by Michael Buffalo Smith
At the age of 25, Shooter Jennings, the only son of legendary country music icon Waylon Jennings and his wife, Jessie Colter, is riding high on the country charts with a hot single “4th of July” and an even hotter album, Put The “O” Back in Country. In our exclusive interview, Shooter talks about his album, his famous parents, and his love of good ol’ Southern rock and Country music.
What do you think about the state of music these days? Especially country music?
I think country music has been in a weird place for the past ten years or so. I feel like it changed a lot in the early ‘90’s’ and they forgot about a lot of people. A lot of people I have talked to say they haven’t bought a country record in the past ten years. But I think that it’s getting better now, with people like Gretchen Wilson, Big and Rich - there are a lot of artists I like that are out there now like Josh Turner and Brad Paisley and Dirks Bentley. At least it’s not one every ten songs now, it’s about one every three songs that I like, you know. I feel like it’s getting back to a better place. I think the people that are coming out now that are around my age appreciate the old favorites.
I thought it was hilarious having Hank Williams, Jr.’s telephone message on the record.
Yeah, (laughs) that was a last minute addition to the record. We already have George Jones on there, so I asked the producer, wouldn’t it be funny if we had Hank do a phone call to my machine like he was dodging singing on the record, you know - like I’d been bugging him for weeks. There was another track of me calling him back, but we left it off because I felt like there was too much exposition on the record. So I called him around Easter, and he was outside with the kids doing Easter eggs and all and he laughed and said, “Yeah, I’ll leave you a long Merle Kilgore kind of message.” I really think that was almost better than him singing on the record, a little comedy. (laughs)
I like the part where Possum goes “When are we gonna get paid for this?”
(laughs) Yeah! That actually came later. I left the recorder going. He was telling a story and somewhere in the middle of it he just blurted that out. I thought is was funny, and I said, “that has to go on the end there.” He was great. I was shaking in my boots when I had him come into the studio and sing on the thing. And I was so happy he did that part at the beginning of the record too. He said,” you’ve got some balls boy, to say ‘let’s put the ‘o’ back in country.' But he did it. We all just fell out of our chairs when we heard it.
I really like “Busted in Baylor County.” Is that song by any chance autobiographical?
Word for word, man. We were busted and thrown in jail. We were doing a show in Lubbock, and we were on our way to Wichita Falls to do a show, and I’ll be damned if we didn’t get busted and thrown in jail for less than an eighth of pot. Just a tiny bit. But down there they are real hard core about it. We were all spread out across the highway and handcuffed. This old sheriff comes out and he says ” Well, well, well - looks like we got ourselves a band.” We were like, “uh,oh.”
Buford T. Justice meets Boss Hog?
No kidding man. (laughs) We’re all were cuffed in the back of this car, and to tell you how small a place it is, he was driving and talking to the Deputy, “Looks like the Lawrence’s have got a good crop this year.” All we could think was, I hope we get out of here alive. (laughs)
Is this your first album?
This is my first album. I mean, I had a rock band for almost seven years in Los Angeles, and we put out a couple of records and a live record. But this is my first record that is really a representation of me.
What does “Let’s Put the O Back in Country” mean? Does it mean what I think it means?
It does. It’s a play on words there. My girlfriend actually came up with the title, and it was a joke at first. I’d say, “No way, it’s too rough, too dirty.” Lo and behold she was right. I sure have gotten a lot of attention over it. So I wrote a little song, actually, I stole a little song....(laughs)
I was gonna say, it sounded a lot like Neil Young's “Are You Ready for the Country” that your dad cut.
It is. We gave Neil all the writer credit on it. I said hey, I took it from the song and you can have it, just don’t sue me, please!
I really liked Drea’s custom Shooter Jennings jacket when you guys were on the CMT Video Awards show....
Yeah, that’s hot! That was a surprise man. She had that vest ordered up, and she showed up and I said “Good Lord woman, that thing looks great. It looks like the Hell’s Angels!” But she is the best.
How did you two meet?
We’ve been together almost three years now. We met through a friend. I kind of had my eye on her, but I didn’t know who she was. I had never seen The Sopranos. I didn’t have HBO or nothin. I knew it was a show about the mafia. Of course now I am a fan, I’ve seen everything.
I’m pretty ticked off that they killed her off.
Oh man, I cried.
