"And there inside and barely alive was that old miner trapped under the rocks/ said he'd been there waiting for over a week/ with no food, water help or sleep/ since the rockslide trapped him underneath/ killing this old black dog." - The Black Dog - Shooter Jennings.

Shooter Jennings loves snakes and dogs - for two good reasons.

Shooter wrote The Black Dog about a Civil War canine whose ghost led miners to safety in a mining disaster.

"I was digging around the Internet and found this story about the black dog," Jennings, 33, told Nu Country TV as he promoted seventh album Family Man.

"I had this story about the loving black dog. It felt honest and cool. So I had to match the music and try to tell the story and do it justice."

But when Shooter shot the video in a church in Kentucky Civil War town Greensburg the dog acted ornery.

"We had a black dog, a small Labrador but it wouldn't really follow me," Shooter explained.

That may have caused some dog whispering on video but it didn't detract from the song embryo - the saga of the ghost of a dog who leads rescuers to the mouth of a mine where it's master is trapped after a rockslide.

"When I was writing this record one thing I wanted to do was to write a Civil War era ghost song," Shooter recalled.

"So I started looking for stories. And I came across a web site - and we give them credit on the album; it's called themoonlitroad.com - and it's basically all Southern ghost stories.

And I was reading through them and found this story called The Black Dog. And I was so captivated by it that I was determined to adapt it into a song. And after three or four months, I finally figured it out, the music and phrasing, how it was going to work. And it turned out to be one of my favourite songs I've ever written, just because I was so inspired by this little story and it worked so well turning it into a song. It was a challenge in a way. And the story was sweet - this dog had died and its ghost was helping to save its master. It had so much heart to it."


"I'm a double-talkin', chicken-lickin', meaner-than-the-dickens, sick and wicked, hole-diggin' son of a gun/ most people who know me/ say I'm as nice of a guy as could be/ that's all fine, because most of the time/ they never get to see the real me." - The Real Me - Shooter Jennings.

Not so disobedient were snakes sourced from a local snake handler for The Real Me.

"We shot another video that was really wild," says Shooter, born Waylon Albright Jennings.

"It's in an old Civil War era church that had snake handlers. I was handling snakes. It was pretty crazy. The concept was the snakes were gonna crawl all over me and J.D. Wilkes who played The Preacher. I thought this will shock as we had snakes crawling up our arms but they're non venomous. I said if 'you're gonna do that I'm gonna do that.' There was also a great big bonfire and a graveyard."

Equally suited to her role was Shooter's fiancée - actress Drea De Matteo, 40 and known for her acting in The Sopranos, Joey and Sons Of Anarchy.

"Drea played a girl in the congregation in the church," Jennings said of the mother of their two children - daughter Alabama Gypsy Rose, aged five, and son Blackjack, one.

Jennings, a latter day family man, sings of waking up with his children "at the crack of noon" and references to a Pandora's Box.

"There are some things I write and I think, man, that's gonna be way over some people's heads,'" explained Shooter who has also hosted his popular Sirius radio show for six years.

"But most fans I've met are very intelligent - especially if they knew my dad's music. Some guys writing back then like Shel Silverstein and Kristofferson were challenging the audience in a lot of ways with things they could relate to but at the same time, make them come up to their level a little bit."

How much has being a father influenced Jennings and the decision to call his album Family Man?

"My daughter is five and my son is one and I now feel this responsibility," Shooter says.

"There is a change inside your makeup that's just better. For me, there's a sensitivity that increases when it comes to life. When I do things I'm not proud of it hurts 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 doing most extensive tour since my children have been born and that's already hard for me to swallow."

Jennings takes parenting seriously but hasn't curbed his creativity.

"I am now a family man but still same person I used to be," Shooter says. "It's not like all of sudden I am clean-cut domestic person. So it's kind of sarcasm because although I am family man, I'm still a wreck. But I'm doing best I can. There are songs that deal with family and the love of my life."


"Wherever she goes/ I know she knows/ that I will always follow/ she's got me chain and collar/ she owns the deed/ she owns the dollar." - The Deed & The Dollar - Shooter Jennings.

The actress also starred in the video for Jennings latest single The Deed & The Dollar - a love song he created to Drea from old southern sayings.

