The Legendary Shaker Shakers plan to shake up New Orleans as they take their latest American gothic songs out on the dark roads from Kentucky to California, and back again.
Described by Rolling Stone Magazine as “akin to witnessing a gospel revival or even a snake-handling ceremony,” the Shack Shakers are a musically fearless Deep South mix of punk, rockabilly, country, bluegrass, and gospel.
Bandleader J.D. Wilkes hails from Kentucky, but it was Louisiana’s music, in its many forms, that set him on the road to fronting one of the most original Southern Gothic bands to ever slither and stride out of the bayou, and onto the world stage.
“I lived in Louisiana for six years when I was a kid,” said Wilkes. “Cajun and Zydeco music was what got me into this in the first place. As a little kid, they got into my system. It was uncontrollable, and it all goes back to Louisiana.”
As a child, Wilkes remembers being fascinated by the music of an elderly musician who would play for tourists on the steps of St. Francisville’s old plantations.
“Scott Dunbar had to have been born in the 1800s,” said Wilkes. “So he was this throwback – this real primitive old-school bluesman – kind of on display in this weird exploitative kind of way. But I was glad that I got to see that – because there was power there.”
This musical fascination with the past, and how it relates to the present, fuels Wilkes’ songwriting and permeates the band’s music. While the Legendary Shack Shakers are often described as Southern Gothic, the actual gothic aspects are found in the lyrics of the songs as well as the music, said Wilkes, born as they both are out of the harsh realities of South’s agrarian past, and the shadowy world of Americana folklore.
“The gothic aesthetic is finding beauty in the grotesque,” said Wilkes. “So, lyrically, we are Southern Gothic because I do find beauty in the harsher realities, in the grittier aspect of the South. We are a melting pot, so there is this love-hate, push-pull relationship between the races and the classes. But something fascinating comes out of that. There is beauty that comes out of those grotesque dynamics. There is great art, great music, and great cuisine – more so here than anywhere else in the country – because we are in the thick of it.”
If the Shack Shakers’ latest album, The Southern Surreal, is rooted in old and new Americana folklore, the band’s live performance channels transcendental states more commonly found in religious revivals, pagan ceremonies, and raves.
It is this state of transcendence that fascinates Wilkes, in both a musical and a philosophical sense.
“What you hear in the old musicians from east Kentucky and north Mississippi, Deep South Mississippi, and the Louisiana area – the bluesmen – was trance-inducing,” said Wilkes. “The music was primal – it wasn’t sanitized like it is today. It would transport them and lift them up out of their poverty to a place where they could just exist on a higher plane. We try to conjure that kind of mysticism.”
More information is available at The Legendary Shack Shakers