Twenty-five years. Two-and-a-half decades. A quarter of a century. A long time no matter what you are talking about. So it’s no surprise J.D. Wilkes wanted to celebrate that milestone for his band, the Legendary Shack Shakers.
Founder/frontman/multi-instrumentalist Wilkes decided the best way to commemorate a quarter century of making music with his band was — of course — by making more music. But like most long-lasting groups, the Legendary Shack Shakers have had a lot of band members come and go through the years. So a “family reunion” was planned, one that would host past members and the current lineup for celebratory recording sessions. The result is the group’s new full-length offering from Alternative Tentacles, Cockadoodledeux, due out November 5, 2021 (new street date).
The title is a nod to the Shack Shakers’ 2003 album, Cockadoodledon’t. Though not their debut record, it was the one that broke the group to a wider audience. Its explosive collision of punk, blues and country was perhaps what made the Shack Shakers legendary.
Cockadoodledeux, however, is more singular in its focus. Wilkes had been yearning to set his rock ’n’ roll leanings aside and record something new. This time, instead of hopping genres as many of his albums do, Wilkes wanted to explore one genre alone. He wanted to just make a country-and-Western record.
“Our older albums jump around all over the place, genre to genre, styles that are almost diametrically-opposed even,” he says. “But this record jumps only within country music itself. It's a big-tent genre, really. It has all these little subgenres within it providing endless variety. From Western swing and rockabilly to spaghetti Western and bluegrass — and even Tex Mex.”
Originally, Wilkes planned to pursue this concept on his 2018 solo record, Fire Dream, but when the sessions got underway, the muse pulled him in a different direction.
“Suddenly, I had all these unused country tunes, and I thought, ‘Hey, that could be the new Shack Shakers record,’” he says. “And it made sense to me because family reunions and country music seem to go hand in hand.”
In addition to the current members (guitarist Gary Siperko, bassist Fuller Condon and drummer Preston Corn), the original 1990s lineup showed up, and former members like multi-instrumentalist Chris Scruggs (Marty Stuart’s Fabulous Superlatives) and bassist Morgan Jahnig (Old Crow Medicine Show) pitched in, too.
Cockadoodledeux also includes performances by a few Kentucky music legends, such as Sun Studio guitarist Stanley Walker (Jean Shepard, “Rockin’” Ray Smith), dobroist Jack Martin (Lester Flatt) and renowned Cajun fiddler “Hillbilly” Bob Prather (Onie Wheeler).
Punk rock icon and founder of Alternative Tentacles Jello Biafra makes a special guest appearance, as well, contributing vocals to the band’s cover of the theme to the TV Western series Rawhide. He first met the Shakers at South by Southwest in 2005 and has since made several appearances with the band, both onstage and on their album Pandelirium.
Biafra calls Wilkes “the last great rock ’n’ roll frontman.”
Of Biafra, Wilkes says, “It’s just good to be with people who believe in you and are passionate about what you do.”
Because of the Covid pandemic, Wilkes uploaded the “Rawhide” tracks to Biafra’s San Francisco studio where he added his wild yelps and yodels remotely. “He killed it,” Wilkes says.
The bulk of the recording was done at the Time on the String studio in Paducah, Kentucky. But like Biafra, Jahnig and Scruggs added their parts remotely.
“Morgan has a studio of his own, so I sent him the tracks,” Wilkes says. “And I drove down to see Chris and was actually at the studio in Nashville as he laid down steel guitar. Otherwise, everyone else came to Kentucky for the family reunion.”
Cockadoodledeux includes a track, “Secret Mountain,” that was originally intended for the band’s first release on Alternative Tentacles. Recorded at Nashville’s famous Woodland Studio, it features Micah Hulscher (Wanda Jackson, Emmylou Harris, Margo Price) on barrelhouse piano and former Shack Shakers Mark Robertson, Rod Hamdallah and Brett Whitacre.
“‘Secret Mountain’ is a track that got nixed off The Southern Surreal,” Wilkes explains. “It was just too country at the time. But, of course, it’s perfect for this.”
Wilkes’s passion for country and western music is apparent throughout the record, his vocal performances resonating with an authenticity that too often is missing from modern country fare. And while Cockadoodledeux may be more musically disciplined than their past albums, songs like “They Won't Let Me Forget” (“They won’t let me forget, all the things I can’t recall”) and “Punk Rock Retirement Plan” (“He likes a square dance instead of a slam dance”) reflect Wilkes’ wickedly hilarious brand of lyricism; a thing that has been winning him fans for quite a while — 25 years in fact.
Looking back on the group’s journey, Wilkes remarks, “It’s been 25 years of long-lasting friendships, unfortunate rivalries — amazing experiences. Triumphs. Heartaches. The whole dramatic story arc.”
He pauses, then adds, “And I can’t wait for the next 25.”