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The Dirt Daubers buzzing into The Glass

By Bill Lynch, Staff writer
JOSHUA BLACK WILKINS photo
On break from The Legendary Shack Shakers, J.D. Wilkes (center) is touring this summer with his wife, Jessica, in the Dirt Daubers, a rockabilly band with old-time roots. The group performs June 19 at The Empty Glass.

Fans of The Legendary Shack Shakers will be glad to know that the rockabilly and blues band will return from hiatus during the Muddy Roots Festival, held during Labor Day weekend in Cookeville, Tennessee.

In the meantime, J.D. Wilkes, the band’s frontman and a Kentucky-based singer/songwriter, is on the road with one of his other projects, J.D. Wilkes and the Dirt Daubers, which appears June 19 at The Empty Glass.

Wilkes said, “It’s always been the band I do with my wife. We’ve got a banjo and a mandolin, a gut bucket player and an upright bass player — Mark [Robertson] from the Shack Shakers.”

The Dirt Daubers, he said, have evolved creatively since the band formed in 2009, largely following the musical leanings of Wilkes’s wife, Jessica. First, it played traditional music, but then, as she moved more toward rockabilly, the band reformed.

“We just decided to go electric,” Wilkes said. “We incorporated some of the old banjo tunes in the set, but mostly we’re a swampy, old-school R&B outfit.”

The band’s latest record, “Wild Moon,” marked that change, he said. About half the tunes on it are his and the other half are his wife’s.

“We don’t collaborate necessarily,” he said, “but we try to stay prolific enough that we can cherry-pick tunes that are the most compatible with each other.”

Wilkes said he’ll write a song, and his wife will tell him, “Oh, that reminds me of this.”

“We try to find common ground,” he said.

With this record, they’ve tried to make the overall sound of the songs consistent, which wasn’t necessarily easy. Wilkes said his wife’s educational background is as an English major. She draws from old English poetry and rhymes. They both use things they remember hearing growing up.

“I pull Southernisms into my lyrics,” he said, “but we’re fishing from the same pond.”

Wilkes met his wife in Chicago. She was studying animation at the Art Institute of Chicago. He said she wasn’t a musician.

“I never thought in a million years she’d do something like this,” he said. “She never said a word.”

Eventually, though, she expressed interest. Once she did, he encouraged her to learn to play an instrument and practice. He supported her as she’d taken her first steps on stage.

“And now she’s starting her own band on the side,” he laughed. “I’ve created a monster.”

Touring together has been fairly easy.

“She’s very much into the lifestyle of travel and performing,” he said. “She’s less stressful to have on the road than some of the dudes I’ve had in the Shack Shakers.”

Wilkes said he and the Dirt Daubers are playing shows through the summer, but that’s not the only thing he has going on. As yet another sideline, Wilkes has been recording old-time musicians through Appalshop, a nonprofit arts and education center that produces original films and music promoting Appalachian culture and traditions.

“I recorded Charlie Stamper,” he said. “He’s an 84-year-old fiddle player. His family, the Stamper family, is kind of legendary in Kentucky for music. Art, his brother, is the famous one, and they both learned how to play from their father, Hiram.”

But Charlie never recorded. He never played professionally.

“But he’s like this living legacy of the Stamper family,” Wilkes said.

Stamper’s record will be out later this summer.

There’s also the return of Shack Shakers to look forward to, and Wilkes seems to be glad to be getting back to it.

“We’ll have some announcements,” he said, “but I can’t talk about those now.”

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com

or 304-348-5195.


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