Shooter Jennings writes and performs outlaw country in the truest sense. Decades after his parents Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter battled for creative freedom, the Los Angeles resident guided his own country music and hard rock path while collaborating with everyone from George Jones to Marilyn Manson.
Freedom of choice also brought about his self-titled new album Shooter!, out Aug. 10 on Elektra Records and producer Dave Cobb's Low Country Sound imprint. It's stuck in the '70s in the best possible way, celebrating the halcyon days of Nashville rebels, Texas troubadours and boogie-woogie blues-rockers.
From the Jerry Lee Lewis-inspired "Bound Ta Git Down" and the funked-up Jerry Jeff Walker sing-along "Do You Love Texas?" to the romantic "Rhinestone Eyes" and the rowdy "D.R.U.N.K.," it's a classic-style country album that's simply about putting smiles on faces. As a concept album, it does its job. After all, outlaw country was about having fun while maintaining creative freedom, not tough guy posturing or retracing the tired steps of your honky-tonk heroes.
On the eve of the album's release, Jennings chatted with Wide Open Country about those hilarious Hey Shooter! music videos, Hank Williams Jr. deep cuts and true outlaw women Brandi Carlile and Tanya Tucker.
WOC: You premiered singles like "Fast Horses & Good Hideouts" and got word out about the album with the Hey Shooter! music videos. How did you get that idea? Were you just trying to be nostalgic about Hee Haw and those K-Tel as-seen-on-TV LP ads?
Shooter: It started with a discussion. Myself, Dave Cobb, Gregg Nadel who runs Elektra and Adam, my manager and Dave's manager, all went to dinner and we were talking about the record. The conversation came up about doing what felt like a television show thing to break the songs out, but it'd have live performances of the songs and what was supposed to be an interview section or something.
Then all of a sudden, it was all up to me to figure out what it was going to be. So friend my Jenny Johnson, a comedian, went with me and my wife to have drinks and dinner. Jenny and I had been friends for years. She's just so sharp and witty. I said, "Let's think of something," and she brought up Hee Haw and the cornfield. They wanted me to get some of my friends involved in this thing, and I was like, "How am I going to that, without just asking them to help me promote my record?"
So Jenny was the lynchpin and the key in that. Live Nation was already on board to shoot it, so they went in there and painted cornfields on the wall and designed this set and everything. It was a way to get the songs out there, be funny and be true to my personality.
The Freedom Rock commercial was an idea me and Col. Jon Hensley had doing BCR (Black Country Rock) stuff from the very beginning. We had the idea, but we didn't really have the budget and the means to do it. At the end of the conversation with Jenny, I was like, "Oh, we should throw in the Freedom Rock thing!"
You've got this back-to-basics sound with a lot of the songs. Do you think that kind of works thematically with the album fitting with '70s television imagery?
With my last record Countach, the Giorgio Moroder tribute record, we used a lot of '80s nostalgia. I'm into that. I'm obsessed with the era in which I grew up. This kind of ties all of that together, too. Now we're at the country angle with all of it.
Did you visit the actual Hee Haw set with your parents?
I don't think I was ever on the set, but I heard stories about it a lot. I would watch it, and they would watch it when I was a kid.
I went to the set of Dukes of Hazzard one time with my dad when I was, like, four. I kind of got scared by some of the guys. Rosco was in full costume with his gun and I think he's bad in real life. It was funny.
A lot of the songs have a classic, Hank Williams Jr. vibe to them. I really like "Denim & Diamonds," though. To me, it's more of a classic rock song.
It totally is. Subject-wise, it's more of a country song, but musically I love that about it, too. There's Pink Floyd in the solo moment. That kind of stuff, I love. Dave and I, that song is our favorite sound. But we didn't go too heavy. We didn't want to put too much rock into the record, so as far as we'd go was "Denim & Diamonds."
Read More: The 10 Best Shooter Jennings Songs, Ranked
I love Hank Jr., too, by the way. I love Hank Jr.'s records. I do not hide it at all. He's a big influence on me and I just love that style of country songwriting. I especially love "Whiskey on Ice," "I've Been Down" and the album High Notes.
Plus, you have gorgeous songs like "Cherokee" that are so different from most peoples' perceptions of Hank Jr.
Totally, totally. There's some great hidden gems in those records that you don't find for a long time. Last night, we were listening to Strong Stuff. It's got "Made in the Shade," the Skynyrd cover, and "Gonna Go Huntin' Tonight" and all that. Some of those songs are dark and cool. He had all of these different modes, but when he'd nail it, he'd nail it.
Maybe you already have, but is he someone you'd want to collaborate with?
Yeah, I'd love to collaborate with him. Dave was saying he'd be into doing a record if we both did it for Hank Jr. I'd love to do a Hank Jr. record. I'd dial his sound right back to 1984. That's exactly where we'd go.
I've seen, too, that you're going to produce a Tanya Tucker album.
Yeah, me and Brandi (Carlile) are going to co-produce Tanya's new record. I'm very excited about that.
How'd that come about?
A friend of mine had an idea for her to sing a song by Hellbound Glory called "I Hope You Die Young." We tracked her down, she came to the studio and did it. I instantly wanted to work with her. When the Brandi record came out, she said, "I'd like you to do my record." I knew how Brandi grew up listening to Tanya Tucker, so I knew she should do this with me. She really cares about Tanya Tucker's music and knows all the songs.
What made you want to make a country record after doing the '80s soundtrack music and other projects that were more outside the box?
I just felt like it was the right record for the time. Dave and me immediately decided that we wanted to make a really country record. That's exciting, and a lot of cats can't do that. We wanted to do something we both would be grinning ear-to-ear to make.
Is Dave pretty hands-on, or does he kind of come in with some finishing touches?
Oh no no, he's very hands-on. Working with Dave is like going to work on a project. We crafted a record with the musicians in the room over a period of time musically, and then I went back and did all of the vocals. In several cases, I wrote songs over a little bit of time. A couple, like "Denim & Diamonds," were constructed out of thin air. That was me on piano and Dave on guitar, making this song up and me writing the lyrics afterwards. It was like two kids drawing something together. He's a really great producer and his mind is sharp as a knife.