Shooter Jennings

There aren’t too many people in this world who know exactly what they were born to do. But when you’re the only son of singer Jessi Colter and country’s original outlaw, Waylon Jennings, what other career choice do you have?

On the title track of his debut album, Put the ‘O’ Back in Country (the “O” stands for outlaw), Shooter Jennings sings in a mild-mannered twang, “Well, I’m rollin’ like a freight train / comin’ straight at you / playin’ hillbilly music / like I was born to do.”

“Shooter has the artistic ability of his dad, and the true ear of his mother,” agent James Yelich told Pollstar. “He’s got both of them and people just instantly love the guy.”

Shooter, whose given name is Waylon Albright Jennings, was born into life on the road. In his first few years, he’d spend most of his nights in a crib on his parents’ tour bus, later graduating to his very own bunk. To this day, the singer sleeps better on a bus than anywhere else.

“I would love it,” Jennings told Pollstar. “Some of the (Waylon) songs I hear now are really comforting because I would hear them every night from the bus before I went to sleep.

“But I took a lot of things for granted when I was growing up; I just thought it was normal.”

During his formative years, Jennings found that making music came natural in him. At 5, he learned to play drums, and between tours, back in Nashville, he took piano lessons. After losing interest in piano, Jennings picked up a guitar and never looked back.

In his late teens, he discovered rock ‘n’ roll with influences ranging from Lynyrd Skynyrd to Guns N’ Roses. At 18, Jennings left Nashville and moved to Los Angeles where he assembled rock band Stargunn. The band played local clubs for about seven years until Jennings realized something in it was missing: the music he grew up around, country.

“Over time, I began to appreciate country music more in my life and understand why a song like George Jones’ ‘The Grand Tour’ is so beautiful,” he said. “It was a natural evolution.”

Not long after that, Jennings disbanded Stargunn, found a group of musicians (whom he dubbed the 357s), and cut a country-rock record that aimed to “stir things up a little bit.” But Jennings was still apprehensive about making a transition into the genre that made his father a legend. His fears were unfounded.

“I didn’t think Nashville was really going to dig the record too much, so I was surprised when (Universal South’s) Tony (Brown) and Tim (DuBois) liked it so much,” he said. “I just really wanted to cut a record of the kind of music I like, and I guess it turned out to be country.”

Shooter Jennings

He followed his father’s advice: “Don’t be afraid to take a chance. The minute you’re afraid to take a chance and try something new musically, then you might as well go home.”

Following the March 1st release of his album, Jennings landed an opening slot on Toby Keith’s tour, appeared on Country Music Television with his single “4th of July,” and appeared on Sirius Satellite Radio and an AOL music program, according to his manager, Marc Dottore.

“We came out of the box with a couple of video spins and no radio play whatsoever and sold 6,000 records in our first week,” Dottore told Pollstar. “The other thing that helped was just the groundswell of people talking about it.”

For now, Dottore and Yelich want to keep Jennings on the road. Their goal is to have 200 shows next year and, so far, they’re off to a good start. In between Keith dates, the singer is headlining his own club shows, which have been successful in exposing him to new markets, Dottore said.

“If we can continue to maintain that all the way through the year and come with the next record in March after touring for a solid year, I think we’ll have a monster on our hands,” he explained. “I think touring is going to be Shooter’s bread and butter for a long time.”

Yelich, who was once the responsible agent for Waylon, describes the younger Jennings as a “tremendous live act” who is going to be a talent buyer’s dream.

“We’re going to go in and set a ticket price with the talent buyers that we think is right for the marketplace, and we’re going to set a guarantee that is very fair so they can make money right away. It will always be that way with him,” Yelich said. “It’ll be a very good situation between him and promoters.”

The agent also hinted at pairing Jennings with rock acts in the future, citing Neil Young and Willie Nelson as musicians who have married rock and country in the past.

“Shooter wants to be played on country radio and he’s very gracious to them but, at the same time, he wants to get in front of music fans regardless of the genre,” he explained. “Shooter’s got that young outlaw way of thinking that he wants to do it different, and I think that’s his dad’s influence.”