Shooter Jennings, 2014

Shooter Jennings photographed in 2014.

 Scott Simontacchi 

Shooter Jennings' new EP "Don’t Wait Up (For George)" is a very personal project for the singer. It’s a tribute to a man that he got to know very well over the years -- George Jones.

As the son of Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter, Jennings recalls that Jones was a part of his life both figuratively and musically. “George is someone who was very important in my life -- even as a kid, he was such a constant. People like Willie and Tony Joe White lived other places, but George was around the house a lot. He was so meaningful to me, and he helped me on my first record, ‘4th Of July',” which was a top-30 single for Jennings in 2005. “Back in 2012, a guy emailed me who was producing George’s new record, and asked if I had any songs. I didn’t, but I wrote two. I sent them, and never heard back. Then, of course, George passed away. A little while later, I stumbled across them, and I thought it would be cool to cut them and put them out.

George Jones Was King of the Country Charts

The five-song EP also includes covers of three Jones classics -- “She Thinks I Still Care,” “If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will),” and “The Door.” The latter one brings to mind one of the singer’s first major tours in the country ranks. “That is one of my favorite songs,” he recalls. “I have fond memories of being on the Toby Keith tour. Lee Ann Womack was in the middle slot, and we became fast friends. She would play ‘The Door’ every night. It was fun doing it. “

Jennings said that any entertainer would do well to have picked up some pointers on relating to people from the iconic Jones. “He was so nice in the way he would treat and talk to me. I’ve met a lot of famous people who seem like they are in a bubble. They’re nice -- but they don’t really care what you have to say. There was a depth to George. It was like the molecules were different with him in the room.”

George Jones 1931-2013

One aspect of the life of George Jones that forever made an impact on Jennings was the grit and determination that he exuded in fighting -- and eventually conquering his addictions. “You look at someone who has persevered with something that is a demon, and comes out on the other side with a smile on his face -- that to me says something. That’s a master builder, the difference between someone who is just doing this for the moment.”

Unlike some of the other Jones tribute records, "Don’t Wait Up" serves up the Jones hits in a somewhat different manner. Jennings said there was a reason for this. “At the same time I’m recording this, I’m also doing another record -- a tribute to Giorgio Moroder, who is a pioneer in production with synthesizers. He used a lot of drum machines, so my idea was to use the kind of instrumentation that he uses and do that on the George record, and use a traditional country instrumentation on the Giorgio record. With ‘She Thinks I Still Care,’ I used a DX-7 keyboard, a LinnDrum, and some 80s technology. It’s very Prince. I did the whole track like that. At the advice of Dave Cobb, I added steel to it. It just came together. It’s my favorite track. I didn’t even know I could sing that way. I think it gets the emotion across in a little bit different of a way from the original, but it’s also very true to that.”

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Released on his own BCR (Black Country Rock) label, Jennings tells Billboard he has a lot of projects coming down the pipe. “There’s a band from New York called Last Daze. I just produced their record, which should come out in January,” he says. Lead singer Katy Cole appears on "Don’t Wait Up," adding a duet vocal on “If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me.”

The mission of BCR is simply to release great music, and the label head says it’s going to be very diverse. “We’ve got records on Billy Ray Cyrus, Lee Roy Parnell, Kimmie Rhodes, Ron Jeremy, and Wanda Jackson. I’ve been in the studio producing so many acts,” he says, adding that he feels it’s a make or break time for the record business. “I’m getting off the road next year to only produce and put out records. Making music that’s new right now is more important. I think we’re in an industry that’s dying, and artists need to keep putting out records and making new music. We’ve got a Website -- BCRMedia.com, and we’re making it happen. We’ve got a warehouse, and an 800 number. We’re ready to rock.”