Jennings: Creativity over conformity

Photo by JAMES MINCHIN III<p> Shooter Jennings Show caption
Photo by JAMES MINCHIN III

Shooter Jennings

Shooter Jennings, like his outlaw country daddy, Waylon Jennings, opts for creativity over Nashville conformity.

Jennings’ cinematic new album, The Other Life, features guest stars Patti Griffin, Scott H. Biram and Black Oak Arkansas singer Jim “Dandy” Mangrum. He’s releasing it through his label, Black Country Rock, and a company that’s proven sympathetic to his challenging creative paths, Entertainment One Nashville.

“There’s a dragon that they all chase,” Jennings said of the Nashville music machine. “For me, it’s never about that. My perception of success in music comes from being an MTV kid. During the golden era of that, especially the ’90s, the creative and the new, the fresh and the odd, were embraced.”

Jennings recorded three albums for major label Universal South — 2005’s Put The O Back In Country, 2006’s Electric Rodeo and 2007’s The Wolf — before going his own way with 2010’s Black Ribbons. Some people loved the latter 70-minute concept album. Many others just didn’t get it, especially when Jennings performed the album in its entirety in concert.

Jennings doesn’t normally address the state of country music or country radio, but he does so in “Outlaw You,” a scathing selection on The Other Life, which will be released next week.

“ ‘Outlaw You’ is a specific case,” he said from his home in Los Angeles. “Negative or positive, I like to stay away from that, but in this case I broke my own rule.”

Biram’s guest spot on The Other Life comes in “The White Trash Song.” Jennings is a big fan of Biram’s and the two singer-songwriters have toured together. “It was an honor and a pleasure to sing with Scott,” he said.

Griffin appears on “Wild and Lonesome.” Jennings didn’t know her but he’d enjoyed the duet she and Kris Kristofferson recorded for a Waylon Jennings tribute album.

Mangrum is The Other Life’s most colorful guest by far. A Black Oak Arkansas fan, Jennings met the gruff-voiced singer backstage in Memphis in 2006. When Mangrum attended another Jennings show a few years later, he brought a CD of songs he’d written.

“There was some stuff on there that was country-sounding and some other stuff that was all over the place,” Jennings said.

Jennings picked the Mangrum-composed “Million Light-Years Away” for inclusion on The Other Life. On first hearing it, he thought it could be a lost Lynyrd Skynyrd epic.

After Jennings recorded a studio version of “Million Light-Years Away” that satisfied him he asked Mangrum to join him in a duet of the song. The key had been raised, however, so Mangrum had to sing the song in a higher register.

“It worked great for him in the new key,” Jennings said. “I was like, ‘Man, you sound like you did when you were young!’

“ ‘Million Light-Years Away’ is a weird little opus,” Jennings added. “I love having it on the album. I think a lot of people who don’t know who Jim Dandy is will be like, ‘Who is that guy?’ If they look him up, I hope they discover Black Oak Arkansas, because I love that band.”

Jennings produced a 33-minute film that will accompany The Other Life album.

“We don’t know how people are going to react to it,” he said. “It starts pretty normal and gets crazier and crazier.”

Jennings also expects to soon make the official announcement about a Waylon Jennings biopic. After six years of pursuing the project, he said he’s found the right partner and concept for the project.

“I’ve very excited about it,” he said.