But it was a frog - not a dog and snakes - that inspired the video.

"I remembered Kermit The Frog in The Muppets Movie in 1979," Shooter recalled of the movie his father took him to see as a child.

"The very opening scene is Kermit sitting on a log singing The Rainbow Connection - one of my favourite songs of all time."

So director Blake Judd's video starts with Shooter sitting on a log singing a romantic ballad to Drea in the lake at Greensburg.

"I loved that scene sitting on the log. I said to Blake 'I want an opening like The Muppets movie with Kermit doing The Rainbow Connection," Shooter revealed of a video that also featured home movies of Drea and Alabama Gypsy Rose.

"It was such a beautiful southern scene and turned out so great. They said it would be great to have a girl in there so I ended up going through all the personal video footage I had and putting it on there. It was so much better and it meant so much to me. We started filming at 5 am and I fell into the water and the waders filled up with water. 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. The song is about Drea but not exploiting her. It was so much better and it meant so much to me."

So where did Shooter find the southern vernacular that sourced the song?

"I looked at Southern sayings and wrote lyrics that ended with sayings I found," Shooter revealed.

"The chorus is from letter to editor I found in a magazine. I'm a computer geek from when I was a little kid. I subscribe to hacker magazine 2600. I've been getting it for years. I was reading it and in letters to the editor somebody wrote this piece about digital media and how you don't own anything; you're just renting it from someone. And the last sentence was they own the deed, they own the dollar and they own the download. Those two lines made so much sense to me. The original demo almost sounded like an Alan Jackson tune.

I'm a big Alan Jackson fan. In doing that song I was able to just say 'I love you' to my fiancée because I feel I have grown a lot in this relationship and it's due to her. The line 'finer than frog hair split four ways' is an old expression. All things in verses were old expressions. Where I came up with the deed and the dollar is a whole different story. I kind of was just experimenting writing songs using old sayings. I knew a couple then I found that finer than a frog hair. But deed and the dollar is very funny and will probably loose me a ton of credibility with country people."


"Nephew Jimmy killed a man, got a life in a cell/ his brother Payne is singin' his way through hell/ cos Mama's on crank, Daddy's got Hep-C/ Yeah, we all die together, we're a family." - Southern Family Anthem - Shooter Jennings.

Jennings exposed a tender side in some songs but outlaw roots sprouted in Southern Family Anthem that embraced a murderer, gay cousin and other outlaw in-laws.

"All of that's true, it's all my extended family," confessed Shooter who played it for his mother Jessi Colter.

"When I played that one for her, she said, 'That's a hit!' I said, "What? Are you crazy?" She said, 'everybody has crazy trash families! It's true. All of that's true. It's all my extended family. It's funny, because we all love each other but we all make jokes like that - we're all trash but at least we're family. Relatives know it comes with the territory? If they share your DNA they might be at least casually referenced in song at some point? It's funny. My brother was like, 'OK who's this one?' Trying to get me to spill beans about someone he didn't know about. He had it all figured out but there was one he wanted to know about. 'Who are you talkin' about there?' I was like oh, God. What have I done? If you look through my family there have been a lot of crimes committed."


"He spread us all along the highway, cuffed us all and turned us away/ and started pokin' round the truck for cake/and we all stood there high as a kite and he found it alright/ and don't y'all make light of the number one dope dog in the state/that mutt found the joint in my pocket that was buried and locked up/ in the back of the trailer underneath the guitars and piano seat/ and off we went to jail all locked up in a cell/charged with possession of that sweet leaf." - Busted In Baylor County - Shooter Jennings.

There's even one involving a deceased drug sniffing dog named Harley.

Busted In Baylor County appeared on 2005 Shooter album Put The O Back In Country.

On this occasion the dog followed Shooter and bandmates when co-writer Leroy Powell was pulled up in Texas for speeding en route to a concert.

Officer Harley - a sniffer dog - followed his nose to a small marijuana stash in Shooter's car.

"You have done your research," Shooter joked.

"The dog later died and the cops wanted us to do a benefit for the dog. It would have been a benefit show for the police like the one Keith Richards did in Canada."

