The Colonel, Mustered

Time I wrote one of those well-researched, considered posts like Earl does, but with no references to Barthes or any of that cheese eating surrender monkey BS.

The good Colonel (and he IS a Colonel, a Kentucky colonel, despite being a Texan by birth) JD Wilkes has been mentioned round these parts before, but it’s about time he got some proper writing. And there’s a lot to cover. Earl says he’s a polymath but I wouldn’t know about that. He is, for sure, a film maker, harmonica player, singer, comic artist, “proper” artist, writer and pretty much the most maniacal, astonishing, committed frontman I’ve ever seen.

First saw his “main” band Th’Legendary Shack Shakers at a weird little festival on the banks of the Tyne about 2007 or so. Playing to a tiny crowd on a windy day at the ugliest end of an ugly carpark, the band hit the stage at full speed and got faster. Relentless, furious, funny as all hell. The Colonel himself is just a ball of twitchy, whip-thin energy – pulling faces, striking poses, catching his own spit in his mouth, a bug-eyed lunatic cross between Iggy and a sideshow barker. Fair to say, they kicked Newcastle’s ass.

He’s an interesting, complicated guy who seems to have a similarly complicated relationship with the South, with religion, with politics. Calls himself a “caveman conservative”, but then goes on to let you know he isn’t really. Sticks confederate flags on album covers and writes songs about The Lost Cause but you figure he’s no kind of redneck – he’s smart as hell and got a lot of book learning and thinking going on.

The Shack Shakers came out of Tennessee at the butt end of the 90s and have just got better and better: the Colonel is the only original member, and it seems he kinda hates rock and punk music except for the energy, much of his influences coming out of his religious upbringing. He still has some kind of faith, it seems, (“Given the crap state of affairs nowadays, how can you not just throw up your hands and beg for help?”) so gospel and church music joins the polka (seriously, polka is a big deal in the States, and up until this year it had its own Grammy) and country music of his youth. So you get the band bringing rockabilly and punk to his old timer approach and you get music – and stage presence – like this:

They lost Big Joe Buck a while back (the tattooed psycho guitarist who also played pretty much everything else for a while), but he’s been replaced by Duane “Jesus Lizard” Dennison, so that’s okay. They’ve moved away from the hill-/rocka-/psychobilly of their early stuff, it’s both harder and weirder now, and they’re calling it Agridustrial, which seems about right to me.

Th’Legendary Shack Shakers – Iron Lung Oompah (Pandelirium, 2006)

Th’Legendary Shack Shakers – Blood On The Bluegrass (Cockadoodledon’t, 2003)

Th’Legendary Shack Shakers – Dixie Iron Fist (Agridustrial, 2010)

Then there’s the Dirt Daubers, who are his more old-timey, bluegrass project with his wife Jessica. ‘Slow Lane” Hendrickson did play bass, but he quit to become a blacksmith. They put out an album on Arkam Records back in 2009, it’s lovely and you should get it.

The Dirt Daubers – Black Eyed Susie

The Dirt Daubers – On The Front Porch

There’s another band too, The Dixiecrats – the Colonel, some Los Straitjackets, probably a bunch of other guests before too long, releasing singles on Spin Out Records. Just the one so far – I’ve got it, it’s great, I can’t rip it so you’ll have to buy it here.

The Colonel is a mean harmonica player too. He’s played for Merle Haggard, even.

Then there’s Seven Signs: Music, Myth & The American South. A few years back, the BBC sent male model turned country singer Jim White touring round the deep South with a Virgin Mary statue in his trunk to make a documentary about how damned weird it all is. The documentary – Searching For The Wrong-Eyed Jesus – had some fantastic music (Handsome Family, Johnny Dowd, Cat Power), some appearances from Harry Crews, some great contributions from singing country sisters, gospel acts and the like, and we all had a great time watching it. It had David Johansen being really damned annoying too, but no matter. But the way I heard it, it got perceived as a bunch’a English know-nothings indulging in painting the South as a clusterfuck of backwards redneck hayseeds. Again.  (Rich Hall covered similar ground in his fantastic documentary The Dirty South, although there it was the Yankees getting the blame).

Anyway, seems the Colonel felt the same and came up with Seven Signs, a documentary that some fancy-Dan writer said was “a profound, empathetic statement that celebrates the eccentricities and traditions of an increasingly marginalized area of America.”

THIS fancy-Dan writer says it’s a great movie, full of art and imagery and lots of great music, including Jay Munly being alarming and Slim Cessna’s Auto Club being amazing. You should watch it.

And then there’s ALL the other stuff. He’s a comic and graphic artist –

And he’s keeping alive the old style of sideshow banners too:

He’s a helluva guy.

~ by stagger lee on February 26, 2011.

One Response to “The Colonel, Mustered”

  1. Thanks! Love the Colonel and his many projects!

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