Music Reviews

Roy Orbison

Roy Orbison

The Last Concert December 4, 1988

Eagle Rock entertainment

Someone once said “Every show is your last show” and for Roy Orbison that show took place in lowly Akron, Ohio in 1988. After half a century of setting the standards for pop and rock, Roy Orbison and his trademark dark glasses left us with a legacy of standards that populate nearly every “Best of the ’50s and ’60s” disc plugged on late night TV. It’s not clear if this recording was planned as part of a live concert disc, or if it was just made for archival purposes. The sound quality is acceptable for a live show and it doesn’t appear to have undergone much post recording sweetening. Of course, with Roy out of the picture they really couldn’t loop much, but the playing is flawless as are the vocals. However there is a sort of flat quality in the sound — it’s hard to pin down exactly what’s missing and that’s why I think this is the real deal, taken right off the master mix board. Possibly it’s the room acoustics, perhaps just the vagrancies of any random performance, but Roy’s voice is clear, and his falsetto three bars into “Only the Lonely” shows he still had all his vocal chops.

His show seems short with just 14 tracks the liner notes claim are in the show’s running order, but he covers the big hits and adds a few nice obscurities. “In Dreams” floats along languidly and reminds us all of why Orbison became the king of lonely love songs. There aren’t any bad cuts here, and highlights include “Blue Bayou” and a very sad “Cryin’.” “Candyman” picks up some unobtrusive female backing vocals — the girls are in other cuts but very hard to notice. There aren’t many upbeat cuts here, but “Ooby Dooby” adds some rockabilly piano and on “Lana” it sounds like he finally got that date he’s been moping for for the last 10 tracks. Showman that he is, he keeps his biggest hit in his back pocket and ends the show with a rousing “Pretty Woman” (it’s the only cut with audience whistling in the middle). It’s not the best “Pretty Woman” I’ve ever heard him do, but it’s not bad. The Last Concert is a solid set of music and a must for the diehard fan, but I feel his studio work is better than this live collection. Faint praise, but praise none the less.

Eagle Rock entertainment:


Imelda May

Imelda May

An interview with the “Golden Girl” of the 52nd Grammy Awards

During the 2010 Grammys — and in the span of about two minutes — an Irish siren and a British axeman did more to spark interest in American music history than any domestic artist has in quite some time.

Imelda May and Jeff Beck’s heartfelt essence-channeling of the late, unbelievably great Les Paul and Mary Ford’s “How High The Moon” not only dispelled any fears of a Joe Satriani-Yngwie Malmsteen hard rock interpretation of perhaps, “Vaya con Dios,” it brought the house down. Among all the modern trappings found at the Grammys, the duo’s completely “old school” presentation must have had the most veteran of roots-rockers shedding tears of joy.

While Beck’s spot-on nod to Les was amazing, it was May who owned the stage that night. With a voice and presence that shone even more brightly than her fabulous gold dress, this seasoned, yet relatively unknown singer paid Iris Summers (aka “Mary Ford”) a glorious, long-overdue tribute.

It was the most sensational U.S. television debut imaginable for May, whose overseas popularity jumped month-to-month in 2008-09 as her rockabilly/jazz/blues album, Love Tattoo, caught on like wildfire in the UK and Europe.

After years of honing her craft in Dublin nightclubs, London burlesque theaters and every venue in between, Imelda May is more than ready. She’ll be opening for British jazz-pop artist Jamie Cullum on an American tour in March, and she is going to make a big, big splash. Gene Vincent, Big Maybelle, Howlin’ Wolf, Eddie Cochran, and Peggy Lee are coming back to the States — and all crammed into one pair of stiletto heels.

Imelda May has it all, and then some. In a glamorous gown or Mamie Van Doren capris, May exhibits a sultry sexiness and style, countered — or perhaps enhanced — by a grounded, girl-next-door personality. She has a white-hot band of hepcats behind her, including ace guitarist-husband Darrel Higham. Most of all, May has the pipes. Boy, does she have the pipes. But you don’t have to take my word for any of this; check out her video for “Johnny Got A Boom Boom” or the live clip of her and Jeff Beck performing the Shangri-la’s “Walking in the Sand.”

Taking a break from mixing her next record, Ms. May recently spoke to me from London. Somewhere between my incessant flattery and her chuckling at my incessant flattery, we managed to ask and answer some questions about her big night, and about her impending U.S. invasion.

• •

This tribute to Les and Mary was so honest, it was simply awesome.