Family Man is successor to Jennings sixth album Black Ribbons in 2010 - a rock disc with his then band Hierophant featuring narration by horror author Stephen King.

Another album is due in our spring.

"It's a companion to Family Man," says Shooter.

"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.

Jennings recorded both albums with musicians he refers to as "the Triple Crown".

They are 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.

"Eleanor Whitmore is married to Chris Masterson who is in Steve Earle's band," Shooter said of the daughter of Terlingua singer-songwriter Alex.

The former Delta Airlines pilot - flew to Melbourne with a brace of Texan CDS after the Nu Country FM Beer Can Hill studio burned down on June 26, 2000.

Shooter, like his dad, is a prolific and creative artist, "Yes, it's my seventh studio record and the eighth will be out later this year and I'm banking on number nine," he says.

"I can't stop. I've tried."

The singer also fronted Californian rock band Stargunn for six years and deputised for Axl Rose in absentia from Guns N Roses gigs.
< Eleanor Whitmore


"Summer dreams blow like leaves through these city streets/ with the autumn they are gone/ busy people shopping, don't know where they are going/ they just go til they hit the wall." - Summer Dreams - Shooter Jennings.

Jennings also used his extended family as source for Summer Dreams (Al's Song) and Daddy's Hands.

Drea's father Al suffered a stroke at Christmas, 2010, and Shooter's dad Waylon who died at 64 of diabetes on February 13, 2002, inspired those songs.

"In Daddy's Hands where the house smells like an ashtray that experience came when Drea's father had a stroke in Christmas of 2010 and was in the hospital New Year's Eve," Shooter revealed.

"All that stuff I had been through that with my dad when I was young. It was a really hard period going through, really hard. But being older I could actually reflect on that experience and my father's experience and wrap them into song. That song is actually kind of extension of the Southern Family Anthem song because that's kind of the way our family was. It'd be raining outside and everybody smokin' inside. Everybody's loud and nuts and arguing at the dinner table and stuff. That's how we shared family. That's real life stuff.

Daddy's Hands talks about stuff I went through with my father, then with her going through the same thing. It's very personal, but at the same time, it was fun while we were doing it."

The family tradition continues for both clans and three generations.

"Having kids makes you relive your own childhood," Shooter confessed.

"I go back and see how my parents handled the road and why they did some of the things they did. My fiancée's childhood was so different from mine so both childhoods come into play. And I also want my kids to know about dad's music, so I play it a lot more than I would usually. And my mom is around, so they are really close to her, which is very awesome. I want them to have some of the things that were instilled in me to be instilled in them. My dad was a very nice dude, and I try to too. But, when I get some alcohol in my system, you never know what happens. I just try to clean up all my messes the next day."


"Let me paint a picture for you, Nashville in '62/ the formula had proven true, they didn't let nothing new through/when Waylon came to town they didn't like his original sound/ they tried hard to keep him down, they tried hard to starve him out/ but he kept playin' shows and pressin' on, chippin' away, song by song/ after years and years of strugglin' strong/ he got his chance and he took it to #1/ with This Time back in '74, with his band in the back and 4 on the floor/ that one record busted down the door and the record labels had the control no more/ then in '76 came the Outlaws record, sold the first million in country music ever/ those old boys with long hair and braids stayed true to their sound and freed the slaves/ and all these years later, the suits got back their grip/ they took the outlaw concept and they re-packaged it/ and there's a million Ol Waylon fans singin'/ Don't y'all think this outlaw bit has gotten way out of hand." - Outlaw You - Shooter Jennings.

"At that time my band was at its prime of all getting along and loving each other. It was really cool. I remember getting up to play with Ray Wylie Hubbard and doing Screw You, We're From Texas and performing with Billy Joe Shaver."

But Outlaw You, written in upstate New York, had vastly different embryo.

"It was funny," Shooter revealed.

"The only reason it got released was because of CMT, Jamey Johnson and Chet Flippo. The record label I was with didn't want to put it out because they didn't feel like it would go over well. "The label didn't want to do it," Shooter said.

Shooter & Billy Joe Shaver - photo by Carol Taylor

"They said, 'Well, we don't want to upset anybody that might help us down the line.' I said, 'Come on, nobody's gonna help us, anyway.' There were some people who were mad about the record but the majority said thanks for saying some of the things you did, and they loved it. They heard the history I was giving."

