Four-Ring Circus: Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers, July 4 at RIBCO Print
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 01 July 2009 14:36

Th' Legendary Shack ShakersIf you want to know what Th' Legendary Shack Shakers sound like, just take a look at some of the band's album titles: Hunkerdown, Cockadoodledon't, Pandelerium, Swampblood. Three recordings compose the "Tentshow Trilogy."

Those all evoke something dirty, humid, hot, rough, rural, fevered, and unwashed -- all valid descriptions of the Shakers, who will be playing an outdoor Independence Day show at RIBCO. This isn't a band that hides behind obscurity; it delivers on the obvious promises of its name and its album titles.

The band's next record -- due out early next year -- is titled AgriDustrial, and singer and harmonica player J.D. Wilkes explained in a recent phone interview that the term reflects the sound of the band with new guitarist Duane Denison, who is classically trained but is a veteran of the Jesus Lizard and (with Mike Patton) Tomahawk. "He's playing all this hillbilly music with us, so I don't know what he's thinking," Wilkes said.

He said that Denison offers "industrial rhythmic patterns," while Wilkes is responsible for the roots-music core. "When we combine the two, that's where you get agricultural meeting industrial sounds, the collision course there ... ," he said. "We had to make a new term to describe it."

Download Embed Embed this video on your site Interview with J.D. Wilkes

He further compared the alchemy to "the sounds of rural industry captured in the music, just like Johnny Cash played train rhythms." The result, he said, is "more rustic, agrarian, edgier -- more cinematic and engrossing."

That sounds all highfalutin, but it must be noted that the Shack Shakers mostly produce a roots ruckus -- fast and loud. Think The Reverend Horton Heat dragged out into the country and stripped of his fancy clothes.

"The music is pretty traditional," Wilkes said. "If anybody breaks down one of our songs, it could still be covered by a bluegrass band. ... We just give it ... an edgier texture and a louder presentation than most roots-music bands. We're still playing basically acoustic instruments -- a hollow-body guitar, an upright bass, a drum kit, and a harmonica. ... It's just that we're amplified."

Wilkes (given the honorific of "colonel" by Kentucky's governor) added: "We always want to remember that we're song-and-dance men and entertainers as well as artistes. We're there for the audience. We're there to sell beer ultimately."

Wilkes, in particular, has earned the band's "legendary" title as a live performer, but he's quick to praise his bandmates. "It's a four-ring circus," he said of Shack Shakers' live show. "No matter where you look, there's something going on."

Despite his wild reputation -- his antics have often been compared to Iggy Pop's -- you can sense in Wilkes an erudite man. His formal training is in art, and he directed a documentary film called Seven Signs that concerns a culture being steamrolled by technology, sprawl, and cultural globalization. Made in response to Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, the movie was his attempt to capture a culture that is fast being lost.

"We've made an honest movie about folks that are genuine and authentic and uniquely Southern and uniquely philosophical and talented and worthy of celebration," Wilkes said. But he emphasized that it's not about the South: "That's just the microcosm that we set the movie within."

He called all the members of Th' Legendary Shack Shakers "Renaissance men" -- "We dabble in a lot of different things," he said -- and said the group has a long-range plan that involves being less tied to corporate interests such as record labels.

"You might as well be self-employed in every single way that you can," he said. "That's the way you're going to make your money."

Th' Legendary Shack Shakers will perform an all-ages outdoor show on Saturday, July 4, at RIBCO. Meth & Goats, Mondo Drag, and One Night Standards are also on the bill. The concert starts at 8 p.m.; tickets are $10 and available from

For more information on Th' Legendary Shack Shakers, visit

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