There's something about Th' Legendary Shack*Shakers. Rude but sincere, heartfelt but absurd, these Nashville rockers have been crisscrossing the country for almost a decade playing their own sweaty brand of hillbilly punk meets sneering country music to the masses. But off stage, these tattooed bruisers are anything but your typical hard-living rock 'n rollers. "For the most part, we're health nuts," says lead singer Col. J.D. Wilkes. "I've never done any drugs in my life. We pass bags of Chex Mix around in the van, for crying out loud."
Wilkes isn't joking. According to the singer, the relatively clean living helps the band earn accolades as one of America's best live acts.
"We don't do it to be straight-edge or holier-than-thou," Wilkes explains. "We live relatively clean lives so we can play our balls off in the Shack*Shakers year after year. Life on the road is hard enough without making yourself sick every night."
Trail mix and appendages aside, Th' Legendary Shack*Shakers leave it all on stage after a performance. Wilkes has been named in some press as "the last great rock 'n roll frontman." A popmatters.com review of 2007's Swampblood, the band's fifth studio album, says he "comes across like [a] traveling snake oil salesman/preacher who feels the breeze from Satan's claws on his soul."
Wilkes, whose "Colonel" is an actual title given him by the governor of Kentucky, doesn't think much of such talk.
"I really don't have to worry about all the hyperbole," he says. "People will always have opinions of whether or not we're the real deal. But no matter what people say, I enjoy knowing that everything I do on stage comes straight from the id and is authentic by default."
To Wilkes, authenticity is doing what comes naturally. Other bands within the punk and rockabilly scenes, he says, are more about attitude and clothing than actual musical ability.
"Being authentic is better than trying to live up to someone's stuck-up "punk rock' standard," he says. "We don't inflict artificial angst upon ourselves for any "street' or "hillbilly' cred points. Real pain sucks. It's not something you want to wallow in."
At the end of the day, the thing that matters to Wilkes is the music that the Shack*Shakers create, which lies somewhere at the crossroads between Jerry Lee Lewis and Jerry Only.
But the question remains, are Th' Legendary Shack*Shakers, um, legendary?
"Yes and no," Wilkes says. "We named the band with a tongue firmly planted in cheek. But whenever I get this question, I always wonder: Did The Fabulous Thunderbirds get this kind of scrutiny?
"As it turns out, we're legendary by accident. The band kept going because there's a market for what we do. Therefore, I defy anyone to say we haven't lived up to our name. Has anyone else out there bought a house with money earned from yodeling into a ham-radio microphone?
"Didn't think so."
Th' Legendary Shack*Shakers
The Black Sheep, 2106 E. Platte Ave.
Tuesday, Jan. 15, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $10, all ages; visit ticketweb.com or call 866/468-7621.