Shooter Jennings wanted to stir things up with his latest song, “Outlaw You,” and he succeeded. Country fans are divided in their response to his social commentary about mainstream country singers who try to align themselves with the Outlaw music movement created in large part by his late father, Waylon Jennings.
With lines such as, “Hey, pretty boy in the baseball hat/You couldn’t hit country with a baseball bat,” Jennings ultimately sings, “They should outlaw you.”
Whether staunchly supporting or rabidly criticizing his view that musicians don’t have an inalienable right to drop the names of his father, Johnny Cash and Hank Williams in positioning themselves as musical renegades, the song has generated lots of comments on the Internet, including CMT.com.
In reading the online comments, Jennings is keenly aware that some fans are claiming he, too, is trying to capitalize on his father’s legacy.
“Yeah, that I’m riding my dad’s coattails or something,” he said this week during a visit to CMT’s offices in Nashville. “The thing is, man, my skin is so thick at this point. The stuff that’s been said about me gets way worse than that. Of course, they’re going to say that. But if anything, I’m like, ‘Oh, really? Because who else is going to say this? I’ve got to step in and say something if I believe it.
“I’m certainly not rolling in the dough. A lot of people think that I am, though. That’s the other thing. They think I’ve got a lot of money, so I’m sitting around on a pile of my dad’s money and just throwing darts at people. Which I absolutely do not have and am not doing.”
Although Jennings is not naming any specific artists who inspired the song, he’s amused that fans have filled in the blanks and jumped to conclusions.
“I refuse to say anything when people ask me,” he said. “I don’t want to do that. And it’s funny because I’ll check the comments every once and a while online and see that people get mad that I’m talking about some guy I was not talking about. They’re saying, ‘You wish you’d sold as many albums as they did.’ But I think it’s funny.”
He wrote the song in upstate New York after his initial feelings about faux Outlaws were later independently supported by various columns and blogs.
“It just seemed so silly to me,” he said. “It seemed like somebody needed to come in and poke some fun at it. So I wrote the song and recorded it.”
At the time, Jennings was completing work on a new album, Family Man, scheduled for release in February. After writing and recording “Outlaw You,” he told executives at his record label he wanted to release it before the album.
“The label didn’t want to do it. They said, ‘Well, we don’t want to upset anybody that might help us down the line.’ I said, ‘Come on, nobody’s gonna help us, anyway,’” he laughed.
He sent a copy of the song to several people, including singer-songwriters Jamey Johnson and Ray Scott. As it turned out, Scott had already written a song based on Waylon Jennings’ “Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out of Hand.”
“Ray had already called me because he wanted to do a duet of ‘Don’t You Think This Wussy Country Bit’s Done Got Out of Hand,’” Jennings said. “He was ready to jump in there, so I said, ‘Ray, you’ve got to hear my song. I promise I didn’t rip it off from your idea.’”
After compiling a video featuring text from the song lyrics, he recently teamed with director Blake Judd to shoot another music video for the song. Using Bobby’s Idle Hour, a local bar, as its base of production, the new version consists of Jennings singing the song as he walks down the street on Nashville’s Music Row.
“We tried to do it a few times with a steady-cam wheelchair kind of thing to make it real smooth and look more professional than it came out,” Judd said. “But after a few times doing run-throughs, it looked better on a handheld camera with him walking and me backing up. It executed exactly the point we were trying to make.”
As the son of a true music legend, Shooter Jennings is quick to acknowledge his bloodline, but he has the intelligence and emotional grounding to realize the importance of following his own career path.
“When I was young, of course, I would have loved to be successful and all that,” he said. “As I’ve gotten older, I realize how important it is for me to stay true to who I am. If that brings success, it brings success. If I’ve got to get a job on the side, I’ll do it. At the end of the day, I care a lot about music, and I care a lot about it remaining real.
“The thing about it is that my dad and I were really close. He was a great parent. I feel really responsible for his legacy. I knew him so well to know how much he cared about country music and about music in general — boundless music and experimentation and the progressiveness of music. I feel I have an obligation I’ll never lose.”