Th' Legendary Shack Shakers: Cockadoodledon't

Stephen Haag

Th' Legendary Shack Shakers


Label: Bloodshot
US Release Date: 2003-04-22
UK Release Date: Available as import

Until Th' Legendary Shack Shakers came along and rocked my world, my two biggest run-ins with rockabilly came courtesy of A) my uncle, who once got a haircut from Brian Setzer's stylist; and B) Rob Zombie, whose Hellbilly Deluxe doesn't really count. But the Shakers' label, Bloodshot Records, is as fine and true a record label as America has, and seeing their red logo-cum-stamp of approval on the liner notes to Cockadoodledon't tells me everything is going to be alright.

A word about Bloodshot. Even as the press release accompanying the album notes, Cockadoodledon't ain't your typical alt-country. As a frame of reference they suggest imagining Iggy Pop fronting Southern Culture on the Skids. A tall order, but one the Shakers -- lead singer Colonel J.D. Wilkes, guitarist JoeBuck (one word; presumably to avoid confusion with the similarly-named Fox Sports broadcaster), bassist Mark "the Duke" Robertson and drummer Pauly Simmonz -- damn near live up to.

Album opener "Pinetree Boogie" finds the band blazing out of the gates, with Wilkes' primal howl racing Robertson's bass as well as Wilkes himself on both harmonica and melodeon. These guys are entertainers, not "serious" artists, as they are wont to tell you themselves, and somehow they're able to capture that aura and theatricality on CD. To wit, "Help Me From My Brain", where Wilkes truly sounds like a man possessed and the background sound of "20,000 kettles hissing in [his] head" only drives home the urgency.

The Shack Shakers, to their credit, aren't just speed freak boogie rockabilly goons. If anything, it's Cockadoodledon't's detours that define them. "CB Song" is a silly diversion ("Little honey bunny / What's yer 20?" that sounds like what might happen if the Flat Duo Jets' Dexter Romweber overdosed on pomade. "Shake Rag Holler" dusts off a Jews Harp, sounds like newgrass, then explodes into heavy metal in the track's closing seconds -- all while Wilkes proves he could moonlight as an auctioneer. And sure enough, there's "Devil's Night Auction" where he make like the rednecked cousin to Tom Waits' demented carnival barker from The Black Rider. The band even tosses in the melodeon again, just for the hell of it. The Shakers know how to have capital-F Fun.

And they appreciate those who have trod their chosen musical path before them. The fiddle-happy "Clodhopper" wipes off the band's grease (though it's quickly replaced by dirt) as Wilkes and co. play it straight with a chorus of "yo-de-lay-hoo!" One half-expects a cakewalk to break out. And the stunning "Blood on the Bluegrass" may sound like a parody along the lines of the Folksmen's "Blood on the Coal" from the A Mighty Wind soundtrack, but it's Cockadoodledon't's truest track. Wilkes has been quoted as saying, "We don't do murder ballads, we do murder boogies", and that may be true more of than not, but they come close to ballad here. In telling the story of 16-year-old self-professed vampire Roderick Farrell (also documented in Aphrodite Jones' The Embrace: A True Vampire Story, as I just learned at, who murdered the parents of one of his 15-year-old followers, Wilkes captures the sound and haunting lyricism ("With his clawhammer high / He drew their spirits night / And danced amidst the crimson spray") of musicians 60 years hence. I had to double check to see if "Clodhopper" and "Blood on the Bluegrass" weren't covers or public domain songs; they're not.

Their mastery over the "old-timey" sound give them free rein to incorporate punk, blues, Southern rock and rockabilly into whatever psychotic stew they please. Of course, then, it's a cover (Slim Harpo's "Shake Your Hips") and a traditional tune ("Bullfrog Blues") that get the album's biggest (in a good way) thrashings. "Shake Your Hips" borrows the bassline from ZZ Top's "La Grange" and starts off quiet (for a change) before everyone joins in behind Wilkes and all hell breaks loose. And "Bullfrog Blues" is long enough to accommodate both a greasy guitar solo from JoeBuck and a Wilkes harmonica solo.

The only thing missing from Cockadoodledon't is the ability experience the band's high octane live shows. But if they can knock your socks off merely pumping through your stereo, that's a good start. All-at-once reverent, revisionist, greasy, and fun as hell, with summer upon us Cockadoodledon't should be the soundtrack to a thousand barbecues.


The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

Keep reading... Show less

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)

In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

Keep reading... Show less

'Foxtrot' Is a 'Catch-22' for Our Time

Giora Bejach in Fox Trot (2017 / IMDB)

Samuel Maoz's philosophical black comedy is a triptych of surrealism laced with insights about warfare and grief that are both timeless and timely.

There's no rule that filmmakers need to have served in the military to make movies about war. Some of the greatest war movies were by directors who never spent a minute in basic (Coppola, Malick). Still, a little knowledge of the terrain helps. A filmmaker who has spent time hugging a rifle on watch understands things the civilian never can, no matter how much research they might do. With a director like Samuel Maoz, who was a tank gunner in the Israeli army and has only made two movies in eight years, his experience is critical.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.