"In Nashville, in the summertime, in 1996 I was listenin' to my dad and Johnny Cash/ doin' chain gang and talkin' trash with Savannah and smokin' cigarettes/ but it wasn't that long till I tasted the salt of the sea/ cause she was still in love with the guy she left for me/ so she stood there cryin' as I packed my pack/and I knew that I was lyin' when I said that I'd be back." - This Ol Wheel - Shooter Jennings.

When Shooter Jennings performed at Shotgun Willie Nelson's July 3 and 4 picnics at Carl's Corner and Fort Worth in 2006 he was swamped by fans with the same fervour reserved for Billy Joe Shaver.

And it wasn't just because Shooter had actress partner Drea De Matteo of Sopranos and Joey fame on his arm.

That was before Billy Joe was arrested for shooting a knife-wielding drinker outside Papa Joe's Saloon at Lorena, south of Waco.
Shooter, now 28, and his hot band the 357s had genuine star appeal with two studio CDS and a 2006 disc Live At Irving Plaza in their catalogue.

Now Jennings has released his fourth album The Wolf and landed visual roles on Nine Network show CSI and the top rating nocturnal Letterman and Leno variety shows.

Shooter sets the pace with his autobiographical entrée This Ol Wheel that dates back to his 1996 debut in Nashville and name checks heroes including his late dad Waylon and Johnny Cash.
< Shooter 2006 - photo by Carol Taylor

"Now fast forward to about 2000 and 3/ I'm standin' on the corner of Hollywood and Vine/ just a six string and me/ and that Capitol building lookin' up at that thing/ wonderin' when am I gonna get my chance to sing."

Shooter's travelogue is replete with illustration of the L.A. Capitol building towering over Tootsies on Lower Broadway in downtown Nashville on The Wolf CD slick.

And the song exploits time travel on this riveting honky tonk tableau with the Ragin' Cajun Doug Kershaw guesting on fiddle.

This is especially significant as a naked woman invaded the stage at an historic Willie picnic and was captured of film bypassing Shooter's dad Waylon to get to Kershaw.


"In the last nine or ten/old Ah Pook waltzed in/ put his slimy gun to my head and said/ 'son, this is the end." - This Ol Wheel - Shooter Jennings

Shooter recently revealed the source of his Ah Pook lyric.

Ah Pook, taken from a William S. Burroughs story, figures as a kind of mythic levelling figure, intent on screwing up any good situation.

"It's really kind of personally specific," Shooter revealed.

"I had this dream, and my dad was in the dream. I asked him when I was going to die, and he said, 'In the last nine or ten.' And I was like, what is that supposed to mean? That whole segment is about this."

Shooter also injected his entrée with his version of rap but says two country singers more heavily influenced it.

"I love Jerry Reed and Charlie Daniels The Devil Went Down to Georgia," Shooter revealed.

"There's an art to writing lyrics that flow really fast and rhyme. There's kind of that rhythm that Jerry Reed's got that I like. That's very close to rap. With This Ol' Wheel, I wasn't setting out to rap. I was just coming up with my way to sing it. It kind of came across like that. I'm a big rap fan, too. I bought the Kanye West record. I get a lot of influence from that. The rhythmic phrasing in those things is just genius."


"Looks like The King and 'Cilla/ got a little too drunk last night/ and we came in and it turned in to a Hank and Audrey fight/ you fixed my face up good/ and I broke everything in sight/ and as we coasted out on fumes in raised the light/ when you slipped your little hand in mine." - Tangled Up Roses - Shooter Jennings.

It's a perfect segue to Tangled Up Roses, ignited by a Hank and Audrey style fracas that finds true love flourishing after being pricked by the not so rosy storms of life.

Shooter sets the scene with conflict and then balances it with a regret-tinged refrain that finds the combatants reunited by the power of their passion.

It's a scenario that Shooter shares with Hank Jr but not Hank 111 who has slammed him in interviews.

"I started playing drums when I was very young, about five or six," Shooter recalled.

"As I got older, I started to realise how much I cared about it. I chose not to go to college; I chose to take a year off to try and pursue my own music, which turned into two years, which turned into me just going, 'I want to move to L.A. I don't even want to take college.'

My dad and mom were really cool about it. I was really lucky to have parents like that.

"A lot of guys in bands that I played with during that time, and throughout my life, still had parents who didn't really understand music and didn't believe that you could make a living doing music - which you can't."


"We've talked about old times, the good times, the bad times/ and how deep down we're still the same/ we've talked about women and the hard times we're living/ how some things just never change/ now old friend I might have gone crazy/ I might have lived alone a moment too long/ I keep the song, don't let me let lazy/ when the rest of the world leaves me blue/ oh thank God I still have you." - Old Friend - Shooter Jennings.

Shooter is lean and wiry with tattoos snaking up his arms - his mother's name on one, a gun on the other - and a crimson stud gleaming in one ear.

