Welcome to our third installment in our best beards in music series. If you missed the rock ‘n’ roll and country lists, maybe you should blow some time on those, too (your boss said it would be okay). By the time you make your way through all three of these lists, you’ll never want to see a smooth-faced man sing or play the guitar again.
10. Dan Auerbach, The Black Keys
We thought we might start off this list with a quote from LA Weekly:
“The Black Keys stand at the very vanguard of posh cracker blues rock, displaying a lack of authenticity that would make John Fogerty blush. Further, whereas Jack White can actually play, Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach is more concerned with beard grooming and disheveling his hair.”
We happen to like John Fogerty and Jack White. We’re not really seeing the problem with Auerbach’s concern with grooming his beard. If you’ve ever listened to The Black Keys, you know the man can play. He and drummer Patrick Carney worked their asses off and rose out of the same Detroit scene as The White Stripes. The Keys won two Grammys and an MTV Music Video Award before LA Weekly dropped this article.
If you don’t like The Black Keys, that’s fine. But don’t say Auerbach’s guilty of anything more than having a fine beard. He deserves credit for being a great rough-and-tumble blues rock musician and for having a sick beard.
9. Every member of Larry and His Flask
Larry and His Flask is five guys from central Oregon. They put on wild live shows where members trade instruments – harmonica, trumpet, baritone, guitars, drums, and banjo. Bonus: All five of them have beards.
The band’s name comes from an alter ego developed by Jeshua’s brother, Jamin. “It’s basically the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde situation,” Marshall said. “When any one of us in the band gets too drunk and crazy, it’s obvious that he is ‘Larry.'” This seems like a good strategy, so we’re going to start using it ourselves.
LAHF started as a punk band in 2003, which accounts for their intense acoustic sound. Thankfully, their genre switch didn’t tone down their live energy. Said Marshall at the end of that interview: “We are here to dance our asses off and have fun! Party to the People!!” We’ll drink to that, Larry.
8. Sergey Ryabtsev, Gogol Bordello
Sergey Ryabtsev is the Russian fiddler for the Manhattan-born gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello. He sports a baller silver beard that fits the band’s rambunctious style like a glove. Ryabtsev originally met GB’s lead singer, Eugene Hütz, while working at a New York nightclub. He and Hütz hit it off and Ryabtsev came onstage to party hard with the rest of GB.
Hütz and Ryabtsev appear in the 2005 film Everything Is Illuminated, along with a couple other band members, which isn’t too surprising given the band’s focus on theatrics. “Gogol Bordello’s task is to provoke audience out of post-modern aesthetic swamp onto a neo-optimistic communal movement towards new sources of authentic energy,” states the band’s mission page in bold neo-English. “With acts of music, theatre, chaos and sorcery Gogol Bordello confronts the jaded and irony-deceased. … Our theatre is chaotic and spontaneous and because of that is alarming and responce provoking.” Yes please. As long as there are beards in your circus, consider us provoked.
7. Seasick Steve
Seasick Steve made a big splash at the end of 2006 when he showed up on Jools Holland’s New Year’s Eve Hootenanny to play “Dog House Boogie” with two of his creations: his three-string guitar, named Trance Wonder, and his Mississippi Drum Machine. His career took off immediately. He won the MOJO award for best breakthrough act, played Glastonbury, Reading, and Leeds, and put out his major-label debut, I Started Out With Nothing and I Still Got Most of it Left, on Warner Brothers.
The legend of Seasick Steve goes something like this: his name was Steven Gene Wold and that he was a 66 year old hobo and self-taught musician who made his own instruments from spatulas and cigar boxes. However, his homeless backstory may be more invention than reality. According to a bio written by Matthew Wright, Seasick Steve’s real name is Steve Leach. For years he’d been a session musician, something The Guardian called “the office job of pop” in their review of Wright’s book. Here they concluded that Seasick Steve had reinvented himself from career studio musician to blue-collar, Southern working man/hobo to give him and his music more credibility than a guy who used to play bass in disco bands.
As for us, we don’t really care. Music is all about self-invention. The guy’s music is awesome, he made an interesting, cool character, and the dude has a sick beard. We just want to listen to “Dog House Boogie” on repeat for the rest of the week.
6. Sam Beam, Iron & Wine
Sam Beam, AKA Iron & Wine, is a former film professor who’s been writing and singing songs long before his 2002 debut. He stumbled across a protein supplement/remedy called Beef, Iron & Wine in a gas station in Georgia. Dropping the ‘beef’ left him with a name he felt reflected what he was doing musically – showing “the sour and the sweet”.
According to a 2011 Spin interview, Beam’s had that beard for over a decade. It’s an iconic part of Iron & Wine’s image, so much so that “Don’t mention the beard” is conventional interview wisdom. “What’s fascinating about facial hair?” Beam asked Spin in 2011. “It’s more fascinating that people shave it off every day.”