Thank you! Both myself and Jeff were thinking in dress rehearsals, “We don’t have any dancers or acrobats or anything like that”… we thought it might be a nice contrast to everything else at the Grammys — which has evolved into something huge. We thought it might be nice to bring it back to something simple. Though it wasn’t too simple — obviously, Les Paul wasn’t simple. I pre-recorded some vocal tracks, and sang on top of ’em, like Les did with Mary Ford. Although I think they did a hell of a lot more multi-tracking than we did.

To be honest, without Les Paul doing what he did, they wouldn’t be able to have these big shows. So it was a great honor to be able to sing a song that (Les and Mary) made so popular — and do it with Jeff Beck at the Grammys. It was a triple whammy for me, you know?

How long was this duet in the works?

Not long… I think I heard around Christmastime that it might be happening. But then I heard it might not happen, that they might want Jeff to play with some other guitarists or something — like, “Let’s get all these famous guitarists together to do it.” But Jeff, he fought tooth and nail for it, to get that song on the program, and to have me sing it, as well. He definitely wanted to do a Les Paul tribute in “the Les Paul way,” if that makes sense.

So, we only had definite confirmation a week or so beforehand. And I’d only performed “High High The Moon” once before with Jeff, at The Indigo in London. We’d been in his kitchen one night, jamming around… I can’t remember who started playing it first. And then we did it at The Indigo. So we hadn’t had a lot of rehearsal, but we knew it because we loved it.

You looked fabulous. When I asked some friends if they’d seen you and Jeff on TV, they replied, “Are you talking about the girl in the gold dress?”

My friend made that for me! My bass player’s wife is a great dressmaker; I’d described to her what I wanted, and had that made for my band’s 20O2 gig in Dublin at Christmastime. When the Grammys came along, I had to wear something good! I was rooting through me wardrobe and said, “This will do.”

Did you run into any interesting people at the Grammys?

To be honest, I didn’t get to meet very many people. Backstage at the Grammys is mayhem, absolute bedlam. Jeff and I sat down to watch the show for a while; Quentin Tarantino was sitting nearby, I thought that was pretty cool because I’m a big fan of his.

I got in the queue to have my picture taken; obviously no one was going to know who I was. There was a girl carrying a placard with my name written on it, walking in front of me like I was in a boxing match or something. I was in the queue between Pink and Mary J. Blige. At one point I was squished between somebody and Alice Cooper doing an interview, I thought that was pretty cool. Everybody was very nice, but I didn’t meet as many people as you would think. But of course I was with the best, I was with Jeff Beck!

I imagine your performance sparked some interest?

Oh, yes. When we flew home the next day, my manager had hundreds of emails and calls. It was really crazy, in a good way.

Your family must be really proud.

Oh, everyone — my family, Darrel’s family — everybody’s so proud of me. We were on the news in Ireland for being on the Grammys! I’m so delighted… where I’m from in Ireland — I’m getting calls from people I know there, “I know you’re doing this for all of us.” And I am. It’s a nice feeling. People have said they’re proud to say they’re from the same area as me — The Liberties (section of Dublin). That’s so nice of them.

How long has this association with Jeff Beck gone on?

It’s been about two years ago, now. We were doin’ a gig with Jools Holland, and Jeff was there to see Jools. We met backstage, and he asked us back to his house. We jammed all night, and then he said, “God, I’ve got to get you to sing for me.” It was quite nice of him. Bit by bit, we just worked together.

You’ve recorded some songs for Jeff, I understand?

There are two projects: he worked on an album for Darrel, and I sang a couple of songs on that. That’s not released yet, though. I sang some songs for Jeff’s new record (Emotion & Commotion), which I think is coming out soon. I sang three numbers, and I think he picked “Lilac Wine” — it’s beautiful, with a fantastic orchestra. It sounds absolutely gorgeous. And I think he added an extra track, “Poor Boy,” which we recorded at his house. It was a “live” take. It’s a favorite song of mine that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’m a big Howlin’ Wolf fan. We were just jamming around, and he pressed “Record.”

I read that you played a handful of shows in the U.S., what, about a year ago?

Not even a year ago — New York, Chicago, L.A., some little rock clubs. I love to do that sort of thing. I’ve been gigging a long time — 19 years now — and it’s all gone wild now. Especially in Ireland and England, the gigs get bigger and bigger all the time. So when we went to America… it was like starting from scratch, playing little clubs again. It was great.

How many times have you been to the States?

Not many, three or four times is all. I went to New Orleans and got to hang out with Dr. John for a little bit, which was fantastic. I got to open for him in a great club. I love New Orleans… a fantastic place, very inspirational.

