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Cody Jinks and the Turnpike Troubadours have been down the same road

After years of recklessness, Cody Jinks is newly sober.Jason Deramo

There’s a lot of overlap in the careers of Cody Jinks and the Turnpike Troubadours. Both the Texas artist and Oklahoma band have operated outside the Nashville music machine since their beginnings two decades ago. Both run their own independent record labels. Both have recorded with producer Ryan Hewitt, a Grammy winner who graduated from Tufts University.

And both Jinks and Troubadours’ leader Evan Felker are newly sober after years of recklessness with the bottle.

“Mean Old Sun,” the first track on the Troubadours’ latest album, “A Cat in the Rain,” alludes to the songwriter’s self-imposed exile on a friend’s Texas ranch. Jinks’s new album, due in March, is pointedly called “Change the Game.”


Fans of both have been clamoring for years for them to tour together, says Jinks, speaking on the phone ahead of their double-bill Saturday at the MGM Music Hall at Fenway.

“We kind of kicked the can with it some years ago, but nothing happened,” he says. “I’m glad they’re back out there. Music needs them.”

Jinks, who had a thrash metal band in Fort Worth, his hometown, before taking an abrupt detour into the classic country music he was raised with, leans hard into outlaw grit (his longtime sidemen call themselves the Tone Deaf Hippies). By contrast, Felker’s knack for rhymes and melody gives the Troubadours a finer finish. Formed in Tulsa, his band features hints of Cajun, Celtic, and Western swing in their brand of “red dirt” music.

Last year Turnpike Troubadours opened three shows for the Dropkick Murphys at MGM Fenway. Felker made a guest appearance on the Dropkicks’ 2022 album “This Machine Still Kills Fascists,” which featured lyrics from Oklahoma native Woody Guthrie. Those Boston shows took place over the Dropkicks’ annual St. Patrick’s Day run.

“Not the greatest holiday for a sober person,” Felker says with a laugh, speaking in a separate interview.


After hitting bottom with his drinking a few years ago, Felker is frank about his struggles and his recovery. He’s reunited with his wife, and they now have two children.

Turnpike TroubadoursDavid McClister

The band’s rising profile has helped the Troubadours be more selective about touring dates. They’re no longer staying on the road for weeks at a time, bouncing from barroom to barroom.

“It’s very much about taking care of business,” Felker says. “You want to be mentally prepared to be as effective as you can be.”

Like the Troubadours, Jinks has spent years building audiences across the country. His early visits to Boston and Cambridge included stops at the Paradise and the Sinclair.

“The best piece of advice I ever got was, ‘Don’t miss any rungs on the way up the ladder,’ ” he says. Pressed for more details, he explains that he heard it from an opera singer named John Keyes, who claimed he got that advice from none other than Luciano Pavarotti.

Jinks says he met Keyes when he played a bowling alley in Wisconsin. The opera singer was working the door, drinking beer.

“This is some ‘Crazy Heart’ stuff,” Jinks says, referring to the 2009 film starring Jeff Bridges as a one-time country music star playing the honky-tonk circuit.

Besides a brief one-album stint with Rounder Records (2018′s “Lifers”), Jinks has released each of his dozen albums on his own. The Troubadours, too, have steered clear of the industry, releasing all six of their albums on their own Bossier City label. Jinks credits his lifelong love of punk rock — from the Ramones and the Sex Pistols to Social Distortion, a band the Tone Deaf Hippies often cover — with inspiring his “do it yourself” approach.


“We’ve actually been better accepted in the heavier community than the country community,” he says. “A lot of that is by design. We didn’t really want to deal with a lot of these jokers in the music business. I’ve always done it my way. It’s still ‘Hey, ho, let’s go, man, this is us.’ ”

As much as he embodies the rebels he often sings about, Jinks readily admits he’s just another suburban homeowner when he’s not on the road.

“I’m wearing my socks and Crocs,” he says. “I got my readers on. I look like a normal 43-year-old dad, with a teenage daughter who rolls her eyes. I’m not walking around the house in sunglasses and my cowboy hat.”

Lyrically, Felker is a master of tragedy. Hard times and rough weather and gasoline are recurring themes. He learned a lot about the art of songwriting, he says, from his old friend John Fullbright, another Oklahoman who paid some dues in the Turnpike lineup before going solo.

“You talk about a natural-born musician and songwriter,” Felker says. “He was really made to do the whole deal.”

He’s also good buddies with Rhett Miller, the Old 97s frontman who shares Felker’s rhyming precision. Felker credits the Shel Silverstein books he read as a kid with feeding his childhood aspiration to write poems.


“I got into playing guitar because it sort of validated the craft of poetry,” Felker says. It would be years before he’d learn that Silverstein also wrote songs for Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, and Bobby Bare.

After getting sober, Felker needed some time before he was ready to write songs again.

“I had to learn how to do it a different way,” he says. All his heroes, from Townes Van Zandt to Ernest Hemingway, were drunks: “Everyone I loved was pretty romantic about their drinking.”

“A Cat in the Rain” still has its share of ominous Turnpike Troubadours lyrics, but there’s also room for hope. On “The Rut,” Felker sings of emerging from a low place: “I’ve come back to the mountains and they’re all still standing there.”

As he eases back into the routine of his band, Felker is in the middle of a weekly solo residency at Tulsa’s tiny Mercury Lounge. It’s been a good opportunity, he says, “to get my chops together.”

Alone onstage, “when things go south, you gotta figure out how to fix it. It’s a worthy endeavor to me.”

James Sullivan can be reached at jamesgsullivan@gmail.com. Follow him @sullivanjames.


At MGM Music Hall at Fenway, 2 Lansdowne St. Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. $46.50-$117. crossroadspresents.com