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18 Jul 2018

A Career of Left Turns: Shooter Jennings Plays Two Nights at Pappy and Harriet's as He Releases a 'Real Country Record'

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Shooter Jennings. Shooter Jennings. Jimmy Fontaine

Shooter Jennings—the son of the late, great Waylon Jennings—is usually considered a country artist. However, his love of taking creative risks has allowed him to transcend country in some awesome ways.

On Thursday and Friday, Aug. 9 and 10, he’ll enjoy a rare two-night stint at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace—coinciding with the release of his new album, Shooter, on Aug. 10.

“This time around, I feel like we really set out to make a real country record,” Jennings said during a recent phone interview. “‘A Hank Jr. record’ is what we were kind of calling it, and we set out to make a record that was fun to listen to, and I feel like the most left-turn thing I could have done was make a very country record, especially when everyone is doing experimental records these days. For me, I set out to make a very boogie-woogie, a little Jerry Lee Lewis, a little Hank Williams Jr. kind of record. That was the spark, and we saw that through.”

His previous album, Countach, was a tribute to record producer and electronica pioneer Giorgio Moroder, and included covers of some of Moroder’s contributions to film soundtracks, including title song from The Neverending Story with Brandi Carlile, and the title song from Cat People with Marilyn Manson.

“Every record is different. With the (Moroder) record, the idea was to explore his music and expand it into a more-country realm,” Jennings said. “I learned so much from doing that record. I watched this documentary on Hunter S. Thompson called Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride, and he talked about how he would retype Ernest Hemingway novels, like the whole book, and he would learn his writing by doing that. Exploring these Giorgio arrangements and chord progressions, and adapting to them was a learning process. I became really obsessed with his solo records, and I thought they were so unique and definitive of the time.

“Doing that record was really fun, but after that was over, I didn’t want to go back and do something like that again. It made sense to do a left turn and make a country record afterward. It felt like the rebellious thing to do.”

When I asked Jennings if he has ever felt like he’s alienated his audience, he mentioned Black Ribbons, a concept album that he released in 2010, which included the voice of Stephen King narrating between songs as a disc jockey after the U.S. government had taken control of the airwaves. Many of the songs reference conspiracy theories.

“At this point in time, I think it’s become expected. When we did Black Ribbons, that was the first big left turn,” Jennings said. “When we did that record, there were definitely some people at the moment who didn’t understand what we were doing. But over time, that record has given back to me more than any other record. I got the most out of the records that are the most experimental. I don’t feel like I’ve divided (my audience), but I’m sure there were people who were like, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ But now it’s like become a mainstay. Sturgill Simpson did A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, which is a very experimental record. … At the time, it might have been polarizing, but if I lost anyone, they were people who were not there for me in the first place. I never felt like there was a reason to believe it wasn’t OK to push the boundaries.”

Jennings has collaborated with a long list of musicians from various genres—but one that sticks out is Billy Ray Cyrus; Jennings collaborated with him on a song called “Killing the Blues.” When I asked Jennings about it, he laughed.

“I’ve known him over the years, and we did this series of shows in Los Angeles where it was me and a band, and we’d add a bunch of different singers to come in and play,” Jennings said. “I asked him to do that, and when he did that, I said, ‘We should go in the studio just for fun.’ I had really been in love with that song, particularly John Prine’s version, for a really long time. He loved it, and it was like, ‘Why not?’ It was cool, and he let me steer with the two songs we did, and it was just fun.

“He’s an incredibly talented singer. His personality has kind of overshadowed who he really is in a way, but he’s this crazy stylistic vocalist, kind of like Freddie Mercury or something. He does layer after layer of harmonies. He’d do them in all these different voices—like one that was a woman, and one that was like Sammy Hagar—and he had all these names for these different voices. It sounds like 10 different people singing, but it’s him changing his voice.”

Jennings married his wife in Joshua Tree, and they are regular visitors to Pappy and Harriet’s.

“I love it up there. It’s a special place to me. There’s kind of a mystical vibe to it,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of adventures in Joshua Tree, and it’s become me and my wife’s place to go and get away. I love playing Pappy and Harriet’s. When my wife and I go out there, we go and eat at Pappy and Harriet’s.”

I had to ask: What did Jennings think about the episodes regarding his father on Mike Judge’s new Cinemax animated series, Tales From the Tour Bus?

“I didn’t know what to expect, especially after seeing the Johnny Paycheck episode, which was a little harsh,” he said. “I wondered what was going to happen, and I didn’t get too involved in it, because I was worried about the platform and whether it included people who had an ax to grind. But I think they did a really good job at the end of the day, and I think Mike Judge’s heart was in the right place. The Jerry Lee Lewis episode was fantastic, and it had some really cool stuff in it. You could tell (Judge) really loved country music, and you could tell he was trying to do something really cool and entertaining.”

Shooter Jennings will perform at 8 p.m., Thursday and Friday, Aug. 9 and 10, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets for Friday’s show are sold out, but $25 tickets remained for Thursday’s show as of our press deadline. For more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit www.pappyandharriets.com.

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