradition for the guys to do a lot of drinking with the excuse that it would help them get into the pirate persona. Later they realized how much they drank and cut back for the sake of their music.
“Because of that, maybe we’re less real pirates, but I think our music has definitely gotten better,” said Rhodes. “We still definitely sing about drinking just as much.”
The group still has a sense of humor about their music, but they’ve taken more interest in their musicianship. Their performances have become tighter, and their lyrics continue to tell elaborate tales of Darby O’Bill and his adventures at sea.
In the song “Skulls of Skeletons Peak,” the pirates follow a treasure map to Skeleton’s Peak. Once they reach the Peak, they find a cave full of gold. With the sound of chattering bones, they see dancing skeletons trying to protect their treasure. The pirates make a run back to their ship with their pockets stuffed with gold.
So how does a pirate band in Alaska find its inspiration?
For Rhodes as a songwriter, inspirations for the mindset of being at sea come from authors Daniel Defoe and Herman Melville. He also listens to mid- to late-18th century opera. Music from the original film “The Wicker Man,” with its unique style of folk, serves as inspiration for several members of the band.
The reaction from their Anchorage audience has been mixed but mostly positive. They’ve recently wrapped up shows in Wasilla, Fairbanks and festivals around the state.
“People really seem to enjoy it,” said Rhodes. “I think at festivals you have a lot of performances with the same style of music. I think it makes people step outside their bubble and pretend they’re pirates for an hour. Our band has proved that there is a need in Anchorage for people to have some sort of outlet to act like a pirate and go a little bit crazy for a while.”
With lyrics such as “I’ll slit your throat and slay your goat,” it’s a challenge for the band to accommodate their music from the bar scene to a family crowd. Most of the group members are musicians in other bands who come to Darby O’Bill for something different.
“When it’s late at night and we’re in the bar and people are drinking, we can get a little more vulgar, get a little bit more crazy and theatrically overexpress our drunkenness. At something where there are families and kids, we kind of tone down the language and attitude a little bit to make it more acceptable,” said Rhodes.
Rhodes imagines that a long-term goal would be to make the pirate theme into an opera or musical. He says they’ve constantly had ideas of grandeur they could achieve, such as including actors, a choir and orchestra for a real theatre experience. For now, their theatre experience is limited to their lively stage presence and makeshift pirate costumes.
“When we put our costumes on and start playing, it’s a game we’re playing. It just makes the imagery more vivid and the experience more fun for us,” said Rhodes. “We have a small following of people in Anchorage who go to our shows and dress up, so whenever we show up, there’s already twenty people dressed up as pirates.”
There’s no captivating tale as to the end of Darby O’Bill and His Matees 3. Two of the band members recently had a baby, and Bohac is moving to Portland. Like any infamous group of pirates worth their rum, they’ve peppered the high seas of Anchorage’s music scene with adventure.
The album is expected to drop mid-August. Those who have been to their live shows can expect a high-quality recording of their usual music in thirteen tracks, including a secret narrative track. For updates and where to purchase the album, visit the band’s Web site at www.captaindarbyobill.com.