Jeremy Tepper, Impresario of Outlaw Country Music, Dead at 60

Jeremy Tepper, who relentlessly championed the outlaw country genre by highlighting both its revered icons and rebellious upstarts in his role as program director for SiriusXM’s “Outlaw Country” channel, died Friday. Tepper’s wife, the singer-songwriter Laura Cantrell, announced his death of a heart attack in New York City. He was 60.

Tepper was a gregarious, ubiquitous presence in the country, Americana, and rock universe, seemingly always in the crowd or backstage at concerts and festivals, from the Luck Reunion at Willie Nelson’s ranch in Spicewood, Texas, to the Americana Music Festival in Nashville, to the opening last week of an exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honoring Mojo Nixon, Tepper’s close friend and Sirius XM colleague who died in February. An encounter with Tepper at a show reliably came with two things, a “yeah baby” greeting and a burly bear hug.

Born in 1963, Tepper was a graduate of NYU, where he majored in journalism. In 2004, he joined the satellite-radio giant SiriusXM as program director of a new channel launched by Steven Van Zandt called “Outlaw Country.” Backed by an army of eccentric, often outspoken DJs, including Nixon, former WWE wrestler Hillbilly Jim, Jackass’s Johnny Knoxville, Steve Earle, and Elizabeth Cook, Tepper established a community for misfits and outsiders — both artists and listeners alike.

The channel’s playlists cast a wide musical net and featured outlaw country pioneers like Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson, cowpunk bands Old 97’s and the Blasters, singer-songwriters like Lucinda Williams and Jesse Dayton, and a new crop of upsetters like Vandoliers and Joshua Ray Walker. (Tepper also oversaw SiriusXM’s “Willie’s Roadhouse” channel.)

Many of those artists would follow Tepper out to sea on what became his signature annual event: The Outlaw Country Cruise, a rowdy, multi-day voyage presented with music-cruise company Sixthman. As the behind-the-scenes curator of the cruise, Tepper put together wildly eclectic lineups: The Mavericks, Emmylou Harris, Nikki Lane, Georgia Satellites’ Dan Baird, Cajun fiddler Doug Kershaw, and New York punk troubadour Jesse Malin have all sailed since the inaugural OCC in 2016. Tepper prided himself on paying tribute to legends of all genres on the cruise and enticed Country Music Hall of Famers like Kristofferson and John Anderson and reggae groundbreaker Lee “Scratch” Perry to come aboard. A ninth edition of the cruise is slated for February 2025.

“The Outlaw Country Cruise becomes a place where that legacy of what happened in the mid-1970s lives on,” Tepper told Rolling Stone in 2019. “It’s still alive and we’re moving it forward.”

Prior to his career at SiriusXM, Tepper was lead singer in the band the World Famous Blue Jays. He also founded and ran the indie label Diesel Only Records, which released the deep-cuts celebration of truck-driving music, Rig Rock Deluxe (A Musical Salute to the American Truck Driver), in 1996, underscoring the depth and passion of his musical knowledge.

On Saturday, artists and colleagues remembered Tepper. “Lost my good friend Jeremy Tepper last night. An incredibly tragic loss so young,” Van Zandt wrote. “He ran my Outlaw Country station on SiriusXM brilliantly. It is actually quite a complicated format and he made it look easy.”

In a statement, SiriusXM said Tepper “profoundly influenced us with his unwavering dedication to music and innovative spirit. His contributions, in shaping Outlaw Country and Willie’s Roadhouse, are beyond measure.”

Earle wrote that the Outlaw Country and Willie’s Roadhouse channels “lost our leader… He was our coach, cheerleader and a dear friend.” The journalist Ann Powers described him as a “joy generator.”


Tepper was an inveterate concertgoer and talked about living by a “rule of threes” — any night out had to include seeing at least three different bands. On a trip to Nashville earlier this spring to open SiriusXM’s new downtown studio, that included Bob Dylan and the Black Crowes. Often, one of the three would fall in the outlaw country sphere.

“We draw from a variety of food groups: rockabilly, honky-tonk, the country-rock of the Byrds/Dylan variety, cowpunk, alt-country, all the way through to today’s Americana artists,” Tepper once told RS of the “outlaw country” tag. “It means something different to everyone.”