Shooter believes musicians don't have an inalienable right to drop names of his dad, Johnny Cash and Hank Williams to tout themselves as renegades.

He's also aware some fans claim he is also trying to capitalise on his dad's legacy.

"Yeah, that I'm riding my dad's coattails or something," Shooter said.

"The thing is, man, my skin is so thick at this point. The stuff that's been said about me gets way worse than that. Of course, they're going to say that. But if anything, I'm like, 'Oh, really? Because who else is going to say this? I've got to step in and say something if I believe it. I'm certainly not rolling in the dough. A lot of people think that I am, though. That's the other thing. They think I've got a lot of money, so I'm sitting around on a pile of my dad's money and just throwing darts at people. Which I absolutely do not have and am not doing."


"I get home from a long day, put on the radio/ lookin' for some country soul, but I don't find it, no/ it's a dirt road free for all, some old boys sayin' they're outlaws/ they dress the part and they talk the talk/ you know they've been taught to walk the walk/ these boys think they're tough like they been robbin' banks/ cause they name drop Johnny Cash and they name drop poor old Hank/ hey, pretty boy in the baseball hat/ you couldn't hit country with a baseball bat/ they should outlaw you." - Outlaw You - Shooter Jennings"

Although Jennings has not named specific artists who inspired the song he's amused fans filled in blanks and jumped to conclusions.

"I refuse to say anything when people ask me," said Shooter as fans outed Justin Moore, Eric Church, Hank 111 and other fiery young guns.

"I don't want to do that. And it's funny because I'll check comments every once and a while online and see that people get mad that I'm talking about some guy I was not talking about. They're saying, 'you wish you'd sold as many albums as they did.' But I think it's funny. It just seemed so silly to me. It seemed like somebody needed to come in and poke some fun at it. So I wrote the song and recorded it."

After writing and recording Outlaw You he sent copies to Jamey Johnson and Ray Scott.

Scott had already written a song based on the Waylon hit Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit's Done Got Out of Hand.

"Ray had already called me because he wanted to do a duet of Don't You Think This Wussy Country Bit's Done Got Out of Hand," Jennings said. "He was ready to jump in there, so I said, 'Ray, you've got to hear my song. I promise I didn't rip it off from your idea.'"

After compiling the video featuring text song lyrics he teamed with Blake Judd to shoot another music video for song.

Bobby's Idle Hour - a local bar - was base for the new version of Shooter singing the song as he walks down Music Row.

"We tried to do it a few times with a steady-cam wheelchair kind of thing to make it real smooth and look more professional than it came out," Judd explained.

"But after a few run-throughs it looked better on handheld camera with him walking and me backing up, executed exactly point trying to make."

Shooter has no desire to swim in the mainstream.

"When I was young I would loved to be successful and all that," Shooter confessed.

"As I've got older, I realise how important it is for me to stay true to who I am. If that brings success, it brings success. If I've got to get a job on the side, I'll do it. At the end of day, I care a lot about music a lot about it remaining real. The thing about it is that my dad and I were really close. He was a great parent. I feel really responsible for his legacy. I knew him so well to know how much he cared about country music and about music in general - boundless music and experimentation and the progressiveness of music. I feel I have an obligation I'll never lose."


"Spent New Year's Eve in a hospital bed/ daddy's sick but he's far from dead/ it's holidays like this you never forget/ it ain't time to go." - Daddy's Hands - Shooter Jennings.

Meanwhile Shooter is working on a planned biopic about his dad and is producing a new album for mother Jessi.

"I don't want it to be a standard bio-pic," Shooter says, "I wanted it to be about him fighting for his music. Trying to get his whole life in a movie doesn't really interest me. I'd rather it focus on really the heart of his life, which was that Nashville battle and how he won that. That's kind of the important part of the story, so for me, I definitely don't want to take it places like Ray and Walk the Line and stuff, where it's just like him picking cotton all the way to the end in two hours. I have found a producer and a writer that I really like. And so we're kind of in steps of trying to at least outline the script," he says.

