As the son and only child of Waylon Jennings‘ marriage to Jessi Colter, Shooter Jennings gradually became aware as he grew up — and became a musical artist himself — of his parents’ pivotal role in the Outlaws’ musical movement of the 1970s.
Along with Willie Nelson and Tompall Glaser, Waylon and Jessi made up the artists on the 1976 album Wanted: The Outlaws, which became country music’s first million-selling album. That dramatically and effectively changed country music.
Over the past few months, Shooter began to be concerned about what he was listening to and reading about in country music. He has performed and recorded in both rock and country, but he initially had no inkling that some young country artists were trying to link their identities and their careers with the original Outlaws.
“I had just finished recording an album, and I had been disconnected from radio,” he told me. “Then I got on the Internet and read the article you wrote on CMT.com about faux outlaws and some other articles about some of these guys.”
The more he learned and listened, the more concerned he became that his father’s heritage was being hijacked, or — at the very least — being used to prop up and sell images.
So he decided to write and record a song addressing just that. He called it “Outlaw You,” and its sentiments are very direct.
“I’m not one to pick a fight,” he said. “But you need to be true to yourself.”
So — without naming any names — he decided it was time for a musical smackdown.
“Somebody needs to be poking some fun at these people who are cashing in on the Outlaws’ name,” he said. “I wrote the song to be funny, but at the same time to be very serious about pointing out what the Outlaws stood for. It was not about image. The Outlaws lived outside society’s boundaries and did something that was so phenomenal in history that I feel saved country music’s life.
“With no intent to discredit anyone’s personal journeys or accomplishments,” he continued, “I have to draw a line in the sand that says, ‘If you’re going to associate yourself with my dad, you’re gonna come under the scrutiny of what the name ‘Outlaw’ meant then and what it means now, especially when you call yourself that. You’re asking for anyone protecting that legacy to come down on you.’ And that’s all I care about. And they had fakers then, and they have fakers now. But in this case, I know how my dad would feel, and I know I’m paying him a tribute”
He continued, “And although he is not here to represent himself, I’m fairly sure that if the labels and artists would have enough balls to try something like this when he was alive that he would, while acknowledging the nod, still see it as another generation of ‘Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way.’ It is the same old tune, fiddle and guitar.”
In addition to the current video for “Outlaw You.” Shooter is completing a concept video for the song. It was shot on Music Row in Nashville.
“We set up base at Bobby’s Idle Hour,” said Shooter. “It’s the cool beer bar on 16th Avenue that has lots of songwriters. That felt very appropriate.”