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Clip: Shooter Jennings

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  • Carl Z.
    It s All About the O Shooter Jennings returns the danger, the volatility, and the bad
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 7, 2005
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      It's All About the 'O'
      Shooter Jennings returns the danger, the volatility, and the bad
      attitude to country music. His daddy Waylon would be proud.
      By Cole Haddon

      Published: Wednesday, December 7, 2005

      Waylon Jennings had given up on country music by the time he died in
      2002, exhausted by its abandonment of the '60s and '70s outlaw
      movement he helped start and dismayed by the pop-friendly sound that
      replaced it. His explained it to his son, Shooter, this way: "Garth
      Brooks did for country music what pantyhose did for finger fucking."

      Shooter laughs about it now, but the weary frustration remains. "Garth
      turned country into this big explosion onstage, more about the show
      than about the music," he explains, unwilling to bear how Nashville,
      as he sings on his own tune "Solid Country Gold," built Music City by
      sacrificing soul. "It happened with rock, too. You had Led Zeppelin
      come out, then ten years later everyone was fucking Whitesnake. The
      machine just grabs onto something."

      Now a 25-year-old prodigy in his own right, Shooter might be a country
      boy -- check out the CBCS ("Country Boy Can Survive") tattoo on his
      forearm -- but he has the street cred to pontificate about Zeppelin,
      too. After abandoning Nashville around 2000, he crashed the seedy club
      scene in Los Angeles, where his rock band Stargunn labored three years
      for a record deal before imploding with Peyton Place aplomb. Along the
      way, Jennings realized virtually no one in LA knew who his father was;
      on the bright side, he learned the benefit of not getting a free ride
      like he would've back in Nashville, and also landed for a girlfriend
      the only New York-bred Italian woman alive who knows more about
      country than he does -- actress Drea de Matteo, of Sopranos and Joey

      Jennings freely confesses the role his girlfriend played in his solo
      Southern rock/country reinvention, encouraging him to simply follow
      the direction in which his heart had been leading him ever since his
      father died. "That was definitely the moment when I knew I had to get
      my shit together," he admits. "But I was also getting older too, and
      as I was, I was getting obsessed with country. I realized, 'God,
      [Stargunn] can't play music like this.' I knew what our limitations
      were. Then I started exploring the kind of music my dad liked, like
      the Jimmie Rogers and Hank Williams Srs. It took me becoming an adult
      to understand it."

      And then, of course, there was Waylon -- the original outlaw who
      spearheaded country's own late-'60s counterculture revolution along
      with Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Townes van Zandt.

      "When I was young, man, I loved his records," Shooter recalls. "I'd
      call them 'Daddy Tapes.' Now, they remind me of him, but they also in
      an entirely different way teach me things. It's kind of like a big
      puzzle, and I'm getting it piece by piece every day." (To further that
      father-son psychic connection, Shooter actually played his father in
      the current smash Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line.)

      Live, Shooter often covers "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way," one
      of Waylon's best (but not best-known) songs. It's the same old tune,
      fiddle and guitar/Where do we take it from here? Waylon sings.
      Rhinestone suits and new shiny cars/We've been the same way for
      years/We need to change. Shooter's own new record, Put the "O" Back in
      Country, is just as critical of the Garth-fattened mainstream: They
      say in country music/It's either hit or miss/Well, if you're talkin'
      'bout record sales/You can SoundScan this.

      "All I'm saying is, 'Come on, bring the energy back to country
      music,'" Shooter explains of his album's raunchy title (Drea liked it
      too, just for the record). "I just miss the realness and characters.
      We had such a fruitful era in the '70s. Now where is all that? Where
      are the Merles, the Waylons, and the Willies?"

      Other 2005 country outsiders echo that concern. Chris Knight, a
      singer-songwriter out of Slaughter, Kentucky -- the town is so small,
      his address is "4" -- shares Johnny Cash's gift for straightforward
      narratives about the morally challenged (give Murder a spin). Still,
      he can't bring himself to listen to country radio these days, either.
      "There's nothing to identify with there, unless you like going to bars
      or riding around in your pontoon boat drinking beer on a Saturday," he
      says. "If it's not a drinking, silly-ass redneck song, it's almost
      bordering on Christian radio or a beauty pageant song."

      Newcomer Shelly Fairchild is a bit more optimistic, or maybe it's just
      the spunk in her Mississippi twang. "Honestly, I think that country
      music is making a turn for the better in a lot of ways," she says,
      pointing out country's recent diversification thanks to the likes of
      Shooter Jennings, Gretchen Wilson, and Lee Ann Womack. Fairchild
      herself packs a bluesy growl and Gretchen's foot-stompin' sound,
      though sans the redneck silliness Knight abhors. "It's good to hear
      some old-school country coming back," she concludes. "I'm talking old,
      like Southern-rock-influenced. Like John Cash and Hank Jr."

      Or like "Steady at the Wheel," a raucous Southern rock number Shooter
      chose as his next single, rather than a more commercially palatable
      country tune. "It's almost to say that I think country music should
      stand up and play this kind of music because nobody else is," he
      explains, dismissing rock radio as a bunch of emo crap. "Anybody that
      makes Southern rock or music that isn't Kenny Chesney -- real rock 'n'
      roll, real American music -- has no home to put it. If country music
      expanded its borders and took in all these homeless Southern fuckers,
      it would be huge."

      A final note: "Outlaw country is dead, as far as I'm concerned," he
      counters. "The 'O' in country doesn't necessarily stand for 'outlaw.'
      It died with Waylon. With me, I'm clearly Waylon's son. I'm doing my
      own thing musically, which is similar to him in that way. But I'm
      merely just an extension of what he did. This is music, and we're
      talking about the changing of music. Not the claiming of a name."
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