Do you find it at all odd that the guy who ‘killed off’ Adrianna is the same guy who’s playing your music on his SIRIUS Outlaw Country satellite radio network? (ED, Note: Little Steven Van Zandt of the E-Street Band who is Sylvio in The Sopranos.)
(Laughs) It’s great. It’s like some sort of weird fate thing. Actually, I’m gonna be doing a two hour show on Outlaw Country on Saturday nights. I get to play the stuff I want to play, like early Hank Williams, Jr., mixed in with a cut off of Aerosmith Rocks- I just spin whatever. I have some guests on, my Mom came on one show. It’s been good.
What was it like growing up in the shadow of a music icon like Waylon Jennings?
I never felt like there was a shadow. He never made me feel that way. My whole life,I always felt like I was my own person, and I think he supported the music that I did and so did Mom. We had a mutual love of music and that that after I moved to L.A. I kind of extracted myself from a place where there were a lot of eyes on me. Because in Nashville I don’t know if I would have been able to grow and develop on my own as an artist. I went out there and I was a little fish in the big pond, you know? I got knocked down time and time again. It was kind of like being in college for the music business.
When I went and cut the record, I was able to do it my way, and it just reflected me and my tastes. I’m really lucky that Tony Brown believed in me and said “Hey, we’ll put this out like it is.”
Do you think your childhood was easier or harder because of your famous parents?
It was just different. There were times when it was different, because I wasn’t like the other kids, and I had a strange upbringing, but I had great parents and I feel like I was lucky and I always had a lot of support behind me for what I do. I read all these articles about kids of celebrities and they talk about what victims they were.
What do you think is the greatest lesson you ever learned from your Dad?
Oh man. That’s a though one. Probably that he said for me to never try to be like anybody else, ‘cause you never will be. I learned that the hard way, because I was trying to be somebody else when I had my band. I was trying to be like all the other bands, but when I stopped caring is when I cut this record, and he was right. Don’t ever try to be like anybody else because you never will be.
Is it true that you sat in for Axl Rose with Guns ‘N Roses?
(laughs) Yeah, I had met Matt a long time ago, and then I met Duff right before this happened when I was playing in Stargun, my old rock band. I got a call one day that they were gonna do a surprise show, this was before they had Velvet Revolver together, and they were looking for a singer at the time. They asked me and I did two shows with them. It was crazy. (laughs) It was like one for those moments in time when you have like an ‘out of body experience.’
So you were doing Axl part? Did you do that little dance he does?
(laughing) Yeah! No, I didn’t but believe or not I can imitate it pretty good, I was a big Guns n' Roses fan. I really liked Axl until he turned into Michael Jackson. I heard he had peck implants and botox and stuff. Talk about breaking some that didn’t need to be fixed.
I can tell you have had a lot of influences. Did Southern Rock influence you at all?
Are you kidding me? Southern rock, I mean. Marshall Tucker, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers and all that stuff I always just loved man. I always felt like The Stones were Southern rock sometimes. Aerosmith too- to me it’s just that vibe, laid back blues, country oriented rock and roll. The thing I love about Southern rock is just that the lyrics were always straight forward like country. They told a story, or they told about really simple feelings. Like Ronnie Van Zant has a way of saying shit - there was no riddle to his lyrics. It was always something straight up. Something that just got to your heart, whether it be “Needle and The Spoon,” or “Simple Man.” The music was always number one, but the lyrics were always very country. They just took the blues and just rocked out to it for an hour, you know what I mean?
You better believe it, bro. You are playing your father in the new Johnny Cash movie Walk The Line. Had you acted before, and how did you enjoy it?
Hell no, I hadn’t done no acting before and it was nerve wracking. But it was great. The director was real gentle with me. I only did three scenes in the movie, but it was a lot of fun. It was kind of crazy playing my Dad, but at the same time it was kind of a cool experience. In many ways it brought mea whole lot closer to seeing where he was at that time. We did a scene where Johnny and Waylon had an apartment together in 1967. We came in to do the scene, and the apartment was trashed, food everywhere. There were beer bottles everywhere. I said, “ Hey, this looks like the apartment I lived in last year?” (laughs) It wasn’t too far from home.
What’s next on your agenda?
We have a tour coming up with Toby Keith and Lee Ann Womack. We are in the middle of recording our new album. It’s exciting man. In my opinion it is light years beyond this record. I can’t wait for it to get done. It is like more traditional country, if you mix that with “When The Levee Breaks’ by Zeppelin - somewhere in there.
(laughs) And “Stranglehold!” You got it man!