Botanical Roots Feat.
JD Wilkes & The Dirt Daubers
w/Old And Dirty
7:30 p.m. Friday, July 25
1100 S. Calhoun St., Fort Wayne
Tix: $6 d.o.s.,
Children under 12 free with adult
Botanical Roots Feat.
JD Wilkes & The Dirt Daubers
w/Old And Dirty
High-Octane Kentucky Blues
When a dedicated artist takes up the pen or the brush or a musical instrument and puts every ounce of commitment, he or she has into it, we’re impressed. Sometimes, moved. But JD Wilkes of the Dirt Daubers (and founding member of The Legendary Shack Shakers) isn’t satisfied with simply chasing the muse down one path. No, this howlin’ harmonica player/banjoist/singer from Paducah, Kentucky is also an accomplished artist, a filmmaker and even a published author. Oh, and he’s a Kentucky Colonel, too (look it up). You can watch this tireless Renaissance man and his band put on an entertaining, high-energy show when they hit the Botanical Conservatory on July 25.
When asked to describe his current combo, Wilkes offers a simple answer: “Basically, the Dirt Daubers is a band I’m in with my wife.” That would be Jessica Wilkes, who plays bass and shares singing duties with JD, whose musical credo is, “Whatever we’re into, that’s what we play.”
The talented quartet began as an acoustic-based, rootsy band but has upped the ante with its most recent release, Wild Moon. “We’ve gotten more rockabilly and, more recently, more rock n’ roll,” he says. Much of that same blues/country/swamp-rock DNA is shared with the Shack Shakers, a supercharged punkabilly juggernaut that’s been tearing up stages since the mid 1990s. After a two-year hiatus, the Shack Shakers will be hitting the road and working on new music this fall. In the meantime, Wilkes is enjoying the freedom the Dirt Daubers allow him.
What can the Summit City crowd expect at this show?
“You’ll hear lots of the new record plus some Shack Shakers tunes and some covers. And you might hear some of the old-time Dirt Daubers songs with banjo. It’s a hodgepodge, you know? I have musical ADD, is what it boils down to,” Wilkes says. “Jessica will play bass while I’m singing, and when she’s singing, I’ll play bass. We like to switch it up and keep it interesting.”
Wilkes’ artistic inclinations started early and branched from art to music from there. “Early on, I was into art, drawing pictures and cartoons. I still do cartoons and satirical caricatures – comic books, things like that. It’s my first love,” he says. “Then I discovered music going into my teenage years. I gravitated more toward blues – Chicago blues, country blues, that sort of thing. So I learned harmonica, and it gave me an outlet. But I was always drawing; I was always one of those kids drawing in the corner. I’ve always had those things going for me.”
Before the blues fully grabbed him, a young Wilkes was mesmerized by a close cousin, musically.
“The very first time I heard anything like that was when I heard a zydeco band,” he says. “We were in Louisiana for a while in the 80s. We actually lived right on Highway 61 for a long time. We went to Baton Rouge, to this part of town called Catfish Town, and I first heard this music. As a 12- or 13-year-old boy, I just couldn’t stand still, I was enjoying it so much ... I was dancing – convulsing – there. I didn’t know what had come over me.” Then came the fateful hook. “I remember, after we’d moved back to Kentucky, my dad was playing some Muddy Waters in the car,” Wilkes recalls. “It was the tune ‘Mean Red Spider,’ and I just loved it. I didn’t know what this music was. It was the 80s; you didn’t hear anything like that on the radio. My dad said, ‘Well, I’ve got a bunch of that stuff if you’re interested in it.’
“He was an old folkie beatnik from the 60s. He had Lightnin’ Hopkins, Muddy Waters, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee records in this collection that had been collecting dust.”
This bounty of blues set Wilkes on his way, and soon he was immersed.
“I started listening to these records and getting into it, and I got a harmonica and started learning how to play Like Paul Butterfield and Jon Mayall and Sonny Boy Williamson. I just kind of pieced it all together till I’d do it by heart. And play from the heart.”
The seed was planted for what would eventually turn into the Legendary Shack Shakers and, eventually, the Dirt Daubers. But where did all that punk energy behind the Shack Shakers’ sound come from? Wilkes readily points out that western Kentucky wasn’t exactly a hotbed of cutting-edge youth culture.
“I was never really into punk rock. I mean, the only thing ‘underground’ about me was my dad’s blues records. In western Kentucky at the time there was no real access to underground music other than a few local punk rock shows put on by the local bands.
“When I got my first blues band together, I wasn’t old enough to play bars,” he says, “so we would play these punk rock shows at the Elks Lodge or the Moose Lodge or whatever – ‘critter clubs,’ they call ’em.
“Maybe I absorbed some of that energy from the local punk bands. I didn’t know what ‘punk’ was. I mean, I knew who the Sex Pistols were and all that, but I wasn’t involved in it. Only a few hip punk kids in the area knew about it.”
But Wilkes had a wild card.
“I always was a clown and I enjoyed performing in front of my friends and cracking them up. I had a physical, clownish style. So you mix that side of me with the music I was playing and put it in these punk rock environments, then you can see how it came together. It wasn’t put together with knowledge about the Clash or whatever. My sense of humor is more about Bugs Bunny or Ren & Stimpy cartoons and an appreciation for the Three Stooges. That was already in me, that was already my style, so that’s how I fit in alongside this punk stuff which I was getting secondhand.
“I appreciated the way these guys would go for it,” he continues, “the meanness and the angst that’s in there. But my main objective was to crack people up and to use physical comedy as a way to exorcise my demons.”
Wilkes and the Shack Shakers firmly established themselves with consistently raucous shows and several well-received albums, and their recent hiatus freed up the frontman to examine his surroundings further and to truly explore his roots. Whether it’s researching for a film or working on a book about the history of barn dances in Kentucky or getting to the heart of the music that inspired him, Wilkes has pursued his interests with a passion.
“Yeah, that’s the curiosity in me. We’re very inspired by the folklore and Southern Gothic elements. I’m very interested in it. It can be kind of boring living in western Kentucky, but if you dig into the backstory of the area, it becomes interesting and worthwhile.”
Though he’s not afraid to meld different musical elements together, Wilkes is fiercely protective of its sources.
“It’s not enough that I just take this country music and just exploit it,” he explains. “I want to know where it comes from and interview the older generation who created it. Many ‘punk blues’ bands are just content to take elements of it and twist it around, in the way that some of these ‘sports bar blues’ bands take Chicago blues and ruin it by not knowing it from the inside out – by squaring it off and making it generic. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for that. I’m interested in the source material, the people that were there during the Depression that predate pop culture and its influence.”
With the Dirt Daubers still going strong, the artistically restless Wilkes looks forward to his other endeavors as well. His Shack Shakers will tour through the end of the year, with dates in both the U.S. and Europe and a newly bolstered lineup.
“We’re adding an organ player, so we’ll have a really full sound. I’m looking forward to that. We’ll be demo-ing some new ideas for a Shack Shakers record,” he adds. “Intermittently, we’ll be doing Dirt Daubers dates in there. I’m also writing and illustrating some fiction. I don’t know if that will ever see the light of day, but maybe at some point you’ll see that on sale on the table right next to the movie and the other book.”
When asked if his merchandise table at shows can handle the load, he laughs and responds, “Yeah, we’ve got several CDs, several 45s, three comic books, a DVD, a book on barn dances, several posters ... it’s like Wal-Mart, you know? I’m just trying to spin all these plates and keep it interesting. You only get one life.”