It may seem ironic to some that an Irish singer and an English band can play authentic American roots music so well. But Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, old blues, old country has always been in fashion over there, hasn’t it?

Absolutely. My husband’s a huge Eddie Cochran fan, actually. A few years ago, he got invited to tour America with Eddie Cochran’s band. He got a lot of insight into Cochran’s life and such.

It’s quite weird, the relationship that Ireland and England have with American roots music. Of course, there was the big revival of blues in England in the ’60s — the Rolling Stones and all that. And American rock ‘n’ roll has always been popular there.

In Ireland, we lean more towards the bluesy, country side of it, I think… traditional Irish folk music obviously influenced country music over in America — similar rhythms and patterns, similar instruments, too. And the blues — it’s similar to old Irish singing, as well; close your eyes, toss your head back, and throw your heart and soul into it, you know?

Perhaps it’s a good thing to have your “big break” occur at this point in your life, rather than when you were just starting out.

Absolutely. I’m delighted that it’s happened this way. For me to have been singing for many, many years in tiny clubs in Ireland and England — it’s given me a huge amount of experience. Fantastic memories, brilliant nights… I’ve learned from some of the best, guys playing for years — traditional Irish, country, blues, rock ‘n’ roll, all kinds of music. I’ve been able to sit and watch these people, who have been playing for a long, long time.

I think that’s the best way you can learn music, the best music education you can get. Some kids think about going to a college to learn music… that’s not a bad way, but it’s not the only way. I’m glad I learned the way I did — sitting in on gigs since I was 16 years old. You can’t top experiences like that.

And it gives me a lot of fodder for writing new material; I’ve lived a bit.

Is there anyone you’re fond of that you’d like to meet on your upcoming tour?

Oh yeah, quite a few. I’d love to meet Etta James and B.B. King. When we went to Chicago, we went to Buddy Guy’s place. He was sitting at the bar; I got so excited, I wanted to go say hello to him… but I decided to leave him be. He didn’t seem to be having a good night, and I didn’t want to ruin the rest of it by being a big fan and all. But I talked to someone who knew him, later, and she said I should have gone and said hello, that he would have liked that.

So hopefully, we’ll get back to Buddy Guy’s place, and hopefully he’ll be at the bar, and hopefully I can work up the courage to say hello.

Imelda May:

Music Reviews

The Pine Hill Haints

The Pine Hill Haints

Ghost Dance


The Pine Hill Haints’ brand of Alabama holler country might seem, on the surface, to be an odd inclusion on Calvin Johnson’s lo-fi twee-pop heavy label K Records, but a little digging into the band’s sound reveals songsmith Jamie Barrier as a good, uncomplicated pop writer. Keeping things in the dawn of the 20th Century, The Haints’ driving sound is a hootenanny complete with washtub bass, washboard percussion, and singing saw melodies. There are some unfortunate tendencies to turn their ramshackle sound into acoustic versions of Irish punk sing-a-longs (“Garden of the Dead”), but at its best Ghost Dance recalls the rolling rocksteady train rhythm that Johnny Cash made famous (“Spirit of 1812”) or the dust-scored anthologizing of Harry Smith (“Ol’ White Thang Blues”). Not too shabby for the 21st Century.

K Records:

Print Reviews

Punk 365

Punk 365

by Holly George-Warren

Harry N. Abrams Books

I’m not all that familiar with the premise of the 365 Series of books – taking in all manner of subjects from penguins to Andy Warhol – I attempted to flip through the only other music tome in the series, the one on the Beatles, but I about broke my fucking wrist trying to pick the goddamn thing up. However, what makes that bad for a Beatles book makes it excellent for a punk book since the heavy fucker can’t help but contain at least 100 awesome pictures, at the VERY least, right? The numbers are on my side, surely? Right, actually. Though there are still a few bugs to be worked out of the system.

Listen, I’ve made it clear that I’m increasingly tired of all of this punk nostalgia and navel-gazing that this year is centered around the anniversary of “God Save The Queen”. It’s melting my brain and fossilizing some of my favorite records. However, that’s where – to some extent – Punk 365 succeeds – it’s all imagery. AND most of the images still have the ability to inflame and inspire in equal measure. It’s like quick flashes of alien brilliance. Try and tell me that Siouxsie and Devo and the Cramps still don’t make you sit up and take notice — even in a 21st Century when visual and sartorial taboos are falling like dominoes.

