Dirt Daubers to clean up at festival
Written by By COLE CHRISTENSEN/Sentinel Staff Writer   
Wednesday, 25 August 2010 13:38
Colonel J.D. Wilkes is something of a stage legend. As the lead singer for the outrageous alt-country-rock group the Legendary Shack Shakers, he has been called one of the last great rock and roll front man.
Onstage antics (including cartwheels and the occasional nun-chuck demonstration) combined with firebrand and near prophetic musical preaching approach what he defines as near circus sideshow levels in live shows around the world.
So, knowing his current approach to live music in the Shack Shakers, one might be curious what persona Wilkes takes on in his non-Shack Shakers life. The answer undoubtedly rests with his side project the Dirt Daubers.
The Dirt Daubers were formed on a whim for a live concert at the Raindance Film Festival in London England, at which Wilkes’ debut his award-winning documentary film about Appalachian life called “Seven Signs.”
The festival organizers asked for live music in exchange for airfare and hotel, and unable to bring the entire Shake Shakers outfit with him, Wilkes turned to his wife Jessica and a bass playing friend for a quick one-time tour.
The success of that gig, and a growing need to explore his roots as a Kentucky musician led Wilkes to formalize the Dirt Daubers into a touring and songwriting second band.
“My wife had never played in front of people before and we were very rough around the edges, but I talked her into it and we went over there and had a great time and it ended up being a big hit,” Wilkes said in a recent telephone interview. “A few months later I approached our agent about picking up the Dirt Daubers and booking in between Shack Shakers tours and they went for it.”
The Dirt Daubers represent a 21st Century incarnation of Kentucky musical traditions that have been in place for decades.
Calling on the rustic, plaintive sounds of depression era old time musicians and the haunting melodies and lyrics of those times, Wilkes leads his trio on driving clawhammer banjo, harmonica and vocals, nearly channeling legends like Dock Boggs and Roscoe Holcomb.
“We are more into the spirit of that old time music,” Wilkes said. “It is not so much of a quirky or ironic choice, we are generally obsessed with it and love it. Our grandparents grew up singing that type of music around the house.
“It is nostalgic yes, but it is also haunting and timeless,” he added. “There is no tongue-in-cheek whenever we are playing.”
With his wife on mandolin and Shack Shakers bassist Mark Robertson on upright acoustic, Wilkes takes a decidedly calmer approach to his music in the Dirt Daubers than his alter-ego with the Shack Shakers.
Less stage presence, less antics and more focus on producing traditional and new timeless music.
“It is the softer side I guess of the Colonel,” Wilkes said. “I think if you were able to strip away all of the shenanigans and turn the volume down on the Shack Shakers you would hear the Dirt Daubers. The way I write a Shack Shakers song is the way I write a Dirt Daubers song... but there is less of a need to blow people’s minds.”
Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 August 2010 14:01

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