"You can't deny that one," is an old Southern-ism used to point out a strong resemblance between parent and child. Late, great country music icon Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter certainly couldn't deny their son, 25-year-old Shooter Jennings. From Shooter's jet-black mane and scruffy beard right down to his birth name of Waylon Albright Jennings (for his dad and longtime drummer Ritchie Albright), it's little wonder that he was cast to play his father in the upcoming Sun-era Johnny Cash biopic I Walk the Line.
Though bristling with renegade spirit and high energy, the music created by Shooter and his band, the 357s, doesn't immediately recall his dad's brand of rough-and-ready Texas country. It's got definite country roots, but the sound is more in step with mid-'70s Southern rockers like Blackfoot and the Charlie Daniels Band. The kinship shared by those wooly guitar groups and the "outlaw" movement of the same time frame figures heavily on Jennings' debut release, Put the "O" Back in Country.
"[The album's title] is intended to be tongue in cheek," Jennings says. "If you can't poke at what you're doing, it's really no fun, anyway. I think country's actually in a better place now than it has been for the last few years, with people like Gretchen [Wilson] and Dierks [Bentley]. Don't get me wrong -- I love country music. But it's just been so serious the last couple of years, there really hadn't been much of an edge to it."
Though he good-heartedly ribs the Nashville establishment, Jennings knows that his ideal fanbase is split between those who grew up with albums like his dad's Honky Tonk Heroes and country's younger post-Garth demographic. Lately, Shooter's been playing to stadium-sized crowds of all ages, opening for Toby Keith, currently mainstream country's biggest draw, and Lee Ann Womack, one of the genre's most acclaimed female performers. It's an opportunity he feels is a step in the right direction.
"I'll admit that I wasn't that familiar with a whole lot of [Keith's] stuff before they brought us along," says Jennings. "But he and his crew have been wonderful to us so far. They've extended our set a few times, so much respect to them. Playing to 15,000 people a night is a pretty weird and majestic experience for a bunch of dudes that are used to playing dimly lit clubs."
Jennings' yen for classic country and redneck rock isn't entirely exclusive to the stage. Earlier this year, he began hosting "Shooter Jennings' Electric Rodeo" a two-hour program that airs Saturday and Sunday nights on Sirius Satellite Radio's Outlaw Country channel. The format allows Jennings to pontificate at will while plowing through his personal music stash. It also situates him among an absolutely surreal cast of honorary jockeys including wily songwriter "Cowboy" Jack Clement, cult rocker Mojo Nixon, and former WWF (before the "E" conversion) wrestling star Hillbilly Jim.
"For the most part, I gravitate towards a lot of '60s, '70s country and classic heavy rock," Shooter says. "I'm a big Allmans fan, a big Skynyrd fan. Everything from Traffic and Black Sabbath to Tompall [Glaser] and David Allen Coe appeals to me."
Shooter does, though, keep abreast of his fellow second-generation performers, recommending Bobby Bare Jr.'s self-deprecating garage pop and the lesser-known Folk Uke, a rambunctious ukulele-driven duo comprised of Willie Nelson's daughter, Amy, and über-folkie Arlo Guthrie's daughter, Cathy. He even speaks well of Hank Williams III, a sentiment that's apparently not shared between the two.
"I think Hank III's great," says Jennings. "He doesn't like me, though. He thinks I'm a sellout or something. That's fine. Nobody's throwin' rocks here. But if I was selling out, I'd like to think I'd have been able to get a record deal long before now."
ooooohhhh, I'm so excited!! I can't wait to see them together!
come on man you know you got a bromance. you probably still rock that OutKast…
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