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Shooter Jennings tells it staight

By Dan MacIntosh, March 2005

Shooter Jennings is one rugged individual, much like his dad was. (That "dad," by the way, was none other than the iconic Waylon Jennings). Shooter's debut CD, "Put The 'O' Back In Country," has just been released on Universal South. And while Jennings doesn't have that distinctively low singing voice his dad had (at least not yet), his scratchy vocalizing certainly carries with it a familiar familial outlaw spirit.

Jennings is the only child Jessi Colter and Waylon had together. And since he's the offspring of two certified musical rebels, one just expects his music to be equally confrontational.

The title track of his new release includes a snippet of George Jones' "He Stopped Loving Her Today," which adds an exclamation point to exactly what Jennings believes to be real country. The disc also features a song about a drug bust, called "Busted In Baylor County." Yep, he's a chip off the old block, all right.

"He always told me, 'Don't try to be like anybody else because you won't ever be,'" replies Jennings, when asked what - if any - advice his dad gave him. And these aren't fluffy 'do as I say, not as I do' words either, since Waylon also practiced exactly what he preached."He also gave me a lot of good advice about this (music) business," Jennings continues. "(Like) watch your ass, play your cards right, and make sure that you're in creative control. As long as you've got creative control and artistic freedom, then that's all you'll need."

Colter, by the way, is the only one that warns him about the evils of the music business and has expressed second thoughts about his involvement in it.

"My mom always says that to me, 'Are you really sure you want to be in the music business?' But she's cool about it. They (mom and dad) know the course. They know what you're in for. But at the same time, they understand the passion behind it. My dad was really supportive of the music because he just loved music. And he was supportive of me playing it because he knew I loved it. I think that excited him."

Shooter realized that music was his calling, the moment he discovered the magic that could be created in a recording studio.

"I played drums since I was real young," he recounts. "Then I picked up piano a little bit later. And I would always mess around with it. And I loved music. I loved buying music and listening to it. But it didn't click for me until I was like 13 or 14. I went into a portable studio, and I started recording on tracks. And I was, like, 'This is great!' That's what got me excited. And here I am about 10 years later, sitting in New York City about to play a show."

The love of singing and playing came first, and then the recording buzz happened next. But the whole songwriting end of it all is still a work in progress.

"I still don't think I have the skills," he admits about the songwriting art. "I remember the first couple of songs I wrote were pretty bad. But I just remember being excited about it. Just excited creating - creating songs and music. The thing that really fired it off for me, and made me the most excited, was when I could create my own stuff. The fact that Tony Brown (one of Universal South's senior partners) is letting me do what I want to do and putting my record out - whatever it is I do - that's awesome to me. That's the biggest gift and the best thing in the world."

Jennings is with Universal South, mainly because this is a label that understands and appreciates his unique intersection of country roots and rock and roll spirit. He started out wanting to be a rocker and even played in rock bands. But the man just can't help it that his familial country roots run so deep.

So what made Jennings "ready for the country," so to speak? Did he just decide to change directions?

"It wasn't as black and white as that," he explains. "It was more kind of like, I had this rock band, and I loved it. And I loved doing that, and I was younger when I started it. I had it for seven years, and we really worked hard in LA. Whereas in Nashville, I was kind a big fish in a little pond, but in LA I was definitely a little fish in a big pond."

"But as I started getting older, I started appreciating country music a lot more and getting more excited about it - getting more excited about the lyrics and the storytelling. And I started cutting this other record with these other guys. And I didn't really say, 'Hey, now I've gone country.' It was really kind of like I wanted to make all the music that I loved, including the rock and roll and the country. I really wanted to bring it all into one thing."

"I really didn't think Nashville was going to embrace it like they have. I really thought they were going to fight against me and just say, 'Oh, this is too rock and roll.' I was really surprised and excited when I felt like they were into it. Now we're on CMT and all that, and it's exciting."

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