This particular collection of photos is well curated by one Holly George-Warren (pictured at the end screaming along to Athens legends Pylon, well done), whom I recognize from many a Rolling Stone byline, and who is joined in forward duties by Richard Hell, member of groups like Television, the Heartbreakers and his own Voidoids. As far as I can tell, George-Warren’s duties included the frankly unenviable task of choosing 365 photos to represent several decades and at least three major cities worth of punk action. And then, of course, annotating each photo, which I’m thinking would be a major pain in the ass because so many of these shots are damn near fucking lyrics — you could go at them from a hundred different angles (ha ha pun, I suck). Let me say this, in the hands of a less capable and judicious historian this book could have been an unmitigated disaster, in fact, this book should have been a disaster, but George-Warren elevates it far beyond content and stylistic restrictions. First off, she knows her punk, seemingly inside and out, and includes generous imagery of underserved subgenres like NO-WAVE, the rockabilly re-revival, Two-Tone, and the Masque scene. Second, and I was banging my head up against this in an earlier piece, she goes out of her way to include women in the official canon of punk outrage. Bands/artists I didn’t think would be in here but pleasingly were include the Raincoats, Jonathan Richman, Richard Meltzer, (Lester Bangs), Pleasant Gehman, Delta Five, the Screamers, Cabaret Voltaire, Bush Tetras, and Crime and the City Solution/MC5. My favorite shots are far FAR too many to enumerate without sounding like I’m reading the fucking phone book or something (though I have to rudely interrupt myself and say that I’m thrilled that there were so many pictures of Cramps undead-stick-figure Bryan Gregory), but suffice to say, all of the icons are here as well as the true iconoclasts and even those who just wanted to join in and make an unholy din. Which is as it should be.

For the most part, all credit to George-Warren, the book is tightly packed brilliance, though there are some jarring clunkers. Why are Madonna and Cyndi Lauper and the Beastie Boys in there? I understand that a tortured connection can be made between them and punk (attitudes maybe) but it really doesn’t pass the smell test. And, just off the top of my head, why not include Crass or the Electric Eels or Christian Death or Alien Sex Fiend or the Descendents? Was this down to editorial mandate? On some level I guess it’s like picking 45s for a jukebox, there is no way that you can please everyone. And punks do love a good argument, so have at it! If you need me, I’ll just be in the corner, lovingly gazing at the photos of Lydia Lunch and Johnny Thunders and Stiv Bators and the Gun Club and….

The image is eternal. Art’s not dead!

Harry Abrams Books:

Music Reviews

Lullabye Arkestra

Lullabye Arkestra



Even the most cursory listen to Lullabye Arkestra’s Ampgrave betrays how far Constellation has come from it’s staunchly instrumental post-rock beginnings. Consisting of bassist Katia Taylor and Do Make Say Think’s drummer Justin Small, the duo are all about genre hybridization and dialectics. The opener “Unite!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” plays out like an amalgamation of post-harcore, metal and a mariachi sprawl of horn punctuations in the raging chorus shouts. “All I Can Give Ya” kicks some of the inclusiveness to the curb and settles into a dusty bar room groove for Taylor and Small to trade lonesome and coy banter while backed by a cooing choir. “Come Out, Come Out” does it one sweeter, quashing the pathos and rage for a delicate, communal invitation fronting a driving beat and bright piano melodies. The organ-rich funeral waltz “Hold On” does white-boy blues right: pleading, fiery and thunderous, but the group’s other foray into the territory, “Y’Make Me Shake,” veers into Jon Spencer blooze, that unfortunate stepchild of the blues where drunken, spiritless testifications (mostly by white singers) are confused with emotionality. It’s a momentary lapse in judgment, but it’s still enough to remind listeners of all the sonically under-developed guitar-and-drums duos out there beating the R&B horse, and that we don’t need bass-and-drums acts following suit. Lullabye Arkestra’s strength is in keeping things either simple or weird and flirting with the pulse of indie rock circa ’98 is doing neither. Luckily, the gonzo “Ass Worship” plays the part of redeemer, building in a cacophonous swirl of riffs, chugging horns and fist-pumping chants of “Hail! Hail! Rock and roll!” It’s a testament to many things, but certainly not the blues.

