Shooter Jennings Plays Possum for George Jones Tribute

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Shooter Jennings will sing at the 2014 CMA Music Festival in Nashville on Wednesday (June 4), and the scrappy country experimentalist is also on the verge of releasing two new hybridized EPs.

One is a tribute to George Jones called Don’t Wait Up (for George), and the second is a tribute to pioneering electronic musician Giorgio Moroder called Countach (for Giorgio).

The two projects are separate but intertwined with Jennings mixing elements of country into his electronica and vice versa. Fans are sure to get a taste of both when he and his father’s touring band Waymore’s Outlaws close down the CMA Fest’s first afternoon of free concerts in Riverfront Park.

In this CMT Edge world premiere, Jennings offers a sneak peek at the Jones project with “Don’t Wait Up (I’m Playing Possum).” He answered a few questions about the song and album, too.

There have been many George Jones tributes over the years. Why did you feel the urge to write songs in his honor?

Jennings: In 2012, a guy representing himself as the producer of George’s upcoming record emailed me asking if I had any songs that I would like to submit for the project. I took him on his word, but apparently he wasn’t the producer. I didn’t know that then, and I wrote a song for George and then co-wrote one with my old friend Faren Miller. A few months later, George passed away, and the songs just kind of sat there. Then recently, I listened to them again and felt like it would be a fitting tribute.

Look, I don’t do tributes and I don’t do covers very often and all that. So, for me, this was really thanking George for his support all these years and being inspired by him to do these works. I didn’t know if I was going to just record the two songs or do more, I just went into it fooling around in the Coil [Jennings' studio in Los Angeles]. After several months of work, Don’t Wait Up (for George) emerged. I’m really proud of it, though.

A year after Jones’ passing, how do you think the country community is coping?

I don’t think the country community was appreciating what they had, and I definitely don’t think that they are paying respects to the ones that have passed very well. I’m not talking about the fans necessarily but the business itself. But then again, they were never on their side on the way up, why would anyone expect them to be on their side on the way down? George is a true anomaly. His talent and voice will continue to inspire generations with or without the help of the music business. True lovers of country music — and all music, really — will always decorate the graves of its heroes.

What was the inspiration behind the song “Don’t Wait Up (I’m Playin’ Possum)”?

It just kinda fell together, really. I wanted to make something really dark with a groove and a story, and I wrote a song about a guy whose wife is cheating on him, and he finally flips and goes to the dark side himself.

I knew about the other song that had “Playin’ Possum” in the title, and that was a double-metaphor for the act of “playin’ possum” and literally playing George Jones’ music, which was cool. But in this way, I was trying to tell a very well-worn story, which a lot of us can relate to, and have a bit of a revenge fantasy mixed in with some references to other artists who were inspired by Jones and who also inspired me. Using the “playin’ possum” phrase in a much more surly way.

Why did you decide to use modern sounds like synth and electronic drums on the song?

I have two EP’s coming out, one which is a tribute to George Jones and another that’s a tribute to Giorgio Moroder. Google him. I’ve always been heavily rooted in programming and electronic music, especially the roots and more dark, heavier parts. Making a tribute to Giorgio, as well, meant connecting parts of my musical makeup that maybe I’d been longing to do.

Giorgio pioneered much of electronic music but was known for his use of the Yamaha DX7 keyboard. I used only a DX7 and a Linn Drum on the George record as a nod to Giorgio, and I’m using a lot more rootsy country instruments on the Giorgio EP as a nod back to the roots of my family.

You’ve been putting out unique projects like these on your own record label. How do you hope they’ll be received by fans?

I couldn’t be happier and more proud of what we are doing. Being in the studio is my passion, and I’ve been working with so many amazing folks from Billy Ray CyrusWanda JacksonJamey Johnson and Marilyn Manson to new young bands like Last Daze and unsung heroes like Billy Don Burns. We even did a record on Ron Jeremy. We are shaking it up and we are making it happen, and I’m very excited for the next few years to unfold.

We have a warehouse and employees now, and that blows my mind. When the Colonel — Jon Hensley — and I started Black Country Rock [a media company], I put away the childish book of trying to stay ahead as an artist in the rat race, and we started digging out our own channels. Now we are broadcasting.

Fans can’t not get behind it because our No. 1 goal set forward by the Colonel was, “We are going to give away free vinyl,” and we do and we will continue to. As long as people will get their music in a physical format, even as a reward for buying it digitally, you are influencing the influence, you know what I mean? I sound very reasonable to me, but it’s also like Disneyland without all the other people inside my brain.

Shooter Jennings’ Don’t Wait Up (for George) and Countach (for Giorgio) are set for release this summer. Enjoy the world premiere of “Don’t Wait Up (I’m Playin’ Possum),” now available on iTunes.

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