Don’t blame it on The Stray Cats, but when rockabilly became forever entangled in the tattooed arms of punks everywhere, a new breed of rocker was born. Nashville’s Shack*Shakers get down in that goop, kin to the crazed, duck-tailed early rock ‘n’ rollers and those who fetishized them, from the Cramps right on down.
In the flesh, Shakers ringleader Colonel J.D. Wilkes careens around the stage, shaking through songs with a microphone the size of a carburetor. He’s coaxing onlookers, the barker at a sideshow, the music a tight second to Wilkes’ carny flair and injury-defying acts. He sings through box fans and yank his underwear over his head. Circus tricks, all.
Meanwhile, let’s be careful not to let the punch of this original American music–rockabilly and its mutations–get lost in the hustle to dress it up as an undefined mélange of styles.
Back in 1985, a guy named Jim Heath started a band in his native Dallas, where he decided to morph out of his straight-ahead punk background. When Heath decided to start, as he told me in a Birmingham bar years ago, “doing the Reverend Horton Heat,” he took a turn that many bands have: that is, to encapsulate their music in a larger-than-life package. His mold has proven resilient, as have the Shakers, with unsuspected commercial and creative opportunities and endless world tours abounding.
The crowds most adore these bands’ live electricity, as the records don’t compare. Our own Southern Culture on the Skids does this best, backing up its characteristic hillbilly front with hooky songs and a focus on a specific period worth emulation. So, too, the Shakers need you there in person. Otherwise, you may have to depend on someone telling you how they’re such a great “Southern” band. And let’s face it: What kind of stupid description is that?
The Legendary Shack*Shakers play Kings on Friday, June 23 with Willie Heath Neal and The Malamondos. The shaking starts at 10 p.m.