As the 20th anniversary of his band Jackyl approaches, the career of Jesse James Dupree seems all the more improbable.
For starters, the hard-rocking Jackyl has maintained a viable and visible commercial profile over the decades, especially as a live act, even though its recent recordings have failed to match the platinum- and gold-selling status of 1992's Jackyl and 1994's Push Comes to Shove.
Then there is the artistic life Dupree lives outside of his band's louder-than-life tunes. For two seasons, he has been featured in the Tru-TV reality series Full Throttle Saloon, which chronicles the daily goings-on in one of the most notorious biker bars in Sturgis, S.D.
Finally, there is the recent introduction of Dupree's Outlaw Beer, which should put Dupree's name in just about every bar that can't manage to book Jackyl for a gig.
All in all, these activities have made Dupree one of rock's less likely entrepreneurs.
"There has never been anybody around to tell me I can't do all these things," said Dupree, who will perform with Jackyl on Thursday at Buster's Billiards & Backroom in Lexington. "And that's not just for me. That goes for anybody reading this interview. The reality is anybody can do anything they want. That's the beautiful thing about where we live.
"In my case, my career was never by design. It was never, 'Hey, I'm going to do a bunch of different stuff.' It was a case where all of these things came up one by one. And these were things that I was passionate about. If you want to do a TV series, you can. If you want to put out a line of liquor, then put out a line of liquor. The point is to go do your thing. Life is too short to sit around and overthink it."
The foundation of Dupree's rock 'n' roll enterprise remains Jackyl. The Georgia band roared onto the charts in the early '90s with a boisterous, bar-savvy guitar-rock sound built around guitar-dominant hooks and Dupree's tireless vocal wail. Among its most beloved early hits was The Lumberjack, which culminates onstage with Dupree revving up a chain saw. The song remains an encore staple of Jackyl's shows to this day.
Jackyl hasn't scored a significant hit single or album since Locked and Loaded and Cut the Crap tore up the charts in 1998. But its appeal as a touring band has never significantly waned.
"The people's passion for rock 'n' roll never went away," Dupree said. "What has diminished, though, is the fact that audiences are now spread out over so many different mediums. They've got 100 satellite channels in their car. They've got iPods and the Internet and YouTube. It's just become a lot harder to reach the masses. That's the biggest travesty of what technology has brought on.
"But in some ways, you can use it to reach your fan base, whether through Facebook or whatever. That, along with whatever radio play you can get, helps. But the audiences are still spread out over the mediums.
"We're fortunate, though, thanks to the consistency in which we do things. People know when we hit the stage, everything is just on. For them, it's not just about coming to see a show. It's about coming to be part of a show. They are onstage as much as we are in the sense that they give to us as much as we give to them."
The title of Jackyl's most recent album, 2010's When Moonshine and Dynamite Collide, might point to such performance combustibility, but it was borrowed from a documentary about bluegrass legend Jimmy Martin.
"I adopted the title. Jimmy Martin always used to say, "I don't need a critic or somebody in Nashville to tell me whether or not I'm a star.' He was basically saying that he didn't need anyone in Nashville to validate him. It was always the people who came to his shows that did that. And that's true of Jackyl, too. We've always marched to our own drum from our own private Idaho. And we still pack out places on the road with people who come out to have a good time."
Dupree puts that practice into visible motion on Full Throttle Saloon, which will begin its third season later this year. For Dupree, the show is an attempt to showcase the biker charm that has defined Sturgis for years.
"It's about a piece of America that a lot of people knew was out there but didn't have the luxury to witness it. A lot of folks know about Sturgis but just don't have the means of making a trip to South Dakota. So the show kind of lets them have some of the Sturgis experience."
Does that mean Dupree plans to unleash a little of that Sturgis biker drive when Jackyl plays Buster's?
"Oh, yeah. We anticipate remodeling the place."