Singer/songwriter Jesse Kramer lives next door to a guy that hangs out in his garage and refurbishes old motorcycles, a guy that listens to vinyl and rocks out to Lynyrd Skynyrd, a guy that always seemed to turn the volume up when the sun went down.
Little did that guy know that one night last summer, Kramer was listening.
“The song was called ‘Junkie,’” remembers Kramer in a recent interview with American Songwriter. “I remember hearing the way the guitar was played on that song and the guitar riffs and the attitude and the anger. Every song should make you feel some way, and that one hit a chord with me.”
So much so that Kramer used the deep cut to inspire him to write “Ridin’ Shotgun,’ a banger of a song that not only solidifies Kramer’s place as the all-American rocker, but confirms that his roots within soul and R&B also perfectly contribute to his ultra-unique sound.
“I wrote ‘Ridin’ Shotgun’ last spring when I was sauced up a little bit and upset at the lady friend, you know?” chuckles Kramer of the single which premieres exclusively on American Songwriter Thursday, October 22. “I guess I was a little on edge. (Laughs.) COVID-19 was hitting and I just had this ‘get out of my way’ mentality and I started writing.”
Word by word and line by line, the song came forth out of Kramer’s soul. But then, Kramer was hit hard with a reality he wasn’t even expecting.
“I thought I was writing it about someone else, but then I found out I was writing it about me,” confesses Kramer, who recently released a reworking of Lady Gaga’s 2009 megahit “Bad Romance.” “I’m the one riding shotgun. Music is in the driver’s seat. It always has been.”
It’s a rather poetic take on what has been a somewhat chaotic life. Kramer grew up in the Midwest with a family who was big on Southern Baptist ideals. In an effort to tune out some of those beliefs, Kramer picked up the guitar and started playing.
“At ten years old, notes became words to me and notes came alive to me,” recalls Kramer, who wrote his first song at the age of 14 after building a musical foundation on everyone from Chris Cornell to Neil Young. “As a somewhat sheltered child, music became my outlet. Music and my guitar and rock and roll became my dirty little secret.”
When given the choice between giving up music or leaving the house, Kramer walked out the door with a guitar in his hand and no place to go. After some desperate days and terrifying nights sleeping in his car, Kramer moved to Nashville, eager to raise his rock and roll flag over the heads of anyone who would listen. He soon experienced viral success with appearances on NBC’s America’s Got Talent and FOX’s The Four: Battle for Stardom. And in late 2019 and early 2020, Kramer put out two EPs that revealed the very real and underlying anger and angst that he felt inside.
He’s still feeling them at this very moment.
“I’m 24 years old, and I’m angry and I’m sad one day and I’m driven and ambitious the next day,” he admits. “It’s just the way things are these days.”
Nevertheless, the uncertainty of the day to day has had a fairly positive effect on the authenticity of his songwriting.
“We are in this time where we are being held back physically, but emotionally, it’s a free for all,” he admits. “And lately, I’ve been trying figure out how to translate that and channel that into my songwriting.”
“Music plays one of the biggest roles in who we are as human beings. It makes us feel something when it means something, and I want music to mean something again.”