The honky-tonk crooner has a background in thrash metal and sounds like the second coming of Merle Haggard.
A native of Haltom City and current resident of Denton, Cody Jinks’ musical identity was shaped in the Stockyards. Growing up in Fort Worth, he publicly played his first chords in a Cowtown club before becoming a fixture on the Texas honky-tonk circuit. Now, though, Jinks has broken out of the Texas Country bubble to produce the year’s biggest success for an independent country artist.
In addition to its impressive commercial performance, including its peak at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot Country Chart, Jinks’ 2016 release I’m Not The Devil has earned heaps of praise from critics across the country, and will likely top many best-of lists by the time the end of the year rolls around. It is, to be sure, one of the best country albums recorded all year, in Texas or Nashville or anywhere else. But, despite the success of his breakout album, Jinks seems to be flying under the radar in North Texas, overlooked by local media outlets and denied the attention he deserves at home.
Perhaps Jinks’ relative absence from the music conversation in North Texas was by design. Texas’ country scene has long been one of the strongest in the nation, but Jinks never really quite fit into that formula.
“It was naturally deliberate. I didn’t really intend one way or another, but I was still doing Merle Haggard covers and George Strait covers whenever that stopped being cool, back in the early 2000s,” he says. “It turned into that frat boy rock with a fiddle, and that never really was my thing. There’s a lot of good Texas Country and Red Dirt bands, but they may be a country band or a rock band all sitting under this Texas umbrella.”
Drawing heavy influence from Merle Haggard’s outlaw tendencies and Randy Travis’ rich baritone, Jinks is the definition of a stubborn country traditionalist. Rich, vintage-inspired instrumentation—think syrupy steel guitars and wailing fiddles—Jinks probably won’t ever quite fit into Texas Country’s hard-partying, heavy-boozing aesthetic. Instead, his sonic contemporaries are Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton, artists currently leading country’s slow-moving charge back toward a more traditional sound.
Underneath that hard country veneer is Jinks’ remarkably varied musical history. He’s been playing well-worn honky-tonk stages for more than a decade, but prior to that, he lived another life as the frontman of Unchecked Aggression, a Dallas-based thrash-metal band that formed in 1998. Unchecked Aggression split up in the early 2000s, and Jinks transformed his image from a wanna-be James Hatfield to more closely resemble the second coming of Merle Haggard.
Still, you can hear plenty of that punk and thrash influence if you listen closely.
“The way I brought my chord progressions in a lot of my songs definitely could be sped up and sound like a punk or a thrash song. It has as much to do with the way I’ve run my country band,” Jinks says. “I’ve always run it like a punk or metal band. It’s always been kind of DIY, every man or every band for himself. We always had that ‘screw you’ attitude. If you like, great. If you don’t? Cool.”
Like pretty much everyone else, Jinks was surprised at the accolades that followed I’m Not The Devil’s release.
“It’s one in a million. It’s a lottery, it’s a crap shoot, it takes a good team with solid timing and a good product,” he says. “I was sitting there thinking to myself about where we’re at right now, and we’re even sitting at No. 30 on the pop charts. That’s crazy because it’s all pay to play. It’s the record companies shoving the singles down the radio people’s throats and telling them to play it. And now everyone’s thinking, ‘How the hell did Cody get on there?”
I’m Not The Devil’s title track is the album’s most triumphant, at once lush and tender, dark and gloriously vague. After the first few chords, Jinks’ powerful baritone damn near coos its first few words, and the result beautifully juxtaposes the song’s innate tenderness and darkness.
“I took a different approach to it vocally than I did on the rest of the record. It’s powerful in the message and the words, but I’m not singing as hard on it. I tried to fashion my voice to be almost hurtful, kind of a regret,” Jinks says. “That’s the headspace that I wanted to convey. You don’t have to look at it and feel sorry for him, you can hear it in his voice.”
Over the next year, Jinks will build his profile the old-fashioned way, with a whole lot of touring. He’s out on the road right now, wrapping up the end of a run of shows with Ward Davis and recording a top-secret project. In January, Jinks’ band is headed to the West Coast to tour with Paul Cauthen, an equally-exciting North Texas newcomer. He isn’t, however, planning to release a new album in 2017. Instead, he’ll do a little experimentation, heading to different studios across the country to write and record with a diverse crew of musicians, recording professionals, and his own band. He won’t make his way back to North Texas until at least next summer.
It isn’t his debut—Jinks has released three albums as a country artist—but I’m Not The Devil is the culmination of Jinks’ musical influences. Combining the Elton John and Gary Stewart that he listened to as a kid with his experience in gritty clubs across the country and a whole lot of respect for country’s past, Jinks has settled into a shined-up honky-tonk aesthetic that suits him better than any iteration we’ve ever seen from him before. Perhaps more importantly, though, it provides an artist that country fans in North Texas maybe haven’t paid quite enough attention to a little much-deserved time in the sun.