A new generation of outlaw shoots off his mouth

Shooter Jennings is the real deal, whether he’s delving into his love of rock ‘n roll or schooling poseurs on the ABC’s of country music authenticity.

He sings in “Outlaw You”: “Hey, pretty boy in the baseball hat/You couldn’t hit country with a baseball bat/Country ain’t just about where you’re at/It’s about bein’ true to what’s inside.”

Mr. Jennings comes by his admiration for heartfelt music naturally. His father is the legendary Waylon Jennings, who wrote and performed music touched by his Texas roots and by his identification with the image-scorning outsider. For many years, Waylon joined fellow Outlaws like Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard in crafting the iconic character of the rebel with applause.

Shooter, who was practically raised on a tour bus as his dad and mom, singer/songwriter Jessi Colter (“I’m Not Lisa”), zigzagged across the country, isn’t one to duck his musical legacy. But with eight studio records to his credit as well as numerous live albums and EPs, he’s forged his own path.

He first came to notice with the cheekily-titled 2005 record Put the ‘O’ Back in Country and hasn’t looked back. He has dabbled in rock ’n roll with offerings like Electric Rodeo and the Wolf and flirted with psychedelia via Black Ribbons, a 2009 concept album inspired by Stephen King’s western gothic novella The Gunslinger.

His tunes have become music for the masses through TV exposure, including the use of his song “All This Could Have Been Yours” on the popular FX series Sons of Anarchy. And he has also tried his hand at acting, appearing as his father in the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line  

Shooter will be taking to the Bridges Auditorium stage this Saturday, January 17, performing along with Willie Nelson’s son Lukas Nelson in a concert to raise money for the Claremont Community Foundation. Peter Harper will also perform, throwing his support behind an organization that provides grants to a number of local causes enhancing life in the community. 

The COURIER recently took some time to speak with Shooter about why he keeps so all-fired busy.

“I’ve got a lot of energy and fire. I don’t know, my dad was always kind of that way. I’ve always just been all over the place, always working on projects,” he said.

Along with his musical endeavors, Shooter said he’s always engaged in side programs involving technology, things nobody will ever know about.

“I’m afraid that at some point the well’s going to run dry, but it hasn’t yet,” he said.

After the Bridges gig, he will spend the next several months touring across the United States. Then, he will move onto the UK. What keeps him grounded, when he’s literally flying across the globe?

“My kids kind of do that automatically. It keeps me worn out. There’s always a point when I’ve got to snap into dad mode, which is like three to five days a week,” he explained.

Shooter, 35, never steps in the same river twice, musically speaking. Perhaps it’s his upbringing, in which he was steeped in country music but also very much a part of the MTV generation. He was that kid listening to Nine Inch Nails as well as to roots music. He has a chronic “lack of caring” about the term genre.

“The common opinion is that I’m too country to get rock appreciation and too rock for country appreciation,” Shooter said. “They’ve pigeon-holed me in this crack where I fall in between. Genres are not doing service to what I’ve intended to do.”

This dissatisfaction with categorization has led him to found his own record label, Black Country Rock. Along with producing two new EPs of Shooter’s music this past year, recent Black Country Rock projects include a release by Billy Ray Cyrus, a spoken-world Christmas record by wrestler Mick Foley and an album featuring classical music selections by pianist and erstwhile porn star Ron Jeremy.

“With our label, we’re pretty much trying to confuse everyone as much as possible, getting rid of the boundaries. We’re all over the board,” Shooter said.

It’s a hard time for musicians to make a living nowadays, he pointed out.

“It’s an outrage that my friends in bands can’t even feed their kids and stuff, because of the state of the Internet,” he said. “It needs to come to a different place.”

Shooter, who is part of the Content Creators Coalition, hopes iTunes will give way to a music collective run directly by musicians, for their benefit, and using electronic currency like Bitcoin. And he is looking into ways that digital music can be made more archival. 

“It’s a great thing,” he said of the concept. “If I release an album into the digital world, it will forever be marked as my creation in a permanent measure. It can’t be changed at any time from that point on. It has to be checked against the system.”

As the saying goes, like father like son. It’s natural that fans of the elder Jennings would want to talk to Shooter about what it was like to be raised by the Outlaw. He doesn’t mind talking about his dad, so long as the person has actually listened to Waylon’s music and understands its ethos.

But Shooter has spent years creating his own life and, in the process, cultivating his own fans.

“My ambition has always been so sky-high in so many areas that are different from dad,” he said. “I’m too stubborn to let whole thing affect me too much.”

Tickets for the concert, which runs from 8 to 10:30 p.m., start at $33. To purchase tickets, visit www.pomona.edu/bridges or call the box office at (909) 607-1139.

—Sarah Torribio



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