Shooter Jennings Introduces The Wolf

Singer-Songwriter Says He Wants to Be Part of Country's Mainstream

You get a sense of Shooter Jennings’ diverse musical tastes by hearing his new album, The Wolf, and listening to the weekly radio show he hosts on Sirius satellite radio, although he insists, “I’ve always had a really mainstream sense of music.”

During a recent interview in Nashville, Jennings told CMT.com, “Bands like Guns N’ Roses were really huge to me. I’ve never been one of those guys who gets really into obscure music. I can’t really relate to a lot of obscure music. It’s primarily the mainstream music that I relate to.”

The 28-year-old singer-songwriter is always searching for new sounds, though, noting, “I probably spend $1,000 a month on iTunes.”

“If something hits me, it hits me, and I really like it,” he said. “Sometimes on my radio show, I’ll play something strange, like Terry Reid from the ’70s, and then I’ll play a Brad Paisley song.” Referring to his radio show, he said, “It’s the perfect little hideaway spot in the world. Somehow, they let me play anything I want. It kind of makes sense for me to play all of this stuff. I’ll play Faith No More and then Hank Jr. back to back.”

The Wolf begins with a combination of country, rock and Jennings’ version of rap in “This Ol’ Wheel,” but he says his vocal is probably more heavily influenced by two country singers.

“I love Jerry Reed and Charlie Daniels … ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia,’” he said. “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, though. I bought the Kanye West record. I get a lot of influence from that. The rhythmic phrasing in those things is just genius.”

Jennings was particularly happy to have the Oak Ridge Boys sing on one of the tracks, “Slow Train,” although he admits he had to summon the courage to make the offer to 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 Jennings 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?’” he said. “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 memorized 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 honored 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.”

On the title track, Jennings mentions Anna Nicole Smith’s name in the song he wrote that delves into the concept of fame and celebrity. He says his own parents never really succumbed to all of the trappings of a celebrity lifestyle.

“There’s a big difference between country celebrities and, you know, Paris Hilton,” he 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.”

Jennings and his band, 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,” he said. “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.”

“The funny thing is that when they do that, they don’t realize that they’re shutting me out completely. 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.’”

With a hearty laugh, Jennings jokes, “Eventually, if I wasn’t so good looking, I think I’d go home and kill myself.”

Calvin Gilbert has served as CMT.com’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.