Last month, Cody Jinks found himself in the middle of a nightmare. The problem: He couldn’t play a show. Two of them, in fact. The Texas singer-songwriter was on stage in Omaha, Nebraska, when he was struck by a bout of vertigo. Dizzy, sweating, and unable to hear or see properly, Jinks was rushed to the hospital with high blood pressure after only playing a handful of songs.
“It sucked. It was horrible. I hate that I couldn’t finish the show, I hate that I wasn’t at the show the next day. I was probably more upset about that than anything else because I don’t cancel shows,” says Jinks. Today, now mostly recovered, he’s seated in the back of his tour bus at Whitewater Amphitheater in New Braunfels, Texas, about an hour outside Austin. He gives an uneasy laugh, his dark eyes fixed to the floor. “For somebody that does what I do, it’s the worst thing ever.”
Wearing a baseball hat, T-shirt, and swim trunks, Jinks is drying out from an afternoon of rafting with his family and a rain storm that lashed the sleepy hamlet in the Texas Hill Country. The night before saw his first show back after a two-week hiatus, with a second to come in a few hours’ time. Then it’s right back to what Jinks does best, and not a second too soon given that his latest LP, Lifers, is out on July 27th, his first with Rounder Records. This time, however, he’ll hit the road with a slightly different perspective.
“I’m done with the days of being gone 240 days a year. Some years we were doing high 100s, into the 200s. That was my late 20s and early 30s,” says Jinks, thoughtfully stroking his long, brown beard and tugging it gently so that the end curls into a pointed tip. About to turn 38, his children are ages 8 and 6. “I missed a lot when they were really little because I couldn’t afford not to be gone, but now we’ve been doing it so long we’re able to spend time with our families. A lot of kids belong to the guys on this bus.”
The push and pull of life on the road and life at home with loved ones is a strong undercurrent on Lifers, never more so than on “Somewhere Between I Love You and I’m Leaving,” a smoky, barrel-aged ballad that Jinks co-wrote with Whitey Morgan in a South Carolina hotel room. “I’ve been trying to write that song for 10 years,” he says, shaking his head. “My wife heard that song and loved it. She understands. Because I’m talking about leaving — I’m talking about leaving my wife at home and going out and playing.”
Jinks, who lives in his hometown of Fort Worth and played in a metal band around the turn of the millennium, didn’t always want to be a musician. As a kid, he dreamed of being a police officer. “After I graduated high school, I went to junior college for a year. I was working a freight dock in Fort Worth and playing in a band. Something had to give, I was stretched too thin, and school was that,” he says. “[The musician’s] life always seemed appealing to me. I didn’t know why. I just thought it was cool to write songs, record a record, tour, and see places.”
For the past 21 years, that’s essentially what Jinks has done, building a grassroots fan base through a hard-working and decidedly blue-collar sensibility. He remembers how, as a child, his parents would see Gary Stewart play every time he passed through town, a loyalty that clearly left an impression on him. Yet the decision to grind out the miles wasn’t entirely a matter of free will. “I tried to play the game a long time ago, I tried to do the clean-cut thing. I talked to some people who wanted to shelve me for a developmental deal, but it just wasn’t a route I could see myself going down. Too much hand tying,” he says.
That independent streak earned Jinks a reputation as an outlaw, a label he doesn’t identify with. (“I don’t know any real outlaws,” he says. “I pay my taxes.”) Even in Texas, the land of Red Dirt, he doesn’t quite fit in. “I was playing a show in the early 2000s and another Texan, a Red Dirt artist, walked up and told me nobody covers Merle Haggard or George Strait anymore. And I told him that I did,” Jinks recalls. After all that time, the hard work is finally paying off. His last album, 2016’s I’m Not the Devil, rose to Number Four on the country chart, despite not having the support of a label. Pre-sales alone for Lifers have him “floored,” and his Rounder agreement comes with a deal for Thirty Tigers to reissue his back catalog.
It’s no surprise, then, that Lifers sees Jinks turn to his friends for a celebratory set of collaborations. The title track, written with Tennessee Jet (the alter ego of performer TJ McFarland), is a tribute to people in all walks of life who live for their craft; the moody “Must Be the Whiskey,” the album’s first single, was co-written by Josh Morningstar; and Paul Cauthen, who makes a surprise appearance on stage during the second night at Whitewater, helped pen two of the 11 tracks, including the bombastic “Big Last Name.” “We’re all writing together and putting songs on each others’ records. It’s kind of an old-school approach, what the guys were doing back in the Sixties and Seventies,” Jinks says. He shrugs. “I don’t know, it worked for them.”
The spirit of collaboration will spill over in August with Loud and Heavy Fest, a first-time festival Jinks has organized on his birthday that will feature nine of his favorite artists. Held across two days in Fort Worth, it mixes country singers like Cauthen, Nikki Lane, and Colter Wall with metal bands like Corrosion of Conformity and the Sword. For Jinks, who says the death of Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul the day after his own hospital visit was a “double whammy,” it’s a convergence of his musical roots. In his metal days, Jinks even played Club Tattoo, which Paul owned with his late brother, Dimebag Darrell.
“Dime taught me one of the best lessons I ever learned in this business,” Jinks says, remembering one time when the guitarist, who had shown up to one of Jinks’ shows in Dallas, stopped to speak with a young fan. “It just made the kid’s year. They left and then he turns around to talk with this obnoxious guy who was trying to butt in front of this kid, and he gave him the same respect and time. Then he turns and finishes his conversation with me,” Jinks says, still filled with awe at the memory. “I was watching him and thinking, ‘That’s it. That’s what you do.'”