Constellation Records:

Music Reviews

Jake Brennan & The Confidence Men

Jake Brennan & The Confidence Men

Love & Bombs

Yep Roc

Every few years, a record label trots out a new pretty boy, their latest hope to revive roots rock. The most recent of any significance was the utterly useless Pete Yorn, who has since been allowed to slip back through the cracks into obscurity where he belongs. 2005 will be the year Yep Roc offers up Jake Brennan as a replacement. Brennan would seem to fit the bill for this profile: former hardcore kid who’s ditched his up-and-coming band to go solo with rockabilly, proto-punk and country material, who’s affected Elvis Costello and his nasal baritone as his vocal muse. Truth be told, Brennan’s debut is more accomplished than it has any right to be. This is largely due to the learned hands helping guide the project through its three day recording session/party. Assembling a roster that includes Scott Janovitz, Eric Barlow and Jimmy Ryan among others, allows Brennan the latitude to pilot his songs much more confidently than if he’d enlisted alt. country neophytes.

Love & Bombs isn’t a revelation by any means, but it handles its mixture of driving rock and downtrodden country well enough to entice listeners of both genres to enjoy the album as a whole. The greatest intersection of rock and country happens to occur on Brennan’s shining songwriter moment “Believe Me.” Lead by a beautiful mandolin melody and acoustic strum, the song’s vocal hook is inescapable. I haven’t heard a song more worthy of radio airplay this year. In comparison, the rest of the album falls short, especially “In My Stepdad’s Truck,” a forced, overly sentimental ode to the hedonism of the good ol’ days.

The initial pressing of the release includes the bonus DVD Singer Songriot, a half-hour documentary detailing the album’s recording sessions. It’s only of cursory interest, considering Brennan’s limited career. Perhaps when/if he stages the roots rock revival it’ll gain relevance, but for now it seems a bit egotistical for a debut album.

Yep Roc:


Tiger Army

Tiger Army

In the short span of one year’s time, California psychobilly band Tiger Army have gone from playing small clubs, to supporting Social Distortion on a high profile tour, to headlining a tour of their own. I sat down with the man responsible for the music, Nick 13, before their Orlando show at the House of Blues, to find out a bit more about the nuances of Tiger Army.

• •

“Nick 13_1”

First of all, I love the new record…

Thank you

I notice it’s a lot slower than the one before that, is that intentional?

Yeah, I think so… I think it was intentional to some degree, I definitely am proud of all of our albums but I felt with Power of Moonlite that there were certain subtleties that existed in the songwriting in my mind that didn’t make it to the record, and a lot of that was because it was played so fast that there wasn’t room for that stuff to physically fit. So that was part of the thing with Ghost Tigers Rise, that I wanted to play the songs at a speed that I could actually include a lot of those subtleties and nuances that are in my head other than just having them glossed over on the record.

So you write all of the music as well as the lyrics?


Wow. And I’ve noticed you’ve gone through a lot of bandmember changes after what with happened to Fred [Three years ago drummer Fred Hell was shot several times when he walked in on a burglary at a friend’s apartment. Fred miraculously survived, but still has a bullet lodged in his head.] Is he gonna be coming back to the band, eventually?


He still has that bullet in his head?


God. That’s insane… Has it been going well with the new guys?

It’s been great. The first tour we did with this lineup [was] last September when we went on tour with Social Distortion, and I think… Well, it’s funny cause I say “the new guys” but at this point this lineup has done 75 shows, or something like that. So they’re not that new anymore. But anyway, Jeff and James have done an amazing job, and I’m actually happier than I’ve ever been with how the band sounds.

“Nick 13_2”

That’s excellent. Actually, I saw you guys when you were here with Social D. last time, and that was really cool because I had tickets for the night that Social D. cancelled and you and The Explosion went ahead and did a free show for everybody when you could’ve just taken the night off. What made you decide to do that?

Well, I had a really good time when we played at The Social in Orlando, about a year ago now. Orlando is probably my favorite place to play in Florida, and I felt that it would be a fun show — ’cause it was a really fun show at The Social. So we went ahead and did the show, and it was really cool. I think everyone had a good time anyway.

Oh yeah, everyone was bummed that the show was cancelled and then everyone got to come inside and have a show. Another thing I’m curious about is, what are your influences? Was there any one band or artist that made you say “I wanna do that!”?

Gosh, I don’t think there was any one in particular… Maybe The Ramones, they were definitely really important in my guitar playing. Johnny Ramone’s guitar style was so simple yet so cool. Ya know, when you’re a little kid you might be into something that you hear on record, on the radio, but the idea that you could play that — something that’s slickly produced and mastered and instrumentally advanced — it doesn’t seem realistic that you could play that. But there was something about The Ramones that was definitely really cool, but there was nothing going on instrumentally where you thought “I could never do that.” That was kind of an inspiration to pick up the guitar and try to it myself, I think.

