According to online information Joshua "JD" Wilkes was born in Texas in 1972. He later moved to Paducah, Kentucky a State where he acquired his honoury title of Colonel, something that was bestowed on certain residents associated with the State. Wilkes is a southern renaissance man best known for his musical endeavours but who is also a film maker, his Seven Signs was premiered in 2007 and is available on DVD. He is a cartoonist with his Head Cheese strip appearing in Nashville's Metromix and his work also featuring in other publications. He had a book Grim Hymns that featured his artwork and his sideshow banners can be viewed at www.jdwilkes.com/banners.htm a site that features his artwork in general.
He founded the Th Legendary Shack Shakers in the late 1990s in Nashville, playing the honky-tonks on Lower Braodway. He is now the sole original member of the band. Their album Cockadoodledon't was released on BloodShot records in 2003 though a live recording of an earlier line up was featured on Hunkerdown released on Spinout in 1998.
Believe, Pandelirium and Swampblood were released on Yep Roc between 2004 and 2007. Their most recent album Agri-Dustrial came out via their own label Colonel Knowledge in 2010.
The Dirt Daubers, the band formed with his wife Jessica have released two albums. The most recent Wake Up Sinners was also released on Colonel Knowledge in 2011.
JD is a compelling frontman, a formidable harmonica player and musician, a distinctive singer and a rewarding writer and a honest interviewee. On his trip to Dublin with The Dirt Daubers Lonesome Highway presented these questions to him.
As the constant member in both Th’ Legendary ShackShakers and The Dirt Daubers how easy is to maintain a vision of what the both band are?
It’s easy to separate in my mind, since both bands have their own, separate, cerebral hemisphere deep inside my brain. They are separated by a synapse, with the Daubers on the right, the Shakers on the left.
However, logistically, it can be tricky to “open up for yourself” night after night. And it’s tough keeping people hip to the differences between the bands too. Oh well. They’ll learn one of these days.
The Shack Shakers have had numerous members and you mentioned when we spoke that the band now has a new lead guitarist, can you fill us in on that?
Rod Hamdallah is our new guy. He stepped in after Duane hopped off to play with Mike Patton’s Tomahawk project (and a new project with Einsterzende Neubauten members).
Rod’s great! He’s got a bluesy, old soul that fits better with 95% of our material. So expect to hear a more rockin’, bluesier/swampier sound from us in the future.
It would appear that, although the bands have members in common, the Dirt Daubers are a separate parallel entity rather than a side-project. Is that your intention?
It’s just easier using people you already know who are good. Finding full time musicians, or “lifers” is a tall order. LSS and DD have enough common musical roots that we can get away with such a thing. And yes, the Daubers are a separate-but-equal act.
Have you any intentions to explore southern culture in any formats other than music following the film Seven Signs having done your cartoons as well previously?
Actually, I have more of the same...loaded up and almost ready to fire. New short films on southern musicians/visionaries have already been shot and are in the editing process. And Grim Hymns 2 is ready for printing, once some funds come in. No new media formats, just music, art, and film. Isn’t that enough?!!
Do the Shack Shakers have any intentions to record in the near future as you’ve written a bunch of new songs?
I have a whole record written for LSS. More swampy goodness and southern gothic lyrics. A bit of weirdness thrown in. You know how we are. It’ll be out late this year, early next year.
The Dirt Daubers old-time music still seems to edgy for some traditionalists, is it hard to get past the gate-keepers?
Screw ‘em. Old Time fans have already morphed into being as bad as Bluegrassers. Funny how they don’t realize that, in Old Time music, it was quite “authentic” to be “wrong”...to play whatever and however the heck you wanted. There were no rules (except maybe those imposed by the limited technology of the day.) Hell, if it made a noise and there was enough whiskey flowing, it was music, by God!
“What’s that? A jaw harp and a pump organ? Let’s jam!”
Looking back over the many fine albums and great gigs you have done what stands out for you?
Favorite records: Cockadoodledon’t and Swampblood.
Favorite gigs: Robert Plant tour, Bla Rock in Tromso, Unit D in Tulsa.
What would you rather forget?
Certain “former members”, if you know what I mean.
Agri-dustrial suggested a weary eye on the way rural/urban divide was heading. Do you still keep abreast of the political undercurrents in the US?
Yes, but Jessica helps remind me to not pay too close attention. What can I do about it anyway? I’m just waiting for the Big Meteor to hit.
Both your bands have developed a strong set of fans but how difficult is it for either band to reach a wider audience?
It’s difficult getting the right management. Seems like we’ve had a few duds in our days. Thank God the strength of the live show is what it is. That is what continues to propel both bands, frankly.
Despite the problems do you find your creative energies still need the music to express or exercise yourself?
Yes, but I have other outlets. Old Timey banjo playing is what consumes me now. Sometimes it distracts from my other interests and I’m sure I’m driving everyone nuts in the van.
You have built up a loyal following in Europe is that something you want to expand on?
Heck yeah. Especially England, Ireland and Holland. Those places are crackin’ for us, I tell you what.
An early champion was Robert Plant who had you support him on tour. Do you keep in touch now that he lives in Austin?
Not really, but his oldest friend and sound man is a very good pal of the band. They all have places in Nashville too, I think.
How do you feel that the hillbilly underground is developing, there seems to be a lot of bands out there now?
It’s great as long as the song writing is literate. The whole point is too embrace what’s fun and wild about southern/Appalachian culture while still upholding its spiritual, lyrical and artistic integrity. Otherwise it’s just a belligerent parody that confirms the worst of those “Deliverance” stereotypes.
It’s about being a “wise fool”. Don’t forget about the “wise” part, though.
Any you have seen that have taken your fancy?
Ummm, how many times have I mentioned “Pine Hill Haints” over the years? Am I allowed to mention them again? Oh yeah, and I love “Serious” Sam Barrett, the English ballad singer from Leeds. The two tour together frequently.
Do you like the direction that Hank3 is taking his music? In some ways his two sides are already reconciled in the Shack Shakers.
I like that he’s pushing the envelope in an experimental direction. It’s not too terribly listenable to most folks (although I love auctioneering, I worked at an auction house for a year and it’s music to my ears) But, to most it’s challenging so, as a result, he’s got my respect.
What are your hopes for the future of both bands and given that you are doing joint gigs is that an ideal package, or is it hard to do both on the same evening?
As I said, it’s tough. We might need to put more distance between the two. Dirt Daubers should be seen as a parallel band, not a “side project.”
When can your fans expect to see you in person or on record next, or is that too early to say at this point?
Soon enough. Hopefully we’ll have a new record when we return this April. I think you’ll love this new guitarist’s take on things. Personally, it gives me goose bumps.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.
Interview by Stephen Rapid. Photograph by Ronnie Norton