Seven Questions about Seven Signs
By Sarah L. Myers

Scott Biram - Video by Todd Tue, Milk Products, Chicago, IL
from the upcoming film "Seven Signs of the Apocalyptic South"


Colonel JD Wilkes' celebration of southern culture isn't just confined to the stage. The Legendary Shack Shakers front man spent ten days in August shooting a documentary about an endangered, often misrepresented, way of life and the artistic contributions of the American South.


Where are you now, Colonel?

We're pulling into San Diego, we're gonna play a festival - one of the Southern Comfort music festivals, which we've been hired to do a few of those this summer. They're pretty big. The last one we opened up for the Flaming Lips and De La Soul, so they're big to-dos.


Tell me a little about your film Seven Signs of the Apocalyptic South.

I'd seen the movie Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, and felt that it kind of left me a little wanting and I thought it was kind of half the story, or half the picture and the other half was somewhat damaging to people's concept of the South. So I thought I would do a little damage control and make my own movie, even if it meant I would do it black and white with a shaky camcorder, I was just gonna try to set the record straight. To explain the South, to the BBC - what (Jesus) was was LA, New York, and Chicago singer-songwriters were trying to explain the South to the BBC, rather than southerners explaining the South to the world. I thought that the important thing to clarify was that it's not this ignorant cesspool of filth and it's actually a haven for art and creativity and there's actually a lot of intelligence there. The South does not corner the market on ignorance. And as our scientologist friends on the West Coast prove, it's kind of one of those things that needed to be said and needed to be said by a southerner.

What exactly is the premise of the film?

We seek out various characters and stories and musical moments that go to reinforce the notion of the South as a creative place and a place of intelligence and eccentricities, yes, but underpinning all of that is this profound sense of self and clarity of identity, confidence, and faith, and lots of great, virtuous things that never gets made mentioned whenever you see a documentary or movie about it. It seems like it's always like Jerry Springer dysfunction, mixed in with a little Hee-Haw cornpone humor and that's about all you get. I thought we would try to expand upon more like the characters, more along the lines of Flannery O'Connor and Faulkner's characters and intelligent, profound, intelligent characters that redeem that area. There's a lot of dysfunction and confusion and ignorance all over the world, you know the South does not corner the market on it. If anything, it produces more art and more great music than any other area that I can think of.

Who all performs and appears in the movie?

We've got Scott Biram, Slim Cessna, Shack Shakers, lots of old-timers in these kind of juke joints and honky tonks that we traveled to, and folks that you wouldn't know, but they still channel that same timeless vibe that a lot of hipsters struggle to harness. It's a movie not about celebrity, or hipness, it's about authenticity and the truth.

What was your process of filming like? How did it go?

It went great. A month out I just called ahead and set up interviews and set up appointments to meet with certain people, and it just followed us perfectly on the calendar, like it was meant to be. (Wilkes filmed the movie while on tour with the Shack Shakers). From the Bell Witch Opry, to the Bell Witch Cave the next day. The routing was perfect to go on to the Longhollow Jamboree, and that led right into the Coon Dog Cemetery in Alabama, and then Charleston, and it was all perfectly routed. And as I was making appointments I noticed how it all lined up perfectly on the map, as well. Everyone's availability met perfectly with our city-by-city crusade or pilgrimage to make the movie, so it was great.

Did you find that Southern culture is maintaining its originality or do you see it evolving?

It's evolving, it's changing, I can't say it's necessarily getting better, what with the influx of urban sprawl and cable TV and internet, it seems to rob people of their identity, which is happening everywhere. We make that point in the movie. We show how battle grounds are getting paved over to make Wal-Marts. Civil War battlegrounds are being uprooted, for the ground breaking of a Wal-Mart. A future Wal-Mart is actually digging up the bones of dead Civil War soldiers. There's that sort of thing that’s happening just to the country at large, that isn't peculiar only to the South. That’s unfortunate, but once you get off the beaten path, off the interstates, away from the urban sprawl, things really start to get organic again. Very original. It’s just a matter of knowing where to go to find it, and that’s what we were seeking out, were those pockets of culture. And they’re still there.

What about its place in history and pop culture?

It’s been in the works for a long time, I mean back in the 20s, when you think about the old string bands. String bands were playing what was then called ‘old timey’ music, I mean even then there was sort of a self-conscious awareness that what they were doing was antiquated. Even then it was a world of post-Freud, post-Karl Marx, post-Darwin, post-Dadaist movement, you already had a lot of your kind of original inklings of Moderism born in the world. So it’s been happening for a long time. It didn’t just occur, in other words.

Scott Biram - Video by Todd Tue, Milk Products, Chicago, IL
from the upcoming film "Seven Signs of the Apocalyptic South"



Thirsty : December 2007 : Interview with Legendary Shack Shakers front man Colonel JD Wilkes


© Stay Thirsty Media, Inc. 2006
All Rights Reserved

Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Terms of Sale | Site Map


*A PURCHASE IS REQUIRED TO ENTER THE PLAYWRIGHT AWARD CONTEST. Contest ends 2/1/07. Open to US legal residents of the 50 US and DC, who are 18 years or older at time of entry. Subject to Official Rules. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED.


Search Web
Search this site