Shakey Graves: The Gentleman from Texas and His Music

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Tony Maples Photography


When Shakey Graves arrived on the indie music scene in 2011, he provided an incredible new sound, something to slake the thirst of country fans, folk fans, blues fans, and whatever-the-heck Shakey was. It was acoustic, raw, authentic, creative, and best of all, spooky.

Alejandro Rose-Garcia came by the name “Shakey Graves” on a late night while he was hanging around a campfire with some friends. They jokingly gave each other “Indian guide names” after an unusual and funny encounter with a stranger, and Rose-Garcia kept his name. That same evening he played guitar for a large group of people and described it as a “musical explosion” – after his performance, someone asked him what his name was, and he said, “Shakey Graves.” The next morning, everyone was calling him “Shakey.”

Shakey Graves: The Gentleman from Austin, Texas, and His Americana Music Storm

Facebook / Shakey Graves

Shakey Graves’ 2011 EP, “Roll the Bones,” featured songs all recorded in various living rooms on “questionable equipment,” with vocals and music done mostly by Shakey himself. The songs range from dark (his cover of “I’m On Fire” is chilling) to casually good-humored. The titular song, “Roll the Bones,” refers to casting dice, especially in the game of craps. Some of the other songs’ narrators are speaking directly from the grave (“Unlucky Skin”).

Shakey Graves’ rise to fame accelerated when he signed a record deal with Dualtone. This resulted with his first full-length studio album, “And the War Came,” which included his most radio-friendly single to date, a duet with Esme Patterson called “Dearly Departed.” Continuing with the spooky, ghost-like theme of some of his most popular songs and staying true to his name, “Dearly Departed” chronicles the tale of two lovers admitting their ghostly nature to each other while they flirt.

Rose-Garcia departed from his old-fashioned cowboy-hat-and-suspenders image when he released his second full-length record, “Can’t Wake Up.” Shakey Graves claimed he was ready to evolve as an artist and that the decision to hang up his cowboy hat was a conscious one; “Can’t Wake Up” still sounds like Shakey, but not necessarily like the Shakey Graves that his fans grew to love in his early, indie days. It’s a dreamy, experimental range of new sounds, including harps and wood-ruts on the last two songs. There’s no Disney cover on this album, but there’s still some influence from Disney and Andrew Lloyd-Webber in the songs. There’s also some Wizard of Oz influence; the last song on the album is titled “Tin Man,” and Rose-Garcia wanted to evoke similar feelings of discomfort. It’s a little different from the “hobo-folk” style of his early days, supposedly a label that he earned from being the only man on stage and playing multiple instruments, but it’s not a label he’s particularly fond of.

Shakey Graves: The Gentleman from Austin, Texas and His American Music Storm

Facebook / Shakey Graves

Perhaps most significant about “Can’t Wake Up” is the dialogue that Rose-Garcia wanted to create with some of his fans. Over the years he’s received lots of mail from his listeners detailing how his music has helped them cope with serious bouts of depression. “Can’t Wake Up” is his response to some of those letters and experiences – he’s referred to it as a “Don’t Kill Yourself” record. In 2014, a fan wrote the Shakey Graves Tumblr account, saying that one of his songs got them through a dark time, and Shakey responded with a word of thanks, saying, “that is exactly what it’s all about.” A Gentleman from Texas, indeed.