The South, along with the rest of the world, needs bands like the Legendary Shack Shakers. The last two decades have seen a rise in underground bands from and representing the South far outside the way the South is represented via mainstream film or within the realm of bro-country. These are bands knee-deep in lyrical exploration and stories of history and myth from the South of the last three centuries, intelligent bands, featuring musicians that are students not only of Jerry Lee Lewis and Sun Records, Iggy Pop and the Cramps, but of William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor. That sums up rock ’n’ roll band The Legendary Shack Shakers, performing Thursday at the Balcony Backstage.
The Kentucky-based quartet is a rowdy bunch, whose sound features all the American elements making up rock ’n’ roll. Part blues, parts country and bluegrass, parts punk and rockabilly come at you while frontman J.D. Wilkes’ on-stage exhibitions continue to make fans realize that he’s one of the last great frontmen.
Rock ’n’ roll should be, and in certain places still is, dangerous. It was Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard who concerned the churches and parents of the 1950s with their music and on-stage shenanigans; punk kept that going through the ’70s and ’80s, and it remains alive in a Legendary Shack Shakers set with Wilkes leaping and contorting while intimidating audience members from the stage. The man walks a line inspired by the aforementioned Lewis and Pop, with a dash of Henry Rollins and Lux Interior.
But beyond the unpredictability of Wilkes and the crack playing and energy of the band, it’s smart music in a rowdy and loud package labeled “Southern Gothic” for its lyrical content, and “rock ’n’ roll” for its excitement, power, sweat, emotion and all-around delivery. Its tales of cockfights and quarrels, coal mines and demons all via song.
“This is hillbilly rock ’n’ roll. Southern gothic refers to the lyrics,” said Wilkes in a recent interview. “A lot of it is cultural, folklore, the mysticism of the South, but not necessarily the stereotypes of the South. That’s where I draw the distinction: the spirituality, the mysticism, the things you perceive but you can’t put your finger on. Not the trailer parks, not the Pabst Blue Ribbon, truck driving stereotypes. Let Hollywood do that, let the other bands do that, I’m more interested in the force of nature that possess Jerry Lee Lewis and Hasil Adkins and Charlie Feathers to do what they do.”
It’s a sound that continues to be right up the alley of the world’s 50-something punkers or anyone interested in getting a dose of an aggressive musical revival. As fans of heavier music continue to also discover the work of classic American rockabilly and country, bands like The Legendary Shack Shakers are welcome additions fitting a country-inspired need of aggression.
“It’s the punk rock retirement plan,” said Wilkes. “As music gets worse and worse in the mainstream, people start digging deeper and deeper for the good stuff. Hopefully, they’ll come across one of our records.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. [email protected].