Completing some rough tracks that he recorded with his late father was a labor of love for Shooter Jennings. But finishing out the recordings that Waylon Jennings left when he died in 2002 turned into a major life event for the young outlaw rocker, singer and songwriter.
In 1995, when Shooter was 16 and playing in a Nine Inch Nails-ish band and Waylon was 58 and a country music legend, they began recording these rough tracks together in the pool house of their Nashville home. Shooter moved to Los Angeles and started his rock band Stargunn and the tracks sat for a long while.
“I opened the songs up two years after he died,” Shooter said, “and decided to try finishing them. ‘Outlaw Sh*t’ still has the same feeling it did. ‘Jack of Diamonds’ is now very different.”
Shooter finally decided to finish cutting the eight songs with his own band, the .357s, and tried to give the sound a logical extension of the rock ‘n’ roll that Waylon had exhibited throughout his career — albeit with an occasional psychedelic flair. “The session was with Dave [Cobb, Shooter's producer] and my band. A lot of the ideas came from them. We made up the arrangements on the spot. And Dave has great ideas. That all introduced a new element into the design of the sound. We were all in our prime. We had just come off the road, after 500 days, and were ready. It took two weeks to record this. It came together really fast, in a magical way. I think it’s the pinnacle of our playing together.”
Regarding the never-before-heard song “I Found the Body,” which Waylon wrote and which he sang with his son, Shooter said, “He came to me and said, ‘I have the lyrics. I want you to write the music.’ I remember he watched Woodstock ’94 and was getting excited about the new music he was hearing, and he ended up writing this. It’s very avant-garde and rock ‘n’ roll. I love the sentiment of it. It’s the only song I sing with him on the record.”
Shooter says the reaction to the CD, now that it has been out for a while, has been interesting although he hasn’t sought it out. “I kept this in-house for two years,” he said, “and played it only for friends. After his [Waylon's] mother died, I went to Littlefield [Texas; Waylon's birthplace] and played the album for family. They loved it. I don’t know yet how the public reaction is going to play out.”
“I remember, when word about this got out a little,” said Shooter, “some people were hoping it would be a David Allan Coe-Pantera kind of thing. But it’s not. I think it will translate to young people and they will connect with it. People will listen to good music. I know Rolling Stone said his [Waylon's] voice sounded weak. I think it sounds great. It’s a bookend to his catalog of music.”
Of the album’s title, Waylon Forever, Shooter said, “I actually got the idea from Batman re-runs and my mother said, ‘You should use that title.’”
What does this chapter mean to Shooter’s career? “What does it mean?” Shooter echoed. “It’s weird. I don’t know. There is a certain amount of relief that it’s out. I’ve learned a lot about music and the industry. In many ways I’ve changed my life. And this ties up that part of my life. So that is satisfying. The need to care about what other people think is something that has left me. It’s not there anymore. We’re moving in a new direction now. It has really freed me in a lot of ways.”
Shooter said the only people whose opinions matter to him about this project are those of other artists. “Especially,” he said, “country artists who grew up listening to Cream [Cream's "White Room" is on the album] and groups like that. I think a lot of people in country want to think outside the box. I know that Waylon would be making way-out records now. He really brought rock into country. He talked a lot about Buddy [Holly] and the energy of the rock crowds. He wanted that feeling. He broke away from sappy Nashville music.”
That was something, Shooter added, that he felt had weighed him down as well. “I thought too much about country music,” he said. “The label of country was weighing on me. My dad was all about leaving it. He used to talk about how much he hated singing ‘Green River.’ So, I’m free of all that now.”