Country Music People May 2019 - Page 53

At 6’5”, the California-based former marine Gethen Jenkins is as impos- ing as his brand of Outlaw honky tonk. Duncan Warwick meets the ‘man mountain’ who sounds exactly as he should. T ake a look at Gethen Jenkins. The beard, the hat, the whiskey glass in hand, and I’ll tell you he sounds like he looks. He couldn’t be anything other than an Outlaw, but the 6’5” Harley riding former US marine who served eight years in Iraq has upped the ante for his debut full-album, Western Gold. “I’ve always had a long beard,” he laughs, alluding to the proliferation of singer-songwriters sporting impressive facial hair in the wake of Chris Stapleton’s success. “I didn’t really make a conscious effort to look any certain way. I’ve been riding motorcycles and playing music for a lot of years so I think the way I look now is just, I guess, coincidental.” Originally hailing from West Virginia Jenkins has an inherent appreciation for bluegrass and says, “Absolutely! I’ve got a few songs that I’ve written that are bluegrass. I love bluegrass. I don’t have a bluegrass voice, you know, so I don’t really sing a lot of bluegrass, but I love the purity of the music.” These days Jenkins is California-based, but recalling his formative years he says, “I lived half of my childhood in the South in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia and then from the age of 18 I grew up on the Alaskan bush.” On his debut EP of a couple of years back Jenkins sounds as though he had digested all the Billy Joe Shaver songs on Waylon’s Honky Tonk Heroes album and spewed out his own take on Outlaw music. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Shaver is one of his honky tonk heroes, although the big man who doesn’t consider himself a good communicator, preferring to speak through his songs, says, “Johnny Paycheck is in my CD player right now, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, David Allan Coe, those are my four horsemen really of country influence. I’m a big Billy Joe Shaver fan so he’s influenced a lot of my music. “Jamey Johnson is pretty incredible. He kicked the door down for a lot of us. Also, Hank Williams III, too, as far as the underground country movement. I mean, that’s kind of the guy that got me back into playing country music years and years and years ago - Hank III and Shooter Jennings. I think Hank III is the one that really lit the underground country movement. The one that really got it going and he doesn’t ever really get credit for it.” Listening to Gethen Jenkins speak through his music would imply that he’s in rather a sad and lonely place, arguably the best place to be if you want to write songs. “You are absolutely correct,” he concurs. “Yeah, for some reason I write from pain. Not always but most of the time my inspiration comes from relationships or struggles or something I’m going through or something I’ve been through, or I can be inspired by people, or different locations, nature and those kind of things but I think a lot of my stuff comes from kind of a deep, solitary place. I get some good sad songs out of it.” One of the tracks that immediately jumps out is the twangin’ shuffle of Bottle In My Hand, which surprisingly is the first shuffle Brother Gethen has written. “Yes, it was,” he confirms. “My very first shuffle.” Further explaining the anomaly, Jenkins adds, “Well, a shuffle is a different kind of feel for me. I’ve written train beats and I’ve written Waylon beats and that kind of stuff, but a shuffle is a little bit different kind of feel so it took me a while to get the hang of it.” The singer-songwriter confirms that now he has the first one under his belt there are likely to be a lot more in the future. “Absolutely,” he affirms. Producer on Jenkins’ project was Vance Powell, a man with connections to Chis Stapleton. “This is my first major album with a major producer on a record label so...You know, you get one shot at something like this in a lifetime and you’ve got to nail it, you’ve got to put your heart and soul into it and that’s what we did. We all did that.” Powell has done a fine job, allowing hints of West Coast sound to bleed into the rootsy production. “Absolutely,” agrees Jenkins, “and I have to attribute that to my manager, Mike Brown, he reached out to Dave Cobb and Frank Liddell (Lee Ann Womack and Miranda Lambert) and Vance Powell and Vance Powell stuck out as the perfect fit for this kind of album. We’re all really, really happy with the results.” On Restless Ways, Jenkins is proud to have a Jerry Reed influence going on. “It’s mainly the solo section on there. James Mitchell played guitar on the album and he is just phenomenal, I mean he is my favourite guitar player and I sought him out to be on the record. I started writing Restless Ways years ago, I had the riff and I had the idea for the song and I told him, I said, ‘I wanna have just a little bit of Jerry Reed influence on the solo section’ and he just snuck it in there and nailed it. I’m a big Jerry Reed fan; his guitar playing is like nobody else and one of my favourite albums is Both Barrels. So I like the swampy, country funk kind of stuff and I wanted to do something that wasn’t completely like a Jerry Reed song but I wanted to give a tip of the hat and make it a little bit more modern, I guess, or a little bit more rock’n’roll than it would be countrified, but I love it. It’s a fun song and everybody’s really digging it.” Alongside the in-your-face honky tonkin’ Outlaw of Basket Case on Jenkins’ album are some unexpected twists. There’s the cowboy cha-cha of Lonesome Is Never Alone - “it was kind of a leap for me. I was a little bit concerned about it because I’d never sang a song like that before. It’s got a different kind of a class and a different kind of a movement than anything I’ve ever sang before and I’m really proud of how it came out - alongside the more tender Strength Of A Woman. “There’s a song on there, I think, for everybody. The continuity between the music is that it’s true to itself. Maintenance Man is a blues song, it’s a roots blues song. Heartache Time is a country shuffle and it’s true to the song - the music and the vocal and everything is complimenting the song. Some people are going to be confused because it kind of goes all over the map but the continuity between the album in my opinion is honesty and the truth of the songs.” The most personal moment comes in the song, Story Of My Life, in which Jenkins’ opens up to some of his time in the military. “That’s the first song that I wrote where I could write a little bit about my military service because it’s really hard to translate that into music for me. Some people can do it but…” says Jenkins, trailing off at the nature of it and agreeing that it can be a touchy subject. In an increasing market segment, Gethen Jenkins stands head and shoulders above most of them - literally as well as musically. cmp Gethen Jenkins: Western Gold is out in June. MAY 2019 - cmp 53