Underneath that gun are the letters CBCS, for "country boy can survive."

The earring is an eagle silhouette spread-winged into the letter "W" - an icon ID for the original outlaw, Waylon.

That same icon is etched onto Shooter's stomach, but the one in his ear is even more special.

"My dad got his ear pierced when he was - I swear to God - sixty, because he wanted to be like me," the younger Jennings explains.

"This was the earring he wore - and I'm wearing it now."

Shooter emulated his sire by blazing his own trail - he fronted a rock band Stargunn in Los Angeles for six years until 2003.

It was where he played sold-out shows at the Viper Room and the Roxy.

Shooter also filled in for Axl Rose onstage - twice - with Guns N' Roses.

But Shooter sounds more reminiscent of Hank Jr and Willie on his beatific ballad - Old Friend.

He drenches his trip down memory lane with imagery plucked from his short but colourful past in a tribute to his dad who died at 64 on February 13, 2002.

"'Old Friend, about my buddy, is one of my favourite songs I've ever written. It's opening up and letting him know that I probably would have gone crazy a couple of times, hadn't it been for him. The Wolf that song is a real self-discovery, realising that I'm different and nobody's going to help me out. There's a lot that you have to deal with when you're in this situation from being in the spotlights, to just personally dealing with people that say they're your friends, but really have it out to undermine you and push you out of the way. There's been a lot of that in my life recently, and so I think that a lot of the theme of the record is a stance of independence."

Shooter has long rolled with the punches in comparisons with his sire.

"It never was something that was looming over me until the two records came out, during that time," Shooter recalled.

"We had a Rolling Stone review of Electric Rodeo and they didn't even mention one song - not anything about the record. They just said it was going to take better songs to live up to my dad's stuff. That kind of stuff makes me frustrated, because I feel like I have to keep putting out records until they can't write the same review every time. But it's not so much about pressure. I don't feel like I have to be an icon."

In the future, Jennings hopes to finally release an album he recorded with his father years back but that will be long after The Wolf departs.


"The only thing in my days of chains/ is this woman in my bed and this age in my brain/ slow ride on a slow train/ gonna get back home and/ tell 'em where I came from." - Slow Train - Leroy Powell.

Shooter was happy to have the Oak Ridge Boys sing on his hard driving Slow Train, penned by 357s slide and steel guitarist Leroy Powell.

But he admits he had to summon courage to approach group member Duane Allen.

Once in the studio, it turned out to be a bonding experience when Allen began telling him stories about Jennings' parents, Waylon and Jessi Colter.

The idea to feature the vocal quartet stemmed from a conversation Jennings had with Dave Cobb, who produced The Wolf.

"I can't remember which one of us said, 'wouldn't it be crazy if the Oak Ridge Boys sang on the record?'" Shooter revealed.

"I called Marc Dottore, my manager. He was like, 'Yeah, I know a friend of Duane Allen's.' A few minutes later, I got his number. I stared at the number for, like, two weeks. Marc kept asking me, 'Have you called the Oaks yet?' I felt stupid calling these guys to sing on my record. I think I had the number memorised by the time I called them.

"The first thing Duane did was start telling me stories about my dad and things that they had done. I was really honoured that they would be on the album. All four of them showed up, and I think they were a little nervous and didn't know what to think. I was definitely nervous. We were like little children. To be able to have the Oaks come in and sing on the song was so cool."


"I keep on writing my songs to sing, along this two bit smoke parade/ I never wanted the money, and I never wanted fame/ like everyone else who rides my name/ who's poised to push right me in front of that train/ and make out like pirates, while I sink in the rain." - The Wolf - Shooter Jennings

Jennings mentions the late Texan temptress Anna Nicole Smith's name in the title track - a song he wrote that delves into the concept of fame and celebrity.

He says his parents never succumbed to all of the trappings of a celebrity lifestyle.

"There's a big difference between country celebrities and, you know, Paris Hilton," Shooter explained.

"My parents were really humble. My dad knew his worth, but he was very humble. Our life was humble. There were a lot of celebrities they knew who were always going to Hollywood and all these parties. He really didn't do that.

"When I first showed up in L.A., I was always going out all the time. But now, in my life, I can't stand it. I stay in most of the time. You watch these people, and they just constantly go to all these events just to be seen all the time. Celebrity is such a big deal now. It's like this poor Anna Nicole. Regardless of whether you thought she was a good person or not or how she lived her life, ideally she's a girl from a small town who wanted to be famous."


"Concrete Cowboys eat grinded grits/ they don't always wear hats or sling guns on their hips/ they know a song by the taste on her lips/ and he's as lonesome on any given day/ as the sound of that far away train/ that he prays someday will take him away." - Concrete Cowboys - Shooter Jennings.

But it's his band that kicks loose on the swinging Time Management 101.

