Unlike most offspring of famous musicians, Shooter Jennings has had a 15-plus-year career that defied the expectations and stereotypes that could have been his downfall. In the country community, Jennings is recognized as the son of icons Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter. While the 36-year-old doesn’t shy away from those roots — as his program on SiriusXM’s Outlaw Country Radio shows — over the years he's put together one of the most eclectic catalogs in music, from his early days in L.A. rock group Stargunn to his latest project, a tribute album to electronic producer and disco pioneer Giorgio Moroder.
The idea for the Moroder project started when Jennings bought a copy of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. “I bought it because Paul Williams was on it,” he says. “He used to sing all of those Muppets songs I liked as a kid, and he’s one of those awesome ’70s coked-out songwriters who just killed it.”
But it was another song on the album that Jennings ultimately found more intriguing. “There was a song on there called 'Giorgio by Moroder,' and I was interested in the song but didn’t know much about him. When I looked him up, I realized all of this stuff that I loved from when I was younger was all put together by this one guy.”
Once he realized how often he’d heard Moroder’s music without connecting the dots, Jennings did a deep dive into Moroder’s wide-ranging catalog, from his production and songwriting work with artists like Donna Summer and David Bowie to his soundtracks for such classic films as American Gigolo and Midnight Express.
“I was just infatuated with him,” Jennings says. “He had this sound that I really loved — it’s my favorite type of synthesizer sound. He had this attitude about music and innovation because at the time there was no innovation with synthesizers. He was the first dude that figured out, from what I understand, that if you recorded a click track, you could sync all these different synthesizers together. It became an educational thing [for me], and that was before we even thought about doing the record.”
Jennings ended up recording nine songs that became Countach (for Giorgio). His then-distributor Thirty Tigers initially scoffed at the notion of the Moroder project (“They thought it was dumb”), so instead Jennings recorded a tribute EP to late country legend George Jones as a sort of companion piece. He eventually put out that out under the title Don’t Wait Up (for George), but remained set on releasing the Moroder tribute via his own label, Black Country Rock (BCR). It arrives on pink vinyl this Friday, Feb. 26, and all other formats next month.
Enlisting the likes of Brandi Carlisle and Marilyn Manson, the nine-song Countach finds Jennings at his most adventurous and serves as his “love letter to my childhood.” Even for a musician who has spent the better part of his career defying people's expectations, his delving into the world of electronica is one of his most ambitious efforts to date. The album is less a straight tribute and more a reimagining of Moroder's music, mingling elements of traditional outlaw country with sparkly electronics.
Jennings’ unconventional approach to the Italian producer actually highlights his longtime love of dance music. He attended Lollapalooza in his late teens and was instantly hooked on the sounds of dark-industrial acts Ministry and Nine Inch Nails, as well as Tricky’s trip-hop. He admits, however, that he isn’t a fan of the mega-DJs who populate today’s landscape.
“Probably being an old codger, but with people using Ableton Live, everything sounds a lot alike now,” he says. “It is not like the days when they were actually using LinnDrums and Akai samplers. At one point, it was rock & roll when all the original shit was happening, because you had to know how to play a keyboard. The new scene is interesting to me, but it’s not that interesting to me.” Still, he says, “If I went into an underground club in London, I bet I'd probably hear some stuff I really like.”
Countach (for Giorgio) was delayed following the death of Jon Hensley, BCR's co-founder and Jennings' longtime manager and friend. But Jennings is excited to finally unleash his unorthodox interpretation of the disco giant. As he heads back into the studio later this year to begin his first batch of original material since 2013’s The Other Life, which follows two years producing for the likes of Lukas Nelson and Julie Roberts, Jennings has firmly established himself as a fearless experimental musician whose chops as an arranger and composer are often overlooked.
“Arrangement and composition is very important to me,” he explains. “It doesn’t get a lot of focus when people talk or think about me. They see the standard outlaw country thing, but I’m so focused on keyboards and layers. This was the time I could really run with that.”
For more information on Countach (for Giorgio), visit bcrmedia.com.