The Friday Five: Sons (and daughters) of Guns

“Yeah, so I was born on the cusp of the ’80s and dress like it’s 1973. Who you callin’ retro with your Buddy Holly specs, Transman? P.S. my dad knew Buddy, motherf*&$#@r!” Shooter Jennings. Image.

Celebrity children often get ridiculed for following in their parents’ footsteps. Critics call them opportunists or belittle their skills when compared to those of mom or dad. Most of the time, the offspring do fail to live up to the family name, but once in a while you get some knockout talent. Roseanne Cash is an underrated singer-songwriter. If her father had been a carpenter instead of Johnny Cash, people might give her a listen and realize how good she is. Unfortunately for her and people like Jacob Dylan, they aren’t taken as individual artists with their own views of the world even when they make something that outstrips anything else on the charts; fair or not, they’re held to a higher standard because of their family connections.

Here are some folks who might have gotten some goods from sharing DNA with their famous parents, but who have talent and vision that is all theirs–

Shooter Jennings is the son of Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter. He pays nods to both of them in his music, but Shooter’s songwriting draws from many genres and he does more documentation of his life as a family man trying to make sense of a changing world. Shooter started out with a hard rock band, Star Gunn; he dissolved the band in 2003 and has returned to his roots with more country and Southern rock in his sound. The connection to his father, Waylon, is obvious—Shooter writes about his father in “It Ain’t Easy” and he has a similar attitude about artistic integrity. As a songwriter, he is closer to his mother, Jessi Colter. His lyrics are visual, playing with images and colors, to create slice-of-life songs rather than straight narratives.

Lukas and Paula Nelson (Willie Nelson)

Like his father, Lukas Nelson is a surprisingly agile guitarist. While he seems most comfortable in a powerful blues rock form, he can do cheery folk and high-lonesome country picking, too.  Lukas is finding his voice as a songwriter and when he does cover tunes, he makes them his own. His version of the Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil” is worth checking out.

Lukas isn’t the only Nelson child who is busy recording and touring; his sister Paula has several albums out. Paula’s sound borrows from blues, rock, and country. Along with songwriters like Mickey Newberry and her father, Paula also counts Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra among her influences. She has phrasing that is a little reminiscent of Janis Joplin.

Hank III (Hank Williams Jr.)

Hank III started playing music to help cover the cost of his growing child support bills. Maybe not the best muse, but he’s honest. Even though his motivation was utilitarian at first, Hank III has become a something of a force in punk and country music. He criticizes his father’s politics and the Nashville establishment and turns a critical eye on society. His voice sounds a lot like his grandfather’s, but his music is so raw it will leave blisters on your ears.

Amy Helm (Levon Helm)

Whether singing with folk-jam band Ollabelle or on her late father’s recent albums, Amy Helm can take lead or sing harmony with the best. Like her father, Amy radiates with the energy of the music going through her as she performs. Also like Levon, she plays drums and mandolin.

This generation of artists uses their family name to help others through fund-raising and concerts to raise awareness for issues close to them. Some of the different causes they support are:

  • Shooter Jennings—Toys for Tots, The Waylon Fund (diabetes research), Make-A-Wish Foundation
  • Lukas and Micha Nelson—Farm Aid; they often supports their father’s work for local charities around Texas
  • Paula Nelson—speaks out against bullying, spokesperson for Dreamcatchers For Abused Children, raises funds for breast cancer research
  • Hank III—Happy Tails Humane, Homes for Our Troops; Hank III is also outspoken about artists having control over their own work.
  • Amy Helm—many of the Midnight Rambles at the Levon Helm Studios are fund-raisers and Amy has been known to drop in at hospitals around the New York area and sing to the patients.

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