Waylon Jennings, one of country music's outlaw kings and legendary bad boys, moseys into kids' music territory with his first solo children's album, Cowboys, Sisters, Rascals & Dirt.
For and about rascally little boys _ he says it takes one to know one _ Jennings' album of original songs and narrative is playful, surprisingly tender and laced with exuberant, tongue-in-cheek political incorrectness:
A kid needs a friend so why in the world,
Did all of my sisters just have to be girls ...
They can't climb a tree and they can't catch a ball,
They're really no fun at all.
"I was with Epic and I gave them the first shot at it," Jennings said, in his warm, whiskey baritone. "First thing they wanted me to do is take the song out about "All My Sisters Are Girls.' A lady called it sexist and (said) that I should change the lyrics and let some girls sing I said, "See you all after a while.' "
The 55-year-old country star's songs about tree-climbing, sister-teasing, dirt-playing and putting sand in grandpa's tobacco found a home under Lou Adler's Ode 2 Kids label. (The background singers, by the way, are female.)
A solo children's album _ Jennings guest-starred with Billy Ray Cyrus and others on this year's Grammy nominee for best children's album, Chipmunks in Low Places _ isn't such an incongruity for the craggy-faced, bearded Jennings. He is clearly enjoying the pleasures of fatherhood after decades of hard, rough-and-tumble living.
Jennings, whose seven children range from teens to thirtysomething, found inspiration for the album in his nephews, friends' children, his own childhood and in his youngest son, Shooter, 14, to whom Jennings pays tribute in the last cut on the album:
You're my son it's plain to see,
Your mom says you're a lot like me
And I wouldn't have it any other way
Shooter, you are a friend of mine.
"If you're around me," Jennings said, "you'll figure out that he's the light of my life. Having babies late in life is wonderful. I have other children, but you miss too much and you're not really ready when you're young."
The songs were already written _ "they more or less wrote themselves" _ when Jennings was approached by musician and producer Clifford Barney Robertson. "He said he's producing children's albums now. And I said, "Well, guess what?' It was something I always wanted to do _ cut an album for children, not talk down to them, and tell them it's all right to be little."
Each song was prompted by a real-life story, Jennings said.
A Bad Day, the chronicle of a mischief-maker's misadventures, was inspired by "some things that I did," Jennings said, "like putting the dirt in my grandpa's tobacco" and by Charlie, 6, one of his "little buddies. He thinks this whole album is about him."
"All of My Sisters Are Girls was said to me by my nephew when he was about 3 or 4 years old," complaining about two teasing older sisters.
In Cowboy Movies, a boy would like to please his dad by sharing his enthusiasm for old Westerns, but explains that he's "not a cowboy, I'm a now-boy." The line was a direct quote from Shooter, then a preschooler. "I said, "Shooter, if you can come up with a line like that then you are off the hook.'
The intro to the music video version of Cowboy Movies, currently being shown on Country-Western TV stations, features Shooter playing his dad as a boy.
The longest cut on the album is not a song but a homespun story called Useless, The Little Horse That Didn't Grow. About a small horse with a big heart, it was inspired by the fact that "Shooter was always the smallest boy in school" and by a tale Jennings' friend Herb Alpert told him about a runt thoroughbred.
People aren't so critical of the album's masculine bias, Jennings said, when they realize "it's from the perspective of a 5-year-old. Then it kind of makes sense. Most girls can climb trees great but little boys don't think they can.
"Jessie (Jennings' wife) is doing an album that kind of evens this one out," he added. "She has one song that's called All of My Brothers Are Boys."