Singer Jessica Lee Wilkes Embarks on First Tour as a Headliner

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click to enlarge Singer Jessica Lee Wilkes Embarks on First Tour as a Headliner
Joshua Black Wilkins
Lone Wolf, the debut release from singer Jessica Lee Wilkes, sounds like it could’ve been recorded in the 1950s. It has that raucous early rock/R&B feel to it. Wilkes’ backing band — Jason Smay (JD McPherson) on drums, Eddie Angel (Los Straitjackets) on guitar, Kellie Everett (The Hooten Hallers) on saxophone — does it all, delving into surf, blues and garage rock with ease. Wilkes, who has regularly come to town with her husband’s band, the Dirt Daubers, recently phoned from her Kentucky home where she was prepping for a short tour in support the EP. The tour brings to her to the Beachland Tavern, a place she says is one of her favorite venues in the country, this week.

I don’t think you’ve hit the road yet, but what’s it going to be like going on tour as a headliner?
I’ve done a few little shows here and there. It’s a little nerve wracking, definitely. It’s all on me but I’ve learned from the best. My husband is a great frontman. I lean on him in the Dirt Daubers. He’s an entertainer. To carry a show myself is daunting I’ve had I feel like I’m ready for it. I’ve had almost six years on the road. I feel comfortable on stage and I have a great band behind me for this tour. They’re seasoned professionals and they know what they’re doing.

I read in your bio that Dead Kennedys’ singer Jello Biafra is a fan. How’d you win him over?
It’s pretty cool. He’s a fan of the Shack Shakers and friends with my husband. We stay with him in San Francisco. He came out to see us one night with the Dirt Daubers. He hadn’t seen me sing. He told [my husband], “Tell her she’s good.” He told him to tell me himself. I was sitting behind the merch table and Jello climbed on all fours under the merch table to tell me to keep doing this and that I needed to do my own thing. That was a cool moment.

Talk about genesis for Lone Wolf. When did you start writing the songs?
Some of them I’ve been sitting on for several years. I think I have everything written when I go to record and then other ideas come in and they’re better. The title track came later, which was closer to recording time, which was a surprise. I had a weird dream and idea in three or four in the morning to write this song. That came later. Half of them were written years ago and two of them came when we were recording.

The album hearkens back to ’50s R&B. Talk about what you were going for sonically.
It’s just what happened. I dig all that music. It’s how this particular thing came out and what influenced me the most. That’s the music that influenced me the most but I like all different things. I don’t want it to sound like a throwback only. I want to keep it of this time and place. I don’t want it to be some false reproduction of what’s already been done.

The album opener “Groove’s Too Shallow” has some real spunk. You sound like a sassy Nancy Sinatra. What inspired it?
Wyatt Maxwell who will play guitar with me when I come to the Beachland, he and I started talking about it a year ago. We would go to Utah and he has a really cool old record player. He had some modern records. He said, “I love this record player but it doesn’t play modern records because the grooves are too shallow and it doesn’t read them.” We wrote that song together. We listen to cool old records when I hang out with him. That was the first time I wrote a song like that and collaborated with someone and wrote a song. That was a cool experience.

The guitar work in the title track is great. Who's playing guitar in that song?
That is the great Eddie Angel of Los Straitjackets fame. He played on the whole record. He will do the first two shows with me and I wish he could be in Cleveland too. He’s a great guitar player and a friend and a badass. It was an honor to work with him for sure.

Have you started thinking about the next record yet?
I had enough for a full-length this time around but economically and time wise I just wanted to put something out so I could start touring and get myself out there. This was a quicker way to do that. Budget-wise, it was better to do it this way for me. I have enough material and I’m talking to a couple of people about it. I would love to have a full-length record out by this time next year.

You going to kick the Dirt Daubers to the curb?
I don’t think so. It was just the right time. The Legendary Shack Shakers were due for another record and [my husband] was ready to go with that. It worked out timing-wise. We had this window to do our own thing. I love that band. We didn’t get the traction we hoped for, even after years of doing it. It was this little band that tried really hard but didn’t accomplish what we hoped. We certainly had a great time doing it.

Jessica Lee Wilkes, David Loy & the Ramrods, Teasebox, 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 15, Beachland Tavern, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets: $8,

About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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