Equally infectious is the reflective harmonica driven Concrete Cowboy - a melodic sibling of Mamas Don't Let Your Mamas Grow Up To Be Cowboys with rambling and Merle name checked.

"Lucky Lucinda was a big city girl/ hungering for country in a rock-n-roll world/ dice shooting Darren was a sucker for Merle/ she saw the hollow look in his eyes/ she longed to slide his boots under her bed tonight."

More vitriolic is his version of Higher - penned by 357s drummer Bryan Keeling and Powell - that is tempered by the reality rooted ruptured romance of Blood From A Stone.

Ironically, Shooter's star has soared far higher than fellow scion, Hank Williams II1 who made extremely critical comments about Jennings during an interview.

Shooter refused to hit back with the same degree of contempt.

"I'm a fan of his, and I don't know why he's starting shit. I believe that if we got together and had a drink, we'd be friends," Shooter says smoking his peace pipe.

"I only met him for five seconds, maybe six years ago. I'm anti-drama; I don't make a big fit out of nothing. But I'm starting to learn how to stand up for myself. My whole life, I've let people walk over me and do shit, and I just kind of say, 'Oh, it's cool.' Now I'm learning how to stand up and just be a man about things."


"Well, my mama tried to keep me out of trouble/ but the devil wouldn't have it that way/ Oh boy, pray and stay humble/ were the last words that I heard her say." - Last Time I Let You Down - Ted Russell Kamp-Anthony Smith

Last Time I Let You Down, penned by 357s bassist Ted Russell Kamp and Anthony Smith, owes as much to his singing mother Jessi Colter as Drea, now 36 and mother of their daughter Alabama Gypsy Rose.

Kamp, born in the Hudson River Valley in New York state and now living in Los Angeles, has released four solo albums Dedications in 1996, NorthSouth in 2005, Nashville Fine Line and Divisadero - both in 2006.

He joined the 357s in 2003 and wrote Steady At The Wheel - one of the singles from Put The O Back In Country.

It was accompanied by a video - an essential marketing tool to break Shooter's music.

So The Wolf may be perceived as the son of Will The Wolf Survive, also cut by Los Lobos, but this album should be judged as a whole - not separate songs.

Which means the cover of Mark Knopfler's 1985 hit Walk Of Life fits because the video is designed to break the singer beyond the confines of a radio genre that still can't find a bullet for Shooter's raunchy blues flavoured country.

Jennings and the 357s have gained a strong fan base, but they've done it primarily through touring.

Mainstream country radio stations haven't exactly embraced him and his music, and Jennings says that's a big problem for him.

"I don't want to be on MTV," Shooter says.

"I want to be on CMT. I want to be on country radio. I love country music. I believe in country music. My heart is in country music. The way radio looks at my music is like I'm a threat, and I'm not. I'm not someone who's trying to come in and bring the whole thing down. I wish they would play me next to Carrie Underwood, but they don't. They won't give me that shot."


"She is a diamond, who shatters like glass/ she lives in colour, in a world white and black." - She Lives In Colour - Shooter Jennings

But Shooter is philosophical about his fate, fuelled by his growing catalogue if not a flood of chart toppers.

"I don't think I'll ever be the kind of guy that's going to be able to write a No. 1 hit," he says.
"Writing, to me, is an autobiographical journey to some degree. I just kind of get better at admitting my own faults and knowing myself. If you're a songwriter and you lie to yourself about who you are in life, then you kind of lie in your music. Even with my first two records, in comparison to this one, I hadn't learned a lot about myself. Or I hadn't admitted a lot about myself that I needed to.

"That's why I like this record so much. There's a lot of failure, and there's a lot of emotional distress and conflict based on things that I've lost or gained. The one thing that I want to do is always get a little better at being able to tell my side of the story -my way. That's what will make it different. Being honest."

He's equally fatalistic about airplay - 4th Of July from Put The O Back In Country was his biggest radio hit in a sea of radio rejection.

"The funny thing is that when they do that, they don't realise that they're shutting me out completely," Shooter explained.

"I don't want to be in rock, but rock wouldn't have me if I tried. I'm way too country for rock 'n' roll, so my only avenue is country. And they're like, 'You're too different. Go home. The thing about rock and roll is that there's the freedom and artistry of the music there that's not as ever present in country.

"With me, a lot of what they often say is that it's either too rock and roll for country, or too Southern for rock and roll. So there is this place that I, and a lot of other artists, get thrown into. It's what I've tried to fight against with my country. If they let these doors open for me and Hank III and a lot of these other artists it would really broaden country to a place that I feel like it needs to go.

"The hardest thing is being heard. If we can get our music out there and the masses can hear it, I think that they'll like it. It's all just kind of a big hope."

But Shooter has the last laugh.

"Eventually, if I wasn't so good looking, I think I'd go home and kill myself," he jokes.

"I just want to keep making music until they either kill me, or until we make it. One of the two."


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