JD Wilkes

JD Wilkes and the Shack Shakers have an amazing body of work.

I’m very fortunate in my career and personal life. I have had a path that has placed me in the lives of many interesting people. This I will credit to help keeping me an open-ended person.

It becomes hard to have a preconceived notion about what people are supposedly like, including myself, in an odd way. When I think I’m tapped out and I’ve got no more left in the tank, the accomplishments of inspiring figures are the Duraflame log I need to keep going.

The life of JD Wilkes is a great example of that. He is a tremendous force as a vocalist and front man for the Legendary Shack Shakers out of Kentucky. He is also an author, filmmaker, instrumentalist and a bona fide Kentucky colonel. People like JD are an inspiration to all aspiring artists and creative types looking to test their own limits.

The following is an excerpt of a conversation I had with JD Wilkes a few years ago, after the Shack Shakers show in Lancaster. After finding it again, the dialogue struck a chord with me in this present time. Hopefully by sharing these stories, they will inspire others to follow their passions.

Jesse: After getting to experience the Shack Shakers live for the first time, I’ve been learning about the various artistic projects you have going and the list of artists you’ve played with as a musician. Has this work ethic always been with you or has it developed over time?

Wilkes: I go in spurts. It’s not a steady stream of constant work, but I will never turn down an opportunity that comes along. I’ve been at it 20 years or more, so anyone’s accomplishments would add up over that much time. But yes, I’ve always been ambitious, yet super distracted by other interests and flights of fancy. I’d be a lot further along if I was just good at one thing and one thing only.

Jesse: Do you have a specific practice routine for all of your talents?

Wilkes: I don’t practice as a discipline, I just play a lot because it’s fun. Anything I’m into at the time, I tend to go overboard with. I have these little obsessions that come and go. So when I “practice” it’s really just me sinking hours into something I’m really excited about. It never feels like work.

Jesse: Among your many accomplishments, you’re a Kentucky colonel. Can you tell us about how that came to be?

Wilkes: I was nominated in secret by another colonel, who told the governor about my contributions to Kentucky’s arts. Specifically, harmonica music I recorded for a public radio piece on Stephen Foster, of all things.

Jesse: Can you take us through the process of writing “Barn Dances and Jamborees Across Kentucky?“

Wilkes: I took off on several excursions around and across Kentucky, taking along a notebook, a computer and some harmonicas. I tried to locate as many of the old barn dances that were still going on, sit in with the musicians, jot down my notes and type it out later. There are so many spots out there I have yet to document. Luckily, I can update my book with each reprint!

Jesse: In what ways has growing up and living in the South influenced your artistic vision that you couldn’t receive from anyplace else?

Wilkes: The South is uniquely rustic, traditional, obstinate and yet multi-racial/cultural. There was a natural “hot house” flourishing of culture that went on there, despite what Hollywood tells us. Bluegrass, Rockabilly, Old-time, Piedmont Blues and New Orleans jazz are all examples of cultural interplay. Our cuisine is an example of that, too. All of this makes us the secret envy of the world, which is why they disdain us. I also like the isolation the Appalachians once provided. It acted as a deep freeze of old Scots, Irish and English sayings. Also accents, folklore and ballads.

Please do yourself a favor and check out the Legendary Shack Shakers and JD Wilkes’s amazing body of solo works, today. Currently, his latest solo album, “Fire Dream,” is out now.

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