Interview: Th' Legendary Shack Shakers' J.D. Wilkes

posted March 30, 2009

by Jason O. Sinard
Photo by Joshua Black Wilkins

Th' Legendary Shack Shakers' J.D. Wilkes

J.D. Wilkes has been called "[t]he last great Rock and Roll frontman" by Jello Biafra of The Dead Kennedys and "the closest thing there is to the Ambassador of Genuine Traditional Southern Culture" by Alarm Magazine. Now Wilkes discusses, among other things, his band Th' Legendary Shack Shakers and their forth coming record "AgriDustrial."

Hi, how are you?

I'm fine, thank you.

What have you been up to lately?

I've just been recording the latest and greatest Shack Shakers record ever: "AgriDustrial." I'm feeling rather upbeat about it, too, so you've caught me at a good time.

Tell us about the Dirt Daubers...

For fun, my wife, Jessica, and I started playing on banjos and mandolins together last year, jamming around the house and just working up a few songs to pass the time. Before we knew it we were in London playing the Raindance Film Festival at an aftershow party for my film "Seven Signs." Secretly, the whole gig was our way of Trojan Horsing our way into a free trip to London. What's more, Les Claypool, of all people, was in attendance and said we sounded "great." So Jessica and I decided to keep on playing out in public. Which we do.

When should we expect a new Legendary Shack Shakers album?

"AgriDustrial" should be out later this fall. Ask for it by name.

Now that the "Tentshow Trilogy" has been concluded, should we expect a new sound or subject matter?

Our upcoming CD actually tries to pave entirely new ground within the Roots/Americana genre. We're trying create a new sound which blends rustic elements with industrial rhythms.

Sound strange? You say it can't be done? Well, country artists, like the very highly-regarded JOHNNY CASH, had a "train rhythm" (read: "boom chicka chicka...") which is a perfect example of early industrial music. So we thought we'd explore the outer limits of this concept by capturing the clanking sounds of rural industry, but still have it come out sounding hummable and catchy.

What about The Dixiecrats? Any planned releases?

We've got more tunes in the can, but we intend to release them one 7" at a time. Stay tuned to

Describe the sound of Th' Legendary Shack Shakers for anyone who may not have heard them yet.

Bluesy, rootsy rock and roll with even more of a penchant for Old Time and Bluegrass elements nowadays. Duane Denison (our guitarist) is playing around with something called "prepared guitar," which is basically: puttin' stuff in the strings. Wires, saw blades and bits of metal wound through the strings to create a weird metallic/percussive effect. It's totally raw, rustic, organic and awesome.

There are religious overtones to a lot of the Shack Shakers lyrics. Is faith an important part of your life?

It has to be. Given the crap state of affairs nowadays, how can you not just throw up your hands and beg for help? I like to riff on religion, not rip on it. I've always enjoyed poking a little fun at false prophets and charlatans. Religious, political or otherwise.

Where do you stand in the arena of politics?

I'm what you might call a caveman conservative. But I find myself being more liberal in areas like conservation and some libertarian issues. Both parties are corrupt, so I don't vote. I just bitch. Which is fine. We're all screwed.

Who inspires or inspired you musically?

Little Walter, Howling [sic] Wolf, Tom Waits, Louvin Brothers, Dock Boggs, James Harman, Roscoe Holcomb. My grandpa gave me my first harmonica. That helped me get started too.

What do you do during your free time while on tour?

Lotsa comics and jamming with the Dirt Daubers, who, by the way, have Colonel "Slow" Layne Hendrickson slapping the gut-bucket bass. See us at a town near YOU.

Anything you'd like to add?

?Por que las sombras crecen mas largas?