by Gavin Heaney
Outlaw country singers aren’t loners. In fact, they’re surrounded. They may cut a solitary jagged path against the grain, but they have to brush shoulder to shoulder with everyone along the way and if they’re cursed, they’re damn proud of it. They don’t want to belong, yet they can’t stand apart either. They just say and do what you wish you could and stumble on their stubborn way to the very end. They are a fountain of free speech, belting out all their mis-timed, inconvenient truths from the heart they wear on their cutoff sleeves.
With his backwoods ZZ Top style beard, sunglasses and black hat, Cody Jinks looks the part and carries this musical tradition with his barrel-aged baritone and no-nonsense lyrics, trailing in the footsteps of Merle Haggard and Hank Williams Jr. Unapologetic, yet appealing, Jinks’ is like a lodestone, a magnetic rock attracting metal. “There’s no bullshit in our show. There’s no dancing, there’s no sparkle-bottom jeans,” he told Rolling Stone. “We get out there and we rip people’s faces off.”
Jinks was a metal singer before he went country, cutting his teeth on Pantera’s Cowboys From Hell before raising hell with the hippies and cowboys. He brings the anti-establishment anti-hero of rock n’ roll with him. When his early thrash metal band fell apart, he returned to his early country music roots, but he wasn’t starting from scratch. Taking years of hard earned experience with him, he forged a new brand.
“I’ve run my country band entirely like a metal band,” he said. “Exactly the same business model: save what you can, invest in yourself, work harder and it’s a business of longevity.”
Undaunted by the long haul, Jinks is a lifer, a serial singer-songwriter forever on the run who sees the journey as his only passage from perdition. As he sings on the
the title track of his 2018 album Lifers, “So here's to the lifers, the struggle-and-strifers…”
Jinks 2015 album Adobe Sessions put him on the map. His rock bottom voice in “Loud and Heavy” is coarse yet level, feeling like the gravelly road under Bob Seger’s tires in “Turn The Page.” His words have heavy, apocalyptic undertones that threaten forebodingly like an approaching desert storm;
Loud thunder, heavy rain
Thin line 'tween joy and pain
It's a long strange trip, it's all insane
You ain't never gonna be the same
The album was recorded in an adobe studio in the Texas desert and you can feel the sand in the songs. The remote isolation gave him ample time and distance to reflect on society, like a prisoner without parole whiling away all day and a night. He takes stock of the state of our union in “What Else Is New” decoding the headlines and decrying the plight of the middle class and blue collar workers who can barely get by these days. But the good time swagger and Waylon backbeat of the song embodies the good ol’ DGAF resilience that outlaw country music embraces in order to keep some kind of crazy hope alive in spite of the odds. In this modern age of watch what you say and try to please everyone, Jinks’ plain folk message is refreshingly honest and resounds the true American spirit that can’t be broken in spite of hard times.
His independently released 2016 album I’m Not The Devil reached number 4 on the country music charts. It was his sixth album and just in time.
“I wasn’t on a tour bus until I was 36 years old,” he told CMT. “This is not something I’ve been riding around on for the last 15 years. We used to sleep in campgrounds in the motor home for weeks and weeks and weeks at a time, driving ourselves around the country up and down and left and right.”
Jinks has earned his turn and has remained fiercely independent, raging against the corporate country music money machine and finding his path to success on his own terms by starting his label Late August Records. Any kind of scene relies on a pretense which is exclusive and discriminating and Jinks, ever the outlier, rails against the country music scene that brokers the deals which decide who will be manufactured into the next country music star. In his fan favorite song “Hippies and Cowboys” from his 2017 Album Less Wise he sings, “I've never been a part of any musical scene, I ain't just talking Nashville, if you know what I mean…The yuppies and the hipsters and the wannabe scenes, that ain't down-home to me.” The far left and far right finally find common ground as hippies and cowboys are respectively genuine to their music tastes and have no quarrels with having a good time. Cody Jinks is forging his own scene, raising hell all the way, blazing a new trail across the country and gathering like minded castaways one by one, town by town, song by song and show by show.
A performance of “Cast No Stones” was filmed at Woodlands, Texas last year and captured a moving pre-show moment. All of Jinks’ band and some of his road crew were gathered in a circle, arm in arm, beards and cowboy hats bowed, some holding beer cans. His longtime bass player Josh Thompson was holding forth.
“I want all you guys at some point in time to make sure you look out and you appreciate and you soak in what we are about to do tonight,” he said. “There are times I still cannot believe this is what we f’ing do. Let’s just make this one of those nights. Let’s remember why we are doing this. I mean, this is amazing.”
“Hey I love you guys,” Jinks chimes in. “I would not want to do this with anyone else.
Jinks' band calls itself The Tone Deaf Hippies.
“We’re really just a honky tonk bar band,” he told Apple Music. “It’s predominantly elements of country music, but there’s just as much rock n’ roll and blues.”
The band brings a heavier, hotter metal to country, branding it with their own signature of kick ass. Jinks’ ride or die posse is steel guitarist Austin “Hot Rod” Tripp, bassist Joshua Thompson, Drew Harakal on keys, drummer David Colvin, and esteemed guitarist Chris Claridy. This ensemble is the white hot fire that smelts the metal at their live shows. The band’s true grit is shown on their 2020 live album Red Rocks Live. Sidling through their songs like a desert sidewinder, the band reveals that there’s remarkable and defiant life even in the most hostile environment.
"Every time I walk on stage, it scares me to death. It lights me up. It does all the things.” Jinks said.
The danger of putting it all on the line to chase your dreams culminates in the purgatory moment he steps on stage to face his judgment every night.
Outlaws may have lost their faith in the institutions of man, but despite being vilified and hunted by society, they carry their own moral compass through the badlands and must stand in solitary judgment over their own souls.
In “Cast No Stones” from Adobe Sessions, Jinks sings, “I cast no stones, I build no walls, I tell the truth, the truth comes to call” imparting that the reckoning of his atonement is between him and God, and is no one else’s damn business. This song probably more than any has resonated with his people; judge not lest ye be judged. “I don't talk with Jesus as much as I should but I like to stop at the end of the day and I pray, somebody new found their way,” he sings.
Commune with your heart, in other words, not with scriptural semantics. Jesus was one of the original rebel outlaws, breaking the law and traversing the desert, hunted and hanged. But the black sheep becomes the shepard by virtue of his difference to the flock. Not all who wander off are lost.
Cody Jinks plays BeachLife Ranch September 22.