Singer/guitarist Shooter Jennings (born Waylon Albright Jennings) was a 25-year-old rookie songwriter when he started working on his debut solo album, “Put the ‘O’ Back in Country,” in 2004.
If you go
What: Shooter Jennings with Uncle LuciusWhen: 9 p.m. SaturdayWhere: The Windjammer, 1008 Ocean Blvd., Isle of PalmsPrice: $15 in advance, $18 the day ofFor more info: www.the-windjammer.com or www.shooterjennings.comShooter Jenning also will perform at 3 p.m. Saturday at Earshot Charleston, 1663 Savannah Highway, in West Ashley as part of Record Store Day. Find out more at recordstoreday.com and facebook.com/EarshotCharleston.
At the time, he was working under the long shadow of his Country Music Hall of Fame dad, Waylon Jennings, a veteran of the “outlaw country” movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s. It wasn’t an easy task for a young, budding songsmith who related more to classic rock, folk-pop and blues than old-school country music.
“People already have an idea and an expectation about me before they’d meet me or hear me. It’s like a misconception, but it’s something I’ve dealt with my whole life,” Jennings said of being the son of a famous father. “Some people either assume that I’ll be some rich, spoiled, entitled son-of-a-star dude or that I’m some beer-drinking, hell-raising character. I’m always going up against that.”
Different from dad
“As a songwriter, my favorite artists are usually songwriters — from Bob Dylan and (Bruce) Springsteen to Trent Reznor and David Bowie,” Jennings added. “My dad actually didn’t write that many songs during his career. He was great at picking songs by other songwriters to play, and there’s an art to that, too. I don’t come from that as much because I’m not as gifted as a singer.”
While most of the twangy country-rock of “Put the ‘O’ Back in Country” shares a kinship with the original outlaw country fare, Jennings said his most recent work aims for a more textured and sophisticated rock/pop/blues hybrid.
With his latest release, “The Other Life,” the younger Jennings has stepped into more of a self-made role as an independent songwriter.
“I’m more than proud of where I come from, and my dad was a great dad, but in some ways, I’ve gone farther down the road as a songwriter than he did,” Jennings said. “I’ve been able to separate myself in that way. Also, a lot of die-hard Waylon fans who love that outlaw country music of the ’60s and ’70s don’t really get the music that I’m doing these days — not all of them, but most of them. Some of my music gets really dark and really weird, so it’s confusing to some of them.”
Since his debut, Shooter Jennings’ catalog has become more diverse and eclectic with every release. On the 11-song “The Other Life,” he jumps steadily from fist-pumping anthems and gritty blues-rock songs to soul-stirring gospel and waltzy acoustic ballads.
“When I got around to this new record, I chose to fill in the flavors that would make the record as tight as possible,” Jennings said. “I feel like the more I play and write, the better I get.
“In the recent documentary ‘The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story,’ Bruce Springsteen talks a lot about how his musical instincts drive you when you’re young, but then after a while, your experiences start to drive you — and you get better,” he added.
“It makes sense to me, looking back at the early stuff I did. You have to get through your initial period where you’re trying to define your sound. Now, I have a lot behind me, and I’m not worried about making the wrong impression or the wrong move. I’ve already made all the impressions I can make.”
The opening track on “The Other Life,” “The Flying Saucer Song,” rolls slowly with ambient piano and a spaced-out groove.
“A Hard Lesson to Learn” brings in some bluesy guitar riffs in the vein of Creedence Clearwater Revival.
“The White Trash Song,” featuring guest vocalist Scott H. Biram, kicks off with an acoustic guitar intro and accelerates into a fast-truckin’ rocker.
The title track is steeped in Southern soul, gospel and Ray Price-esque piano.
Other highlights on “The Other Life” include a harmony-laden acoustic duet between Jennings and Patty Griffin of Band of Joy titled “Wild & Lonesome,” the fiddle-driven rocker anthem “Outlaw You” and the guitar-heavy, hand-clappin’ party tune “Mama, It’s Just My Medicine.”
Black Oak Arkansas frontman Jim “Dandy” Mangrum sings a few extra verses on the echo-y “15 Million Light-Years Away,” as well.
On the road
As Jennings has worked on his songwriting craft, he’s also picked up experience as a bandleader handling a handful of different ensembles. His first group, the .357s, leaned more toward the traditional honky-tonk style.
In recent years, Jennings toured and recorded with a combo called The Triple Crown, featuring pianist Erik Deutsch, guitarist Chris Masterson, drummer Tony Leone, bassist Jeff Hill and pedal steel player Jon Graboff. That group toured in support of the “Family Man” album in 2011. They contributed to many of the tracks on both “Family Man” and “The Other Life.”
Last year, Jennings loosely assembled a new group in Nashville, Tenn., to handle shows and sessions in and around Music City.
And the songwriter recently partnered with the members of Austin, Texas-based roots-rock band Uncle Lucius for the winter and spring dates supporting “The Other Life,” which hit the streets March 12.
Uncle Lucius will open and provide backing for Jennings at The Windjammer this weekend and throughout the tour across the Southeast. Comprising singer/guitarist Kevin Galloway, bassist Hal Vorpahl, lead guitarist Mike Carpenter, drummer Josh Greco and singer/keyboardist Jon Grossman, Uncle Lucius recently issued a critically acclaimed album titled “And You Are Me.” The blues-tinged rock ’n’ soul sound naturally complements Jennings’ rich mix of styles.
“I’ve been traveling a lot and taking all the options that I can to work and promote the new record this year, but working in the studio is my favorite thing to do by far,” Jennings said. “I’m proud of ‘The Other Life.’ I think it’s the first album I’ve made where all of the different flavors of music I’ve done have come together. I’ve always separated things before, but this one encapsulates everything into one. That’s kind of my ultimate goal.”