“Nick 13_3”

And what made you go the rockabilly/psychobilly type of route?

Well, I think that a lot of the punk bands that I was initially drawn to, the 1970s/early ’80s bands from both the U.S. and England, that have that kind of connection with the original 1950s rock ‘n’ roll. It came through in their spirit and their sound. Definitely The Ramones, the Sex Pistols — stuff like that — and I think that and the fact that I always loved the ’50s rock ‘n’ roll I heard growing up. I saw punk as an extension of the same thing. So a little later on, when I was a teenager, I went back and kind of explored some of the roots of that — the original rockabilly artists. Basically as far as psychobilly goes, when I started hearing some of the psychobilly out of Europe it seemed like a very natural combination of the stuff that I was already into.

Cool. Well, I don’t want to take up much more of your time.

No problem.

So, have a good show.


Tiger Army:

Music Reviews

Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers

Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers


Yep Roc Records

Take all of the rockabilly bands that are out there today — and there are a lot of them — and throw them into a river. Most are gonna sink straight to the bottom, because they’re filled with nothing but garbage. A precious few will float to the surface, inflated with the air of inspiration. One of these bands will be Nashville’s Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers. They’ll surface, grab a paddle and sail right on down the murky waters, spreading their delta-punk, southern-fried rockabilly sound all across the land.

The first time I had ever heard of the Shack Shakers was when I saw them open for surf-instrumentalists Los Straitjackets. Thirty seconds into their set, they had completely upstaged the headliners. No offense to the Straitjackets, but I could have gone home perfectly satisfied after the Shack Shakers’ set. One part punk, one part hillbilly, one part polka and one part carnival sideshow — these guys are in their own musical category. File under: Shack Shakers.

On their latest effort, Believe (their first on Yep Roc Records), they deliver a mouth-watering selection of their many musical styles. Opening with a train whistle and then moving into a polka called “Agony Wagon,” it should be apparent that this is not your average rockabilly record. It’s got a bad ass blues rock tune (“Piss and Vinegar”), a murder ballad that could rival Johnny Cash (“County of Graves”), a Patsy Cline country song (“The Pony To Bet On”) and a hillbilly tent revival song sung through a CB radio (“Cussin’ in Tongues”). They even make room for a Sonny Boy Williamson/Willie Dixon cover, “Help Me.” Somehow all of these styles come together and blend into one of the best records of 2004.

The Ringmaster of this crazy circus is Colonel J.D. Wilkes. The songwritin’, blues-harp playin’, chest hair yankin’ frontman who could be the lovechild of Iggy Pop and Jerry Lee Lewis. He is also the artist responsible for the unique artwork on the album’s cover. The man’s talents know no boundaries.

If you’re hungry for something a bit out of the mainstream… Something new that sounds like it’s been around for decades… Something strange and wild, yet musically tight… Buy this CD! And then go see their live show!

Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers:


Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers

Colonel J.D. Wilkes of

Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers

…has something original to say

“Colonel J.D. Wilkes” You may think you’ve never heard Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers, but if you’ve seen the Geico commercial with the gecko riding in a car listening to some odd but catchy song on the stereo — then you have heard them. The tune is called “The C.B. Song,” off their second release Cockadoodledon’t, and it’s a good example of the Shack Shakers sound — a little Country, a little Punk, a little Blues, even a little bit of Polka thrown in. “Southern Gothic” is a term often used to describe the end product of this amalgam of influences, or “Junkyard Carnival Punk” as their bio suggests.

Based in Nashville, Tennessee the eclectic band of Shack Shakers are comprised of Colonel J.D. Wilkes on vocals and harmonica, David Lee on guitar, Mark Robertson on upright bass, and Paolo on drums. Each member adds a layer of color to the technicolor spectacle that is “the Colonel,” who transforms from the shy, quiet country boy that enters a room discretely, to a raging ball of sex and chaos the moment he hits the stage. It’s this Jeckyl and Hyde performance that makes this band, and Wilkes in particular, so damn fascinating.

Having previously toured as the opening act for bands like Reverend Horton Heat and Los Straitjackets, Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers picked up enough fans along the way to hit the road for a headlining tour of small clubs in support of their third release, Believe. The album is their first for the Yep Roc Records label. I caught up with lead singer Colonel J.D. Wilkes before their show in Winter Park, Florida.

• •

What was your first band?

