On the Edge: J.D. Wilkes and The Dirt Daubers

photo courtesy Shore Fire Media

If Hank Williams had become a fire-and-brimstone preacher, he would have sounded a lot like J.D. Wilkes. As leader of The Dirt Daubers, the country-blues-rockabilly outfit J.D. founded with his wife, Jessica, J.D. takes the yearning of country and rockabilly icons like Hank, Johnny Cash and even Buddy Holly and spews it forth with all the fury of a tent revival Sunday sermon. 

It is a wonder to behold, whether at one of The Dirt Daubers’ shows or on their haunting new album, Wild Moon

Best of all, J.D. comes by his persona naturally. “We were raised pretty religious. I went to a Pentecostal church that had a private school. I saw all the holy rolling and speaking in tongues. I saw people do backflips into the baptistery and splashing around in the holy water. I walked in on an exorcism at school once—that’s something a kid shouldn’t have to witness between lunch and study hall,” says J.D., who was reared in both Kentucky and Louisiana. 

Originally formed as the musical antonym to J.D.’s now-retired hillbilly hell-raising group the Legendary Shack Shakers, The Dirt Daubers relied only on acoustic instruments. In addition to splitting vocals with Jessica, J.D. played banjo and his weapon of choice, the harmonica. But the pull of the electric charge was too much to resist: The group plugged back in, resulting in the hypnotic Wild Moon and a renewed sense of vigor onstage.

“You come [to a Dirt Daubers show], you’re going to get an eye-popping experience,” says J.D. “We’re dressing up in suits and ties and rocking out—but with not as many stage dives.” 

The group likes to spiff it up to honor fans. “We try to look good, and we feel we owe the audience that,” he says. 

Whether it’s in the old-school way J.D. and The Dirt Daubers dress or in the type of throwback swampy country they play, the band and its leader are refreshingly anachronistic. It’s their way of paying tribute to the South of the past. J.D.’s latest project, in fact, is a photo-driven book about rural hoedowns, Barn Dances & Jamborees Across Kentucky

“The Grand Ole Opry is an offshoot of the original barn dances, a sentimental format that tipped the hat at those old country traditions,” he says. 

Still, while J.D. may keep one foot firmly planted in the past, he sees nothing wrong with country music’s present.

“That’s the young kids’ country music now. It’s their time to have their type of country music and determine what they like,” he says. “It all happens in cycles: People get sick of one thing and they want the other. And that’s fine with me.”

Watch the new video for J.D. Wilkes and The Dirt Daubers’ song “Wild Moon” below. Learn more about J.D. Wilkes and The Dirt Daubers on their website.

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