Young gun

Shooter Jennings
Embracing the shadow: Shooter Jennings.

Shooter Jennings, I suspect, is Bad Boyfriend Material.

Not the sort overprotective fathers would invite in for the “what are your intentions with my daughter” speech — more like the kind of guy dads would chase off the porch with a shotgun.

At least that’s the image Jennings, the son of late outlaw country star Waylon “I ain’t wearin’ no spangly suit” Jennings and songwriter Jessi Colter, has invested much of his 27 or so years in cultivating.

“I’m sorry about that time I got drunk and hit on your mom and slashed your daddy’s tires, but I figured they had it coming …” he intones in “Aviator” from his most recent album, Electric Rodeo (Universal South, 2006).

The stringy hair, the scruffy beard, the big belt buckle on grubby jeans, the bullet tattoo, the tinted aviators favored by malcontent Hyde on That ’70s Show, the vintage Southern Rawk sound.

But, in the tradition of Chris Robinson, Gregg Allman and Johnny Cash, it turns out being a bad boy isn’t all … bad.

Embracing the shadow

“Rock right now — rock radio, rock music — isn’t in line with what we do,” Jennings tells Xpress. His voice is comfortably reminiscent of his dad’s, circa Dukes of Hazzard. There’s that warm rasp.

While most kids take a while (say, until their 40s) to come around to thinking their parents are cool, Jennings (perhaps counterintuitive to his maverick leanings) has his mom’s name tattooed on his forearm and wears his dad’s earring. And he played his father, a close friend of the Man in Black, in Walk the Line.

“I embrace that shadow,” he informed Relish in a recent interview. “Most of these kids who denounce their musical parents make me mad … In this business, your family name may kick in some doors, but there’s still a cover charge to pay. In the end you stand or fall on your own.”

His next album will be, in a way, a project with Waylon. “It’s basically a record I did with my dad 10 years ago,” the musician notes. As soon as his band comes off their current tour, they’ll hit the studio. (Asked about his seemingly hectic schedule, Jennings enthuses, “Love that, love that.”)

Which is, perhaps, further proof that this rocker doesn’t need anyone to kick in doors for him. He cut his teeth around LA, rocking out with his band Stargunn and partying with Guns ‘N Roses (yes, someone has a gun fetish here — though Shooter’s name reportedly comes from an infanthood penchant for peeing on those who changed his nappy).

Then he decided to get back to his country roots. “I realized that all those old country songs about getting your heart broken and drinking to forget — I was living those songs,” he said to Relish. “I rediscovered country — my way.”

His way involved his 2005 debut, the provocatively titled Put the O Back in Country. “The ‘o’ is for ‘outlaw,'” the musician explained to his Walk the Line costar Joaquin Phoenix in Interview last year. “Country music is at a time right now like it was in the 1950s and 1960s, where it needs somebody to come in and be like, ‘Yo, I’m a loose cannon and I might blow my head off at any moment. So, listen to this because this is f••king country music!’

“I want to be a part of that.”

That, and he wanted to stick it to Nashville.

Kid Rock

Though it’s unusual for a musician to have total artistic control on a first release, Jennings acts nonchalant about this coup. “I was lucky to be able to do that, but the first album was done before we got a record deal. We [already] had it mastered.”

He adds in an easy drawl, “It’s not because I’m a control freak.”

While Put the O received lukewarm response from the critics, it sold some 200,000 copies, and then Jennings went back to his rocker sensibilities with this year’s Electric Rodeo.

And, despite the obvious nods to bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Marshall Tucker Band and even Led Zeppelin, Jennings’ music doesn’t unduly suffer for its lack of originality. Instead, it benefits from a self-assured, well-controlled mastery of those dirty, emotive squalls of pain and pleasure. This is cigarette-smoking, beer-swilling, heavily amped, drumset-bass-and-two-guitars rock — the soundtrack for drunken all-nighters, bar brawls and cross-country jags in muscle cars.

“That’s kind of my favorite era in time,” reveals Jennings, pointing out that while his band excels in vintage sound, they update it with “a lot of modern equipment.”

But he doesn’t see the rock gig as contrary to the country scene. As he laid it out for Interview, “I like to classify [my songs] wholly as country music, because country is not defined by the way it sounds, but rather as a culture.”


Shooter Jennings plays the Orange Peel (101 Biltmore Ave.) on Thursday, May 4. 9 p.m. $17. 225-5851.

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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