Chris Muhlbauer grew up in the rural area of Manning, IA. He picked up the guitar at 10 and took one years worth of lessons. Having grown up listening to his parent’s love of country, polka and big band music, Chris purchased songbooks by the entertainers who had influenced in the day such as John Denver, Eagles, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. In 1995 Chris performed in a live Branson, Missouri style show. Playing a variety of country music that featured guest artists, comedy and several featured singers within the band he was a member of. It was a great experience because he learned a lot about production and playing to a captive, theater audience. After a four year run in the same theater the production disbanded and he took up playing acoustic duos with his lead guitarist. In early 2015 Chris discovered The Beatles. “I was a late bloomer when it came to The Beatles. I knew their hits but I had no idea what a fantastic band they were until I started buying their albums.” Later that year, Chris’ duo added bassist Tom Murphy, who at the time was playing with another local artist. Quickly the trio started to add Beatles songs into the sets. It didn't take long before the three started to think that it would be a great experience to perform ALL Beatles songs. The trio became a quartet and Rocky Raccoon was born. Chris brings his theatrical experience, stage presence and naturally strong vocals to the band. He specializes in lead vocals, background vocals, rhythm guitar, harmonica and even some bass. Pretty similar to John, huh?
Tom is a rural native of northern Iowa and was brought up on his mother’s love of big bands and his father’s infatuation with Johnny Cash and their mutual love of polka! Until he accidentally (wink) switched the channel on his Mom’s radio and heard the opening riff of “Revolution!” His eyes were opened to a new sound and a new direction. By age 14 he was proficient on guitar, keyboards and drums. Being a self-taught musician he became a bassist by necessity when his first band’s bassist refused to show for rehearsals. So literally his fate as a bassist was sealed in the drawing of a short strand of spaghetti. In the summer of that year Tom was profoundly influenced to do a Beatles Tribute band after experiencing the original show “Beatlemania” on Broadway. He immediately started trying to recruit other musicians to work on his dream of a Beatles project. After many years of denials Tom started working with local classic rock and Top 40 bands until professionally touring with different variety bands of the time. However, he still held onto the dream. It wasn’t until 2015 while working with an acoustic trio with Chris Muhlbauer that Rocky Raccoon was formed. Excitement in the project and a demand for it quickly grew as the band moved through a few incarnations of ideas and formatting. In his 40-year career, he has become one of the most premier bassists from his area. There is no bass line too much for Tom and he hears "the funk" in everything! With five albums and a decent number of singles by various artists under his belt, he is setting out, with dream intact, to go even further with Rocky Raccoon; "A Celebration Of The Beatles.”
If you asked Scott, he’d say he couldn’t remember the first time he was visited by extraterrestrial life – the beings from distant galaxies who helped guide him on his path of musical righteousness – or perhaps that’s ‘right-on-ness’. (They were pretty groovy aliens.) But he does recall his first band, a progressive-metal group called Divided Sky, based out of Philadelphia, PA. He recorded two albums with them and shaved down a lot of drumsticks. Afterwards the mystical beings told him he should switch from drums to keyboards, and form a spastic avant-garde band called Now Soon Nowhere. He complied, and they recorded two full albums and an EP. Perhaps he’d never felt so enlightened, but those sultans of space swing had more surprises up their collective yarmshaws (that’s sleeves to you and I). Soon he would join Tub Ring, a band from Chicago he had been following for many years, and together they toured the country and recorded an album, “Secret Handshakes.” When his cosmic spirit animals determined this, too, had run its course, he was directed to the like-minded Polkadot Cadaver out of Baltimore, MD, and in this formation there was much touring, writing and recording, as well as some hi-jinks with the fine folks of the Canadian border patrol. Much time was spent doing this (the writing, touring and recording, not getting into trouble with Canadians), and it resulted in the album “Last Call In Jonestown” and a devilishly delightful Xmas EP, “From Bethlehem to Oblivion”. There was also a strong push around this time from Scott’s otherworldly overwatchers to put his efforts into solo material, and between 2012 and 2015 he released three full length solo albums, starting with the dark pop of “Former Ghosts,” moving through the textured sounds of “Heathens,” and finally into the ultra-geeky pop of “All Stations.” But nothing lasts forever, and when it was decided to move on to new scenery, Scott was directed to Des Moines where, after working with a handful of local cover bands, he found a home in Rocky Raccoon. The aliens, it seems were not only groovy, they were Fab.
A native of Indiana, Jim Tharp started playing the guitar at the age of nine when his parents bought him his first crappy Harmony Stella guitar, even though he’d begged for one as early as five years old. The Beatles had just hit at that time and George Harrison was a major factor in his desire to learn the guitar. By the time he got his first proper electric guitar Jim had began intently studying guitarist such as: Jimi Hendrix, Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple, Pete Townsend of The Who, the many guitarist of Steely Dan, Jeff Beck, Johnny Winter, and of course Eric Clapton. He always says, “It was Eric who taught me to play the guitar even though Eric was never aware of it.” While Eric played in Cream, Jim constantly listened to him play and wore out many of their records by picking up the stylus and repetitively moving it back and forth in order to nail his guitar parts. Jim has many years of live playing experience with various classic rock bands throughout the Midwest. Jim brings his quirky sense of humor, professionalism and rock attitude to Rocky Raccoon!
Photos by Dean Birkheimer - Photojournalist of GoVenue Magazine
Brian isn’t sure whether he chose to be a drummer or whether the drums chose him. Regardless, it happened at a very early age, neither could pinpoint exactly when it started, and the partnership has been going strong for over 30 years. After tearing through several kiddie drum sets as a youngster, Brian joined a drum line at age 7 on the snare drum and continued drumming through high school in marching band, concert band, jazz band… well, pretty much every school band that existed. Brian started playing the drum set around 13 years old, and was incredibly fortunate to be born to two musicians. In fact, his first gigging band was with his mom on bass guitar/vocals and dad on guitar/vocals playing classic country music (George Jones, Merle Haggard, etc.). Although he was a fan of the Seattle bands that were popular at that time, Brian spent countless hours in headphones playing along with John Densmore (The Doors), Ginger Baker (Cream, Blind Faith), Mitch Mitchell (Jimi Hendrix Experience), and of course, Ringo Starr. In the summer before his senior year of high school, Brian met an aspiring singer/songwriter in a nearby town, which began what would become his first original music endeavor, the Athens, Ohio-based genre-spanning jam band, Peach Melba, recording three albums and performing countless shows in the Midwest and east coast. Brian moved to Iowa and started reaching out to local musicians in early 2016, eventually joining the Ankeny-based rock and roll powerhouse, Brother Bailey. Needing more live music in his life, and being a huge fan of The Beatles, Brian jumped at the opportunity to be the new Ringo in Iowa’s premier Beatles tribute band, Rocky Raccoon: A Celebration of the Beatles!