It’s always been the Shack Shakers. It’s just been different versions of different guys coming through, but it’s sort of a reformed group with a new full head of steam. When it started we were playing rockabilly and blues, experimenting with roots music — just trying to learn it all. It was like our way of investigating, almost like a college course we were taking, starting from scratch with the Sun Studios sessions, learning all about rockabilly 101, country music 101, honky tonk, and hillbilly and all that. It was our valentine to the music. Our first couple records were pretty shakey, but it’s been 10 years now, and we’re a lot more creative in creating our own hybrid instead of relying on what’s been accomplished by others. We feel confident now about striking out on our own to put out something original for a change.

Do you all have different influences? You grew up listening to a lot of Chicago Blues, right?

Yeah. The other guys came from a punk angle, which is kind of foreign to me. I was never attracted to punk rock, I didn’t understand it, it just never sounded musical to me. But they’re helping me understand what it was all about. The aggression, and the power that’s behind that, but it — like blues — is a primitive form of music. It’s passionate three-chord music, it’s caveman music, that’s what I like about most of the music that forms this band now.

So what kind of punk have they turned you on to?

Well, like, the other night we went and saw Jello Biafra with the Melvins…

Wow… How was that?!

It was great…what a showman, and to find out that he’s a fan of us was really cool. We were in San Francisco and he showed up at our gig, and we showed up at his — it was like a mutual thing. It’s really neat to see someone performing charismatically, and not caring — I mean, caring enough for his audience to want to perform, but performing exuberantly. Like, not really caring how silly he comes across. That’s what I kind of like about my favorite singers and performers that are out there.

I read a quote from Jello where he referred to you as “the last great frontman in rock ‘n’ roll today?”

That’s hard to believe, but — yeah — he said something like that.

That’s quite a nice compliment.

Yeah, it is. Now that I know where he comes from… I mean, David and Mark — he’s been a hero of theirs since childhood… Anyone saying that… well… it’s an overstatement, but it’s flattering to hear.

“Colonel and his harp” Your performance seems to definitely come from the same type of place.

I think that punk rock didn’t invent that though. It goes back to the song and dance man… Elvis had it, and Jerry Lee. And the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz comes to mind — the physcial comedian, and singer, and dancer… and Emmet Miller… Those days it was about entertaining the masses, the blue collar masses. it was low brow entertainment and that’s what punk rock is, that’s what roots music is — it’s primitive music for human beings.

What do you think of the renaissance of rockabilly. At least locally, in Orlando, there are so many rockabilly bands and I don’t think that they all know where it comes from.

That’s definitely a problem. I just wish people could be comfortable in themselves enough to take their influences and create their own thing, even if it means parting with the fashion sense. Even if it means, ya know, incorporating something you wouldn’t expect. Instead of just learning covers and doing it the way Johnny Burnett did, or Cliff Gallup did, or Elvis… always just seems to be the same three influences, too. I love rockabilly, but it’s not what we’re doing. I don’t consider us to be that — it came out of that scene, and it’s important for everyone to learn that, but you have to be familiar with what they were listening to before there was such a thing, uh , ya know, roots music. Look into your blues music, hillybilly music, country music, polka — it’s all what informed them, and if you’re just taking what the end results of their experiments and not doing anything with it, than what’s the point? If I want to hear Carl Perkins, i’ll just stick in a tape… what are you doing, what do you have to say about it?

We don’t do rockabilly covers and there’s no hiccupping vocals, and there’s no echo… We’ve got a heavy metal drummer and blues harp. It doesn’t make sense on paper, but the spirit is there, the spirit that informed the original guys. Rockabilly was this catch-all term for people that were playing around with roots music, the folk music of their time, they were folkies in their day. They didn’t all sound the same. Carl Perkins didn’t sound like Roy Orbison and Johhny Cash didn’t sound like Jerry Lee Lewis, they all had their own unique style. It was the press that gave them that generic name, so don’t let that generic tag limit you. Close your eyes and, with your own sensibilities and psychologies, come up with your own hybrid. There’s no need to be true, or pure with an art form that started out wild and rebellious. That’s the antithesis of rockabilly in the first place.

Cause it’s been done.

Right. And a lot of these people get so bogged down- rockabilly nazis, i call ’em — the pompadorks [laughs]… although that’s also a term for our fan club. It’s a self deprecating term I use, cause I consider myself to be one… but the original people that term was created for, they get so distracted by the history of it all, that they miss out on the here and now and what they can contribute. It’s like, be brave, or just don’t do it, don’t play music. There are so many bands already, just go away [laughs].

“J.D. and a fan” If you can’t come up with something original to say, don’t say anything at all.

