ALBANY — You can forget that Davies, Gallagher and Robinson brother kind of musical sibling rivalry that helped blow up the Kinks, Oasis and the Black Crowes, respectively, when it comes to the Fox brothers — Todd and Brandon — and their band BoDean & the Poachers.
“I’m my little brother’s biggest fan,” band drummer Todd Fox said of his six-years-younger musical prodigy brother Brandon, the singer, songwriter, guitarist and mastermind behind the Poachers, who are an oddity on the local music scene because they play only original songs.
And you won’t get any band blowback about Brandon Fox’s role as the creative spark of the Poachers. All of the other members of the band — standup bassist Shane Brown, harmonica player Chris Overman and washtub specialist Michael “Monk” Miller — cite “the opportunity to play with Brandon” as one of their primary reasons for joining the Poachers, which recently released their first single, the amazingly catchy “I Ain’t a Saint.”
Brandon Fox taught himself to play guitar at age 9, and by the time he was 15 was already recognized as one of the best musicians in the region. He cemented that reputation at live shows.
“There were times when some of the bar owners gave us grief about having someone 15 playing in their establishments, but Brandon just wanted to play,” Todd Fox said. “We had to tell some of the bar owners, ‘We can’t play without him, he’s our band leader.’”
The younger Fox caught on with Bo Henry as Henry was putting together his eponymous band 25 years ago, and Fox soon established himself as one of the region’s best rock guitarists, playing the Southern-fried, jam band rock sound that was a staple of the Bo Henry Band.
Todd Fox, who drove the bus from gig to gig for BHB, soon took his place with the band as conga player, and the Fox brothers’ musical journey continued.
“We put a band together when I was a teenager, and Brandon had picked up our dad’s guitar and tried to play,” Todd Fox said. “He was about 6 or 7 years old, and we told him he was too young. That broke his heart, so he locked himself in his room after that and really worked on playing guitar. By the time he was 9, he could really play.”
While the Fox brothers were honing their skills in family bands like Peacemaker and later with the Bo Henry Band, Miller, Overman and Brown were showing off their significant musical chops with other local bands. Brown started out playing electric bass with the local band Automatic Mojo, then switched to standup bass when he was invited to join local bluegrass favorites Bluebilly Hillgrass.
When there was a personnel change within BH, the band changed its name to Evergreen Family Band, and that collection became one of the most in-demand groups in the region.
“I tried an acoustic bass (after joining the bluegrass combo), but I really liked the standup after I tried it,” Brown said. “The scales are a lot farther up the instrument, but it’s really not much different from playing a standard bass guitar.”
Brown said he jumped at the chance to play with Fox and the Poachers for the opportunity to play original music.
“There is pretty much a songbook of bluegrass standards,” Brown said. “After you play them for a while, you get this feeling that you’re part of something that’s already been done. I have so much respect for Brandon as a musician, and I really wanted the opportunity to play new music.”
Overman’s introduction to the music scene was as unique as perhaps any local artist who’s ever performed in front of an audience. The harmonica player performed as a one-man band (and still does on occasion), playing bass, the hi-hat, guitar and harmonica. In 2016, Overman met Brown, who told him he should bring his talents to Evergreen.
Fox, meanwhile, saw Overman play with Evergreen Family Band and convinced him to play harmonica in the new group he was putting together.
“With Brandon, it’s about sound,” Overman said. “He was looking for these unique, specific sounds for (the Poachers), and he asked if I was interested. Well, I’ve always loved what Brandon does musically, and when he said he wanted to play original music in the Americana/alt-country vein, I was all in.
“It was different for me, playing one instrument, but being in the Poachers gave me a chance to really focus, to bring a bluesy element into the band. I really love what we’re doing with this band. Plus, working on an album in the studio is a new experience for me. It’s a little nerve-racking, but working with (producer) Daniel Watson (of Alchemy Creative Group and the band This Solid Ground) is a great learning experience.”
Miller’s washboard playing is unique to bands in the area, and Brandon Fox said that was what led him to invite Miller to join the Poachers.
“I used brushes playing the snare drum, and a friend gave me a washboard and told me I should give it a try,” Miller said. “I’m actually still learning how to incorporate it into what Brandon wants, but I think he likes having that additional percussion with the songs he’s writing.
“I joined Bluebilly Hillgrass, and when we’d go to hear other bands I always enjoyed coming to see Brandon’s band. It was his music and creativity that drew me in. I started coming to (the Poachers’) gigs to hear them play, and he’d ask me to sit in. After a while, I just became a part of the band. Now, I’m getting the opportunity to record and play shows with them. It’s a great experience.”
It may seem odd that the 37-and-counting original songs that Fox has written are in the Americana/alt-country realm, given his decades of playing lead rock guitar with the Bo Henry Band. But Fox said the songs he writes “just come out this way.”
“I’ve always loved what we do with Bo’s band; that bunch is like a family that has been together through thick and thin for 25 years,” Brandon Fox said. “I wouldn’t trade what we do for anything. But I guess in the back of my mind, as a musician, I always wanted the opportunity to play and sing my own songs all night.
“I’ve written a lot of songs, and we’re kind of going through them now with Daniel Watson in the studio, trying to decide what would work best for an album.”
The band recently released “I Ain’t a Saint,” which is getting rave reviews from fans.
“I thought I had written better songs, but this one is very personal,” Fox said. “I was sitting at home in the living room with my wife, my daughter and my son, and everyone was messing with their phone or tablet or watching TV, and the line came to me: ‘I don’t spend my nights in a tavern like I used to.’ It grew from there. I guess it hit me that I’d finally grown up at 39.”
BoDean and the Poachers — about that name, Brandon Fox says: “I have an uncle Dean and my middle name is Dean, and BoDean became kind of a family nickname. When we first started, we decided on the Poachers because we were poaching other people’s songs. We don’t do that now, of course, but the guys said, ‘We play music that you hear on people’s front “po’ch,” so the name just stuck.” — are honing their chops weekly on the “po’ch” of the Manor House Pusb in Albany. And they’re working on that debut album.
“It’s funny, Brandon and I have kind of come full-circle with this band,” Todd Fox said. “Since our dad (Mike) taught us to play, music is something we’ve done together. And I think this is the band both of us have wanted for years.
“All of us play in other bands, and we’ll all keep doing that. But with BoDean & the Poachers, we’re creating music, writing and playing our own songs. It gives all of us a chance to create a legacy, to leave something behind.”