Shooter Jennings has found his center. The son of country music's Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter grew up with the family's music, dived into industrial and psychedelic stoner rock, then came full circle back to his roots — and did everything in between. His center, however, is in Giorgio Moroder. Jennings' latest project is a tribute album to the electronic music pioneer and includes artists ranging from country-folk singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile to Jennings' pal Marilyn Manson. Meanwhile, Jennings is touring with his dad's band, Waymore's Outlaws, which has known the 35-year-old shit-kicking songwriter since birth.
"Musically I'm doing the most reaching out and stretching I've ever done," Jennings says. "On paper, doing my dad's band would be kind of a step backwards, but it's not. They really want to do all the weird shit I'm doing. There's such a mutual admiration onstage. ... The guys from Waymore's are like, 'We understand you have this Giorgio record and that this can't go on forever.' But they really want to play it."
That kind of balance — left-field experiments and real-deal rock 'n' roll — is at the heart of Jennings' label, Black Country Rock Media, which will release the Moroder tribute album later this year. Among other recent "offbeat, one-off" projects are a duet with Billy Ray Cyrus for an earnest cover of "Killing the Blues," and turns from people like porn legend Ron Jeremy and Dennis Haskins, aka principal Mr. Belding on Saved by the Bell, who mashed up Tom Jones and Kris Kristofferson ("Delilah" and "For the Good Times"). Jennings and his band scored the backing tracks.
"I was kind of stoned and I got to the chorus and accidentally started playing 'For the Good Times.' They're really similar. Real Robert Durst-y that way," Jennings says. "We're not boring people to death yet."
That's kind of the label's mantra. Jennings founded the label with his manager Jon Hensley in 2010 and started producing records in 2013.
"We're these weirdos and we're all alone, and the minute we met, now there's two of us, and us against the world all of a sudden," Jennings says. "We laugh because all the releases we do, on paper, they sound like a f—king disaster. And they all turn out great."
Cyrus was nervous at first — he made a career as a mainstream country heartthrob, but now takes a backseat to his first daughter in pop, Miley Cyrus.
"He's a really nice guy, f—king funny as shit, sweet, he's had all this success and money. You go over to his house and he's like, 'Man, I don't have much of a fridge but I could stick some ham in a hot dog bun with some mustard and Cheez Whiz,' and you're like, 'Right on, dude,'" Jennings says. "When we got in the studio he was very nervous at the beginning. He wanted me to sing most of it. ... When he got into singing it, there was an 'oh shit' moment with the band, like 'God damn!' His voice is so powerful — the fact he could layer all these vocals, do all these harmonies. He just wanted to do that for hours."
With Waymore's Outlaws — whose lineup of Richie Albright, Jerry Bridges, Fred Newell and Tommy Townsend remains from Waylon's days at the front of the stage — Jennings bridges the gap from his more eccentric path with his family's music.
"My middle name is Albright," Jennings says. "I remember being young and I always wanted to ride the band bus. I wanted the band to think I was cool, not like the boss' kid. Then I'd ride the bus and they'd be like 'F—k!' and hide the drugs and shit."
Just don't call it "outlaw country." From Jennings' "dad's music" to a "whole generation of entitled MTV kids that have PlayStations [pretending] they grew up in 1950 Arkansas," the term has been warped and overused into a nothing phrase, he says. Sturgill Simpson, fellow Jazz Fest country artist and friend of Jennings, also has been tagged with the label. Jennings' dad never cared for the term either.
"Whenever I see that, it's usually a red flag that this is gonna suck," Jennings says. "When someone's like, 'Yeah, man, we're badass outlaw country.' This is gonna blow. It's like hearing someone say 'we're a rap-metal band.' ... Any time I rail against something like this someone gets their feelings hurt. I just wish people would do original shit and forget about genres, forget about traditionalism. The only thing that's real are people who just do their thing and try to do their thing."
Not that that doesn't come with some risk or rejection. To promote the Moroder tribute, Jennings tried to reach his connections overseas. Nobody called back.
"I think they think it's either a joke or a dumbass I-don't-know-what," he says. "The general perception is that they don't really understand what we're doing, and that's fine, because when it comes out it'll be a different story. ... That keeps me grounded to some degree. If everyone else was on par with what we were thinking, we'd probably [have] wrecked everything already."