Music » Music Lead

Shack Attack

There's a whole lotta shakin' goin' on with this Nashville troupe.


The Shack*Shakers: Freaks in search of a big top.
  • The Shack*Shakers: Freaks in search of a big top.
Part Pentecostal tent revival, part theater of the absurd, part circus sideshow -- Nashville's Legendary Shack*Shakers are a greasy, southern-fried combo of gonzo blues, punk, gospel, and rockabilly, led by their irrepressible frontman, Colonel J.D. Wilkes (pictured, center). One of the most animated performers in rock, Wilkes could be speaking in tongues when he sings, so possessed is he by the rock-and-roll spirit. A stone-cold wild man, Wilkes took the time to speak to us recently.

Scene: I understand that seeing Reverend Horton Heat was an important influence on you?

Colonel J.D. Wilkes: It was one of the greatest shows I've ever seen. There was a huge mosh pit of people going nuts in front of the stage, and one dude jumps up onstage -- some dork. He goes over, tags the Rev on his butt, and hops back into the mosh pit. This pisses Jim [the Reverend] off to no end, and you can see his eyes scanning the mosh pit for this dude. Then you see the moment of discovery in his eyes when he spots him. He takes his guitar and jumps into the mosh pit, and Gretsch in hand, lands it square on the guy's noggin, knocking him out with the butt end of his guitar. He jumps back onstage and kicks into "Cruising for a Bruising." I'd never heard or seen anything like it before -- it was everything I loved -- the rockabilly, the blues, the Latin music, but loud, aggressive, and passionate. From that point forward, I knew what I was going to do with my life.

Scene: How's [guitarist] David Lee doing? I heard he got hit by a car while he was riding his bike.

Wilkes: He's fine now. He's got his new platinum teeth in, and his face is all sewn up, and he looks tougher and meaner and leaner than ever. It's gonna take more than getting hit by an SUV to put him down.

Scene: Even though you have a new album out, you're known more for your insane shows. Is performing live the best part of all of this?

Wilkes: I think recording and performing are equal in my mind. When I make these records, I get to satisfy the tinkering mad scientist in me, and then the live thing is a lot more visceral. The show is about getting people on the same page biorhythmically, and if we can't create that strange effervescence, that weird cultural, mass-hysterical catharsis, then we're not doing our job as the traveling carnival act we think we are. But people really enjoy the special moments, like when the skateboarding bulldog from Animal Planet gets up onstage and humps my leg till he comes. Where else are you gonna see that?

Scene: Do you think people have certain expectations when they come see you play?

Wilkes: Most people think we're just a common rockabilly band, and we love rockabilly -- but the thing is, every time you say "rockabilly," everybody thinks Happy Days and just that same old Fonzie rock. But that's not what we're doing. Most people are pleasantly surprised that we draw from a lot of different sources and traditions. I think a bluegrasser would like this band; I think a blues purist -- well, not too pure -- would like it. Or someone that likes theater could like this band, someone who digs the southern gothic themes that inform the band -- or if you like the way David Lee's tattoos look. There's just so much to enjoy.

Scene: I was looking at your tour schedule; you guys are playing almost every night for months. How do you keep from burning out?

Wilkes: It's the real man's way of doing things -- this is a hardworkin' outfit. But you know, we stay in our own motel rooms nowadays, so you can at least get some privacy at the end of the night, and you can go take a bath and soak your balls and do whatever you need to do to unwind. Long as I get to soak my balls every night, I can do the show a million times. Th' Legendary Shack*Shakers. With Scott H. Biram and Lords of the Highway. Saturday, April 1, at the Lime Spider in Akron.

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