Shooter & Jessi Colter

No one has been cast yet but Jennings says actor Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) would probably make a pretty good choice.

Don't expect to see Jennings, who played his dad in Walk The Line, in the movie.

"I hope not. I'd like to be in a lot of the background stuff, the music and stuff like that. But I have no interest in actually being in it."

In 2008 Shooter performed two songs on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

Shooter produced an album by Fifth on the Floor - a Southern rock band from Lexington, Kentucky.

He's producing a new album on mother Jessi Colter, 69 on May 25.

"I'm trying to get funding for her album," he added.

"I'm definitely going to do a record that I'm very excited about. She's so much fun - she's doing her originals and some by younger artists - maybe Jamey Johnson. It's definitely a country record. There's underground bands that I'm familiar with. I'm sending her some material by these artists so she might be cutting some other artists along with stuff she's writing. She's real hip. We've been talking about doing a record together for about 8 years. I think it's about time. We've got to make it happen and we will."


"Mother Maybelle's in a quiet hell/ I hear a gun and a heart and sleigh bells/ I'd say things have changed quite a bit, since I was young and mother Didn't give a shit." - The Long Road Ahead - Shooter Jennings.

Shooter prides himself on writing solo and frequently - he empathises with idealistic peers who don't get sucked into mainstream on The Long Road Ahead.

"I rely on consistency - inconsistency is kind of my biggest enemy," he says.

"That song is little abstract. But I was really feeling with that song is there are a lot of artists making what I think is some of the best new country music being made. They are so far under the radar mainstream country would never even think to know about them. It's amazing because artists know no hope at commercial radio. They know there's no outlet at all. It's not like rock where a new young rock band can do something and have a shot. If you're doing something that's on edge of country, you're doing it only because you love doing it. The interesting thing with that song is that the chorus is basically saying whatever you do don't stop. Don't stop playing. If you stop, our songs are silenced. But whether we realise it or not, there are so many other people out there who are relying on that light in the fog to give them guidance. Nobody has all the answers, but we're looking for those lights in the fog. The experience of writing enough songs and failing at some of them. I can't get in room with another writer - never been able to do Nashville dance with that. It's always writing alone and usually been about something that made me either happy or sad."


"Granny's got a secret that she's dyin' to hide/ two cousins got married on our daddy's side/ they're a dark mass hangin' from our family tree/ instead of whiskey, Uncle Albert drank Kerosene." - Southern Family Anthem - Shooter Jennings

Waylon, Jessi, Johnny & June Cash & Ray Charles

Shooter said he wrote Family Tree to a person who is very smart and built a great label but felt some of his stuff was encroaching on his artist.

"So I released Family Tree to make fun of that situation," he added.

Shooter may be critical of mainstream radio ignoring roots country peers who don't fit the mould but he sings the praises of many major artists.

Especially those who have appeared on the three recent tribute discs to his dad.

"As far as older artists go I'm a big Alan Jackson fan," Shooter said.

"He just writes his music and is keepin' it real. George Strait. Ronnie Dunn's album was really good. Some of the stuff on that album was just heartbreaking. And it terms of younger artists, I'm really happy with Kellie Pickler, I'm really happy Jamey Johnson is still kicking.

Josh Thompson really shocked me at the Waylon tribute thing for Sirius Radio. He came in and really did great version of Amanda. So I think there are people out there true believers and I really respect anyone who's sticking with doing what they want to do and doing it because they care, and not letting anybody push them around. You can tell the ones who care. And Chris Young has a really good voice. I love his I Hear Voices. It's a great song.

Brad Paisley. In addition to being an insane guitar player, he's created a sound. And he's drivin' that train. That's what I like."

Shooter also plans to return to Australia for a tour in 2013 - 22 years after he first came as a 12 year old with his parents and The Highwaymen.

"I love Australia and want to tour there soon as I can," Shooter said.

"I have U.S and European tours this year. I'd love to come down next year. I love the culture and know they love country music. I can remember the Sydney arcades, crazy video games and Opera House. It feels like America plus one."

Jennings is touring to promote Family Man (Shock Records) and eighth album The Other Life in September.

CLICK HERE for a Shooter feature in the Diary on February 20, 2008.

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