Since the 2005 release of his modern outlaw coming-out party, Put the "O" Back In Country, Shooter Jennings has proudly waved the banner his mother and father, Jesse Colter and Waylon Jennings, had helped design decades ago.
After the surprising release of his 2010 concept album, Black Ribbons, Jennings collected a talented group of musicians in his new home of New York to craft Family Man, which will bring back those scared away by his ambitious version of space rock. Combining country and fist-pumping Southern rock, Jennings' most personal collection of tunes is easily one of the best country albums in this very young year.
Jennings is bringing his new tunes, as well as older favorites, to the Rockin' Rodeo in Denton tonight for a show with Cody Canada and the Departed. We spoke to Shooter over the phone just after some SXSW gigs, and he opened up about New York vs. L.A. and why this album wouldn't have happened six years ago.
The current tour is with the Departed. Did you ever tour with Cross Canadian Ragweed when they were together? Well, Cody and I go way back, probably 15 years, but we've never toured together, so this will be a fun time to get to hang like this.
Not that your past albums have been immature, but this new album certainly has a well-worn maturity to it. Would this record have been possible for you six or seven years ago? No, I don't think so, and that applies on different levels. I think it applies music-wise and writing-wise. I'm proud of this record and we actually cut two records, with the other one coming out in December. We took a different approach to recording by going out to New York, and it was really great.
You've never been shy about switching styles and artistic directions quickly. What brought you back to the Southern country sounds of this album after the space concept of Black Ribbons? Black Ribbons was me making a step in a direction that was totally outside of what my dad's thing was, and it was a record that meant a lot to me. But when I was done with it, I had shed that specific skin. So, for this record, I wanted to get back to putting emphasis on the songwriting. I'll do another album like Black Ribbons, but not anytime soon.
Eleanor Masterson, who has ties to North Texas, and her husband, Chris Masterson, played on the new record. Did any of your old band, the .357s help out with this one? You know, I'm still tight with all those cats, but this tour has the people that played on the new record, except for Chris and Eleanor, who are busy with their Mastersons project and with Steve Earle. It's a whole new group of New York guys, really. I did run into [long-time bass player] Ted Russell Kamp the other day and we're still cool, but this was a different kind of project and vibe.
Chris Masterson is an unreal guitar player who's played with Son Volt, Jack Ingram, Steve Earle and so many other big names. What makes him such a valuable part of a project for so many people? Chris and Eleanor were both such a big part of this record. I hired Chris and then he mentioned that his wife played fiddle. Of course, her voice is also such a big part of this record. I'm just lucky they were a part of it all and they helped all the magic happen. Plus, they're such great people. I saw them in Austin after a SXSW Mastersons gig, and it was great to see them. Chris' subtlety and taste as a player is phenomenal. He makes choices as a player that aren't the obvious choices. He takes the backroads, and that's very cool.
Given your lineage and the fact that you've proven you're more than just a legend's son, do you think you'd be more commercially successful if you played by the so-called rules of Nashville and tried to fit in with what's currently going down on Music Row? I don't know if I could fit in. I know that I wouldn't fit happily. I've never written with teams of writers, so I don't know that I have it in me. Maybe if I did try, it still wouldn't work out, because I'm not some smooth-voiced Randy Travis-style Nashville singer. I mean, I can sing, just not like that. I don't know, I just know I don't want to do it.
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You were an L.A. guy for years. What has the move to New York City been like for you as an artist and as a family man with two young kids? It's been really difficult, but I love it. We've actually spent a lot of time here over the past 10 years, but this is the first time we've stayed and put down roots here. We go to local shows, and I'm a big Harry Nilsson fan, so it's been cool to find the places that he used to go to. It's been really inspiring for me. As far as my family, there's something to do on every corner, as opposed to California, where you're more isolated. In New York City, you want to walk around and do stuff with your kids.
I read that health problems with your fiancée's father inspired a couple of the songs on the album that many might think were inspired by your own father. He had a stroke, right? He did, but he's OK now. That whole thing with my father-in-law was a big deal. I wrote "Daddy's Hands" and "Summer Dreams (Al's Song)" about those circumstances. Going through him being sick and in the hospital during Christmas and New Year's was like revisiting what I had gone through with my own dad. it was very hard, but in another way, I was able to look at it from the outside and gain perspective on both scenarios.The holidays always make things harder, and it brought a lot of emotion onto this record.
Were there any emotions that came about which surprised you during that time? Like I said, I was kind of on the outside looking in, and when I went through this with my dad, I was 20 or 21. But when I looked at all of this as a parent, it definitely awakened those feelings and made me understand the importance of family even more.