A dark Southern Gothic dissonance rings loud in the rockabilly music that comes out of Kentucky. After hearing that swampy twang and those strange folky vocals, it’s easy to tell it’s coming from deep in the heart of the Bluegrass State.
J.D. Wilkes and the Dirt Daubers’ music comes laden with that unique Kentucky sound. They will play a show Thursday, August 14th, at the Ocean Grill and Tiki Bar in Carolina Beach.
The brooding, wailing sounds of his harmonica and his deep, moody lyrics color the album-titled track “Wild Moon,” (“Dark was the day when the creek swept away/The babes of our Anabaptist home/‘Neath a wild moon of alabaster bone”). He and his band have no desire to change their music to become a Nashville Top 40 country artist. J.D. is truly an artist of many trades (he’s illustrated cartoons for comic strips, filmed a documentary on southern music and culture). He’s played blues harmonica for Merle Haggard, John Carter Cash, Mike Patton, and Hank Williams III.
J.D. jumped into the music industry with his first rockabilly blues band, the Legendary Shack Shakers. They toured regularly, starting in ‘95. They blasted off after releasing their second record, “Cockadoodledon’t,” in 2003. It had enough sweaty, rock ‘n’ roll attitude to propel their name.
J.D. continued playing with the Shack Shakers until 2012 when the band decided they needed a hiatus after their backbreaking 16 years together. “It can be tough and grueling on the road, and you have to be determined and make it into a science,” J.D. says. “If you don’t do that, it is hard to keep going. You really have to be prepared to look at it like you are a working musician—not a rock star.”
After playing with the Shack Shakers, J.D. knew he wasn’t finished. He already had been playing regularly with a new band that had a slightly new flavor. It consisted of his wife, Jessica Wilkes, Rod Hamdallah (a former member of the Legendary Shack Shakers), and drummer, Preston Corn. They dubbed themselves “The Dirt Daubers.”
The raw rockabilly troupe came together unexpectedly after a kitchen jam session between J.D. and his wife. She played the mandolin while he picked the banjo.
“We were just having fun,” he recalls. “Out of nowhere, I got contacted about an oppurtunity to go to London to show a movie I had just made called ‘Seven Signs’ (a documentary film which played at London-based Raindance Film Festival). They were going to give me two free airplane tickets. I could bring my date or whoever I wanted, but part of the deal was that I had to play some music and entertain them.”
Realizing a solo show wouldn’t satisfy the crowd, he reasoned his wife would liven up his performance. “I talked Jessica into coming with me, and [recreating the] kitchen set we had been doing,” he says. “She was scared to death, but we had a free trip to England, so we made it happen. That is where [it] really started.”
There is a long history of married musicians on the road that just couldn’t handle it together and ended up splitting: For example, Ella Fitzgerald and her bassist Ray Brown; James Taylor and singer-songwriter Carly Simon. J.D. and Jessica are among the rare few—think Johnny Cash and June Carter—that couldn’t be happier living a life on the road together.
“Jessica and I get along really well,” he elaborates. “Honestly, when we are out on the road it is just as easy—if not easier—than playing with a lot of dudes that have been in my band.”
Originally, the four planned to be a band with a slightly different sound—a little more old-time and a little less rock ‘n’ roll—but as they continued to make music, their personalities took control. After releasing their first two albums—self-titled “The Dirt Daubers” and “Wake Up, Sinners”—with a solely acoustic sound, they decided a little electricity was the style they were missing. It was obvious to J.D. that Jessica favored a more amped rock ‘n’ roll sound, which happened to be the same tunes that resonated with his own tastes. “We took the songs she was writing and the songs I was writing, and we started putting them together,” J.D. details.
Their efforts culimanted in “Wild Moon,” which was realeased in 2013 by Plowboy Records. “French Harp Hustle” blows out a grungy harmonica ballad, that sets the mood for the whole album. The songs that follow are a well-balanced combination of tunes sung by both J.D. and Jessica.
“‘Wild Moon,’ is swampy, dark and perplexing,” J.D. says, laughing. “It is a strange record that has a strange mood when you listen to it all the way through. Don’t get me wrong, it is catchy, but it will put you into a strange, eerie place, and that is exactly what we were trying to do.”
Each track comes chockfull of emotion and personality. With the whine of his harmonica, the raw attitude in each word and the choppy guitar melodies, this record is a shady, unique twist to rockabilly that digs deep into the core of Kentucky.
With a mile-long list of old-time influences, such as Kentucky’s own Bill Monroe, J.D. Wilkes and the Dirt Daubers are a healthy dose of real Southern music, with passion packed into every squawl. Check them out this Thursday.
J.D. Wilkes and The Dirt Daubers
Thursday, August 14th, 7 p.m.
Ocean Grill and Tiki Bar
1211 S. Lake Park Blvd.