Shooter Jennings

Just think – if it wasn’t for a coin flip, or better yet, a lost coin flip, I might not have been able to see Shooter Jennings in concert recently at Songbirds.

No, I’m not the gambling man like my old pal Jesse used to be (and yes, I want the money you owe me), I’m talking about Shooter’s dad, the legendary Waylon Jennings. Literally over 60 years ago before he was an icon in “Outlaw Country”, Jennings was a member of The Crickets, Buddy Holly’s band. Yes, that Buddy Holly. Holly’s life was cut short on the “day the music died (February 3, 1959).

The Winter Dance Party tour was rough for Holly and The Crickets as well as Ritchie Valens and JP Richardson. The tour bus kept breaking down and the heat didn’t work. With all these issues in the dead of winter, Holly chartered a Beechcraft Bonanza for himself and the band to get to the next city faster and get out of the elements. As the story goes, Valens and Richardson aka “The Big Bopper” wanted on the plane. A coin was tossed and Valens got a seat and Jennings, depending on who’s telling the story either voluntarily gave up his seat to Richardson or lost it based on the flip of a coin. Regardless, what happened shortly after was what is considered rock and roll’s first tragedy.

The plane crash not long after takeoff due in part to the weather and Holly, Valens and Richardson – all with songs on the charts at the time, perished. Thus the iconic phrase, “the day the music died” was born.

By staying on the bus Jennings not only spared his life, but went on to become one of the biggest icons in country music along with Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. The three icons even recorded together as The Highwaymen, but are best remembered for their individual feats in Country music.

Jennings started charting singles in the mid ’60 and by the start of the 1970’s he had one top ten song after another and between 1974 and 1980 he had 12 number one country singles, many of them featuring Willie Nelson. His chart success continued into the early ‘90s. He became a part of pop culture history for not only performing the theme song to “The Dukes of Hazzard”, he also served as the narrator of the show.

Well, I know that doesn’t really have much to do with Shooter Jennings show at Songbirds, it just seems an interesting backstory. Being a fan of “Waylon, Willie and the boys” growing up I wanted after all these years if the old adage is true that the “apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”.

Beginning 15 years ago Waylon Jr. – or Shooter embarked on a career path similar to his father. That being said, the younger Jennings is his own man and his music is markedly different. Sure, he comes from music royalty on both sides (his mom is Jessi Colter), Shooter, as witnessed on this night may get his God given talent from his parents, but he’s chosen his own style and is not anywhere close to a tribute act.

Unlike other legacies, he doesn’t try to divorce himself completely from his roots; he in fact embraces them and takes them one step further. His band evidences this because Shooter Jennings is more than one-man show. He is front and center (most of the time). His supporting staff gives you the feeling that it’s more of a collective. Most outstanding to me is violinist Aubrey Richmond. Yeah, you may call her a fiddle player but her playing was more intricate than a traditional fiddle player in a country band, Richmond’s playing a touch of sophistication to the music. Jennings himself split time between sitting behind the keyboards and traditionally fronting the band on rhythm guitar. A hybrid of southern rock, rockabilly and old-fashioned country – not “bro country” saw a full house get into each song no matter what pace.

Playing a lot of material from his latest album it is easy to see how he’s changed from the first release, which was more rocking effort to now a more old school traditional country album. Whether it’s maturity or just something different is yet to be seen. But it is very obvious by his live show that he has one foot in country and the other firmly planed in rock and roll and he balances them well.

– Dave Weinthal