Still, Helen Brown’s description – “the beard says: earthy, liberal guy; creative but careful; shy, but with a need to be noticed” – is so dead-on, we have to keep talking about it.
5. Ben Bridwell, Band of Horses
Fun fact: Band of Horses frontman Ben Bridwell grew up in South Carolina with fellow beardlister Sam Beam. They kept in touch over the years, swapping mixtapes and letters. Beam invited BoH to open for Iron & Wine at shows with Sub Pop execs in attendance, which led to a deal with the Seattle based indie label. The two bands teamed up for 2015’s Sing Into My Mouth.
In 2007, Rolling Stone described Bridwell’s beard as “One of those bedraggled beards that look like they’re groomed by hedge clippers (if at all).” To be fair, Bridwell left South Carolina after a particularly bad week – he burned his house down with a mattress fire lit by a candle, got hit by a car while riding his bike, and ended up in jail over a fistfight. Unlike Seasick Steve, Bridwell actually was homeless when he landed in Seattle. It’s all the same to us – homeless or not, a rad beard is a rad beard.
4. Devendra Banhart
Devendra Banhart decided to be a musician at the age of 9. He wrote and performed a song called “We’re All Gonna Die” for his family. “They were horrified,” he recalled in an NPR interview. His family told him to never do anything like that again, ever. He recalls this experience as being “oddly validating”.
Today, Banhart is an indie musician and performance artist who made a name for himself in New York City’s freak folk scene. In a 2015 profile, GQ named him as one of the Beautiful People, with eclectic taste in hot girlfriends (designer Ana Kras, Natalie Portman, and model Rebecca Schwartz) and facial hair styling. He jump-started the craze for bearded dudes before Joaquin Phoenix or Jared Leto.
Banhart remains chill AF under that beardy front. “There’s a quote that says, ‘Whatever people say about me is not my business,'” he told LA Weekly. “I really like that quote.”
3. Will Oldham, Bonnie Prince Billy
Will Oldham’s beard is front and center on 2003’s Master and Everyone. He is an icon for the beardy set, which is no simple feat – he doesn’t like interviews. He doesn’t care if his fans like his music, which often ventures deep into disturbing territory, and he isn’t interested in developing any kind of musician-fan relationship. He doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks about him. And that’s what makes him one of the most interesting men in the world.
Oldham, looking the role of a civil war era soldier, has had several career shifts. In 1999, he appeared in Harmony Korine’s Julien Donkey-Boy. Some time in the early 90s, Oldham spent some time as a pirate, which he reluctantly discusses with Vanity Fair.
Whatever his job description, he’s a bearded rebel through-and-through.
2. James “Buddy” Nielsen, Senses Fail
James “Buddy” Nielsen of New Jersey’s Senses Fail can not only rock the front spot in a post-hardcore band, but he can grow a pretty killer beard, too. Nielsen struggled with substance abuse, depression, and sexual identity, which led to an interest in Eastern religion. He says the band’s name comes Hinduism:
“In Hinduism, they believe that being alive is hell, and the only way to each Nirvana is to ultimately have no attachments to anything,” he explains. “So, people go out and live in the middle of the woods and they don’t eat and don’t drink. They just meditate because they’ve reached such a high level where they’re not attached to love, relationships or anything. And if you want to reach the highest level of being and see God, you have to have all your senses fail.”
Nielsen’s beard has been out in full force in the last couple of years, channeling “Rick Rubin at Emo Night” on his Instagram. Beating your demons and growing an IDGAF beard go hand in hand, which is why Buddy’s number two on our list.
1. Every member of The Beards
At last we come to The Beards, who are exactly what they sounds like – a novelty band dedicated to having beards and singing about how great beards are and how everyone should have beards. These guys hail from Adelaide, Australia, and they’re responsible for songs like “If Your Dad Doesn’t Have a Beard, You’ve Got 2 Mums,” “Beard Related Song Number 38,” and, of course, “You Should Consider Having Sex With a Bearded Man” from their third album, “Having a Beard Is the New Not Having a Beard”. According to their Facebook page, the band consists of Johann Beardraven, Nathaniel Beard, John Beardman Jr., and Facey McStubblington.
Sadly, The Beards played their official farewell tour in 2016. But their legacy won’t be forgotten. Here’s to you, The Beards. Please don’t let that farewell be forever.
Well, that brings us to the end of the Rugged Rebels top 10 beards of alternative, and also to the end of our three-part study in musical beards. Thirty beards ago we started out on a journey to explore music’s very best beards. We hope you’ve enjoyed the adventure with us and maybe even learned a few things along the way.
As always, thanks for reading, and let us know if we overlooked someone particularly amazing. May your facial hair flow forever free of bald spots!