The beginning of Shakey’s story can be found around a campfire in the wilderness of a backcountry music festival. As his friends sat happily enjoying the innate mystic warmth of the fire, something lurked in the shadows.
There appeared a man tripping on LSD, he was rambling incoherently and drinking a large hot 24 ounce Miller Light that he referred to as “good whiskey” and had obviously been carrying for hours. He offered my friends and I some of his “whiskey” which we pretended to drink and enjoy. He muttered a bit more and stumbled off. The last thing we heard him say was “murfblah gbarg lrshlamp SPOOKY WAGONS” That night we all gave each other drunk person campfire names. My friend Wesley was Spooky Waggins, his girlfriend was Spinster Jones, another kid was Solomon Doors, and I was dubbed Shakey Graves. That night I set out with my guitar and ended up gathering a small crowd, soon enough a drummer came out of nowhere and we did an impromptu set for a pile of drunk folks. At the end a drunk, drunk man came up to me “WHO ARE YOU” he demanded. I got sheepish. “Shakey” I said “Shakey Graves.” At the time I felt like a total asshole.
That aside, it stuck. As it should’ve- it’s strong, with teeth and a peculiar southpaw jab. After seeing him in his native Austin, TX, I sought out Alejandro Rose-Garcia‘s one-man-band act in his admitted favorite town, Charleston, SC. The south suits him well. The intangible rowdiness that exists between molecules of southern humidity like dark matter was already being tapped- the alcohol was heavily surging through the veins of the Pour House’s inhabitants well before he or the openers, Wild Child, had even taken the stage. I found my dear boy and friend of SceneSC Nathan K lounging by a bar in the back with his beau.
Side note, Nathan K has an album coming out called Methodist Girls that promises to be heart-wrenching and fantastic and you must absolutely listen to at least 4 seconds of Sloppy Love because it is explicit and explicitly haunting. It comes out on July 8th, get it. So we sat and witnessed the deft folk rising and falling of Wild Child, also Austinites, as they shined their acoustic woodsy vibes all over the audience. There were exactly three moments that Nathan and I looked at each other and went like “Heyy! Nice!” with our facial expressions, which is always a good thing. After Wild Child, we sat outside and caught up. Nathan told me stories of various characters he’s met on his tours, such as a Cook Out regular he met that goes by The Bacon King who eats 28 strips of bacon a day. He told me about Three Brain Robot, a musical act from Greensboro involving a dummy that eventually kills the musician. He told me about Frank Hurricane, whose band, Hurricanes of Love, played at a festival in the wilderness that was only reachable with the help of a treasure map. By the time we were talking about My Blue Heaven, a lost Steve Martin/Rick Moranis film, Shakey had began his stomping routine, beckoning us back in the venue.
Raucous. He was a charismatic ass-kicker, playing the role of the gun-toting troubadour with a tipsy ease. As he tore through his songs, the BUMP-TSSS of his percussionary rig was enough to light the whole damn room on fire. The guitar tone was bleeding perfectly, the scratch in his voice lined his notes comfortably as he told song-stories of exclusively folksy concerns.
“I took her up to Chapel Hill and married her young, murdered her even younger and got the fuck out of there and ran down to Mexico!” he sang, taking on the dark characters of the folkverse, much like Dylan and Cash with their closet of masks, some quite dastardly, they were known to don. Shakey Graves was exactly what he needed to be. Occasionally bringing on a drummer, also shouting out to his friend Spooky, he got the womenfolk a-swooning with every cowboy hat tip and clever punchline betwixt every howling, thumping barnstomper. Authenticity be damned, even if he was a cartoon character, he is a true spectacle. The genius of his rig was in its ramshackle set-up, the bass drum was a suitcase and there was a tambourine that was also pounded with a kick pedal, facing backwards (so as to not burn out his shins- using the heel is far better than the toe). That and an astonishingly full sounding acoustic guitar fed through distortion was all he needed to produce a wall of sound, or perhaps a floor of sound that lifted everyone up to his level, dancing like dizzy devils. Do yourself a favor- walk into a Shakey Graves show and see, hear, dance, whatever. Ingest. It’s wholesome. Slathered in gravy. I’ll be seeing him again whenever, wherever, however I can. You oughta do the same.
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