Shooter Jennings Interview: ‘Family Man’ Returns to Country
Most people wouldn't think Shooter Jennings and Kermit the Frog have anything in common, but leave it to Shooter's dedicated fans to recognize a connection -- 'The Rainbow Connection,' that is. Kermit's 1979 performance in 'The Muppet Movie' inspired Shooter's new video, 'The Deed and the Dollar,' the first single from 'Family Man,' which releases today (March 13).
"The very opening scene is Kermit sitting on a log and he's singing 'The Rainbow Connection,' which is one of my favorite songs of all time," Shooter tells The Boot. He shared the clip with video director Blake Judd, who was instantly on board. "Blake sent me a shot of that lake with that log in it and I was like, 'That's it! We're doing that!' It was such a beautiful Southern scene and it turned out so great."
In the finished clip (watch below), Shooter is sitting on a log strumming his guitar and singing the romantic ballad. He says he's been pleased that some fans have recognized his homage to the Muppets and tweeted about the video. The clip also features home movies of his family.
"They said it would be great to have a girl in there, so I ended up going through all this personal video footage I had and putting it on there," he says of incorporating video of his fiancé, actress Drea de Matteo and their daughter, Alabama Gypsy Rose. "It was so much better and it meant so much to me."
Watch Shooter Jennings' 'The Deed & the Dollar' Video
Filming the video was not without its trying moments. "It was five in the morning. I went out there and immediately fell in the water, and the waders filled up with water," he says of his boots submerging in the stream. "So my bottom half is soaked. I get the waders off and I throw them and they go down the river and I was like, 'Oh my God! This is already a disaster,' so I had to dry off a little bit before we shot it."
While on location in rural Kentucky, Shooter says they actually filmed three videos to accompany songs on 'Family Man.' "We shot another video that was really wild. It's in an old Civil War era church that had snake handlers. I was handling snakes. It was pretty crazy. It was for the song 'The Real Me,' the first song on the album," Shooter says. "The third one we shot we didn't get enough [filmed], so we have to do a lot more for that one, but we started to work on 'The Black Dog.'"
The latter song is an eerie ballad about a mine disaster and a ghostly black dog. "I wanted to write a Civil War ghost story, and I found this site called themoonlitroad.com," Shooter says. "It had some really great stories, but this one that caught my attention, 'The Black Dog.' I was determined to turn it into a song. It took me a long time to do it and right before we went into the studio, I finally figured it out and it turned out really good."
Shooter is proud of his seventh album and he should be. Released on Entertainment One Music Group in conjunction with his own Black Country Rock label, the 10-song set spotlights his earnest, evocative voice and compelling songwriting. "It's the first time I stepped out of people's shadows and did something all by myself," he says. "I'm proud of the other records I've done ... but they were kind of a band dynamic and there were walls I had to get through. This time I met a different group of guys I connected with through the piano player [jazz pianist Erik Deutsch], who is an old friend of mine. I wrote all the songs and produced it myself. It's really my first solo record in a way."
'Family Man' also marks Shooter's return to country after 2010's 'Black Ribbons,' a rock album with narration by horror author Stephen King that Shooter describes as an audio movie. "It's really dark and not country at all," he says of his last project. "When I had kids, that record came out of me being scared for their lives because of the state the world is in."
The son of country music legends Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter, Shooter has made a name for himself with his own edgy brand of outlaw country. On his new album, Shooter shows a softer side. "All of my records have been very personal, just writing more and more songs, you get better at being able to say what you feel," he says.
'Daddy's Hands' is a poignant song he wrote after Drea's father had a stroke. "It's something that everybody goes through and it's something really hard to watch," he says of dealing with an ailing loved one. "If you are close to your parents or a grandparent, you watch as they get old and you learn so much from that, and it makes you want to learn more while you have time."
'The Deed and the Dollar' is a love song he wrote for Drea. "The original demo almost sounded like an Alan Jackson tune," he says. "I'm a big Alan Jackson fan."
Shooter admits fatherhood has been a major inspiration. "My daughter is going to be five and my son is going to be one, and I feel this responsibility. There is a change inside your makeup that's just better. For me, there's a sensitivity that increases when it comes to life," he says. "When I do things I'm not proud of, it hurts a lot more than it did before. I was able to be more reckless and now I still make mistakes, but having kids, you have a responsibility and these little people who are looking up to you for everything ... All of these things are making an impact. Being with my kids is really important to me, being a good dad and being around a lot. I'm about to leave for the most extensive tour since my children have been born and that's already hard for me to swallow."
Shooter is scheduled to perform this week (March 16) at South-by-Southwest in Austin, Texas and then will continue on with dates across the country. In addition to recording and touring, he also hosts a radio show on Sirius satellite radio, a gig he's had for the past six years. He's also been stretching his wings as a producer, working with new acts such as Fifth on the Floor, a Southern rock band from Lexington, Ky. He's also producing a new album on his mom.
"It will definitely be a country record," Shooter says of Jessi's upcoming project, which has yet to be signed to a label. "There's all these underground bands that I'm familiar with. I'm sending her some material by a lot of these artists, so she might be cutting some other artists along with some stuff she's been writing. She's real hip. We've been talking about doing a record together for about eight years. I think it's about time. We've got to make it happen and we will."
Shooter will also have another album out in the fall. "It's companion to ['Family Man']. It's called 'The Other Life.' It's a little bit darker than this one. It's the other side of the coin, but it was recorded the same sessions. It's the same sound, same band," he says of the musicians he refers to as "the Triple Crown": pianist Erik Deutsch, guitarist Chris Masterson, drummer Tony Leone, bassist Jeff Hill, pedal steel player John Graboff, and Eleanor Whitmore, who sang harmony and played mandolin and fiddle.
With 'Family Man' just out and the next album, 'The Other Life' nearly finished, Shooter is one of country music's most prolific talents. "Yes, it's my seventh studio record and the eighth one will be out later this year and I'm banking on number nine," he says with a warm laugh. "I can't stop. I've tried."