Exactly. That should be the headline. That’s it, in a nutshell.

So. I’m curious about your interest in Circus Sideshow Art. How did that come about?

It’s really hard for me to remember what triggered it other than, I remember there was this episode of the Andy Griffith show where the medicine show came to town with the professor, or the colonel, or whatever. Also the Wizard of Oz, Professor Marvel’s sideshow and curiousity. I really like that scene where Dorothy’s in this voodoo counter, cabinet of curiousities — we even set up our merchandise to look sort of like that scene, with the skulls and the candles. So I guess it was scenes in movies and TV shows that first hooked me to it, and there’s something very Southern Gothic about it and I’m very into that vibe. It’s a bittersweet thing for me, born out of pain. That’s what the southern experience has been — the music, the literature, and the art that’s come out of that has a tragic/comedy quality that I can relate to in a way.

So it’s like a connection to your Southern Pride?

Not like “Southern Pride” as a redneck sort of thing. It’s just, I’m proud of where I come from in that I love the traditions and the mysticisms and the spiritual elements that cross cultural dynamics reveal through art and music, the sideshow, tent revivals, murder ballads, folklore… The Andy Griffith show has an episode of every one of ’em which I think is cool of him since he had creative control — there’s a freak show, medicine show, haunted house. Every kind of archetypal southern gothic image, he found a way to find humor in it. I know it’s silly to talk of the Andy Griffith show, of all things, but things like that I found myself drawn to — these certain kinds of shows, rotting my brain out. Now TV is pretty much worthless to me. I prefer the old variety shows because that’s the living legend of vaudeville. David Letterman, the Tonight Show, Conan O’Brien — that’s the closest thing to vaudeville we have today and they’re about all I watch… that and The Simpsons. They even had a medicine show episode where Grandpa Simpson’s a Colonel [laughs].

Speaking of “Colonel,” did you give yourself that name or how did that come about?

That’s a real title, giving to me by the Gov. of Kentucky. A lot of southern states have a honorary designation of “colonel.” Where people that are into arts, charity, or something admirable, or in the spotlight are recognized by the governor for their achievements. It’s not like getting a key to the city, but it’s along the same lines. It’s the same sort of honor, but it’s so much more common place in Kentucky, there are lots of Colonels.

You grew up in a lot of deep south states, right?

Yeah, I was born in Texas, and raised in Kentucky, we also moved to Louisiana and I went to school in Mississippi… I been all over. A lot of the cool stuff I missed out on cause I was too young, like I wasn’t privy to the old blues guys in Lousiana. but you kind of soak it in. There’s something in the environment that exudes it in a way… the swamps… For the most part I’m having to retroactively reimagine my time spent in the South and idealize it in a way. I mean, I was growing up in the ’80s, it’s so different than what it used to be in the ’40s, and ’50s. Things aren’t as innocent anymore, but it’s those innocent moments I’m always looking for. I like quaint, and the innocence of the Old South. I’m not into this modern version of southern gothic — celebrating trailer park pride, Jerry Springer dysfunction. To me, that’s redneck, I’d rather concentrate on the mysticism, the superstitions, the folklore, the dynamics buzzing around, there’s something electrical about that, and I think that the band is a lightning rod for that. To try to conduct those mystical forces. I’m up for the challenge of that.

Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers:

Music Reviews

Billy Bacon and The Forbidden Pigs

Billy Bacon and The Forbidden Pigs

Still Smokin’ After 20 Years

Triple X Records, Swine Song

How did I ever miss this guy? I’m no expert on Tex-Mex rockabilly, but this guy is GOOD and he’s been at it for 20 years. If I heard him on some specialty college radio show, I missed the back announcement. Billy Bacon is a vaguely cartoonish looking chubby guy with a guitar and a sound that smells of beer and cheap whiskey, two of the four corners of good rockabilly. (What are the others? Cheap women and bar fights, silly boy.) We blast out of the gate with “Una Mas Cervaza,” Billy’s story of using his guitar and extremely limited Spanish to win over a hostile barroom. Clean and elaborate production abounds, nota bene “Clown” — he wants to go back, but I don’t think she’s going to take him in. That’s rockabilly, all right.

Billy Bacon doesn’t just have a good back up band, but friends up and down the dial. They hang out and play with the likes of Joe Walsh, Mojo Nixon, Michael Doucette and a dozen other uber hipsters. Influences come from all over, but the summation is a mellow blend of upbeat blues and country, danceable and drinkable, and well worth tracking down.

Billy Bacon and The Forbidden Pigs: