Kiefer Sutherland is not Jack Bauer, the heroic protagonist he portrayed in hit television series "24." But try to tell fans, who purchase a ticket to catch Sutherland deliver country tunes, that he's not a television character.
During a performance four-months ago in quaint Sellersville, Pa., a fan repeatedly called out "Jack" during Sutherland's 16-song set. Fortunately, Sutherland, 49, has no problem dealing with Jack Bauer fans, who also exhort him to scream "dammit," or "gimme a name" or other catch phrases from "24."
"I don't think anybody ever said my actual name during this tour," Sutherland said while calling from Los Angeles, where he is working on his latest television vehicle, "Designated Survivor." "All I ever hear from crowds is 'Jack,'" Sutherland said. "That's fine. I'm just glad anybody shows up and gives us a chance so we can connect."
There is a certain stigma for actors turned singers, thanks to albums by thespians, who released embarrassing sonic documents, such as Don Johnson and David Hasselhoff. Sutherland, who will perform Friday, Sept. 30, at Infinity Music Hall & Bistro in Hartford, and Saturday, Oct. 1, at Infinity Music Hall in Norfolk, proves to be a genuine country troubadour courtesy of his debut album, "Down in a Whole."
But there are those who successfully stepped over the entertainment line from acting to music, such as Academy Award winner Jared Leto (30 Seconds to Mars) and Zooey Deschanel (She & Him). Add Sutherland to the latter list. Much like fellow actor Johnny Depp, the son of actor Donald Sutherland has been playing music for much of his life. His appreciation of rock started early.
"I think I was the only kid in the third grade who liked Aerosmith," Sutherland said.
Then Sutherland, who has taken a number of chances during his enviable 30-year acting career, ran off and joined the rodeo in 1994, discovering country music.
"That was my first exposure to authentic country," Sutherland said. "What I mean by that is Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash."
Sutherland is particularly influenced by the latter. "I don't believe Johnny Cash ever went to Reno to shoot a man just to watch him die (which Cash wrote for 'Folsom Prison Blues')," Sutherland says, "but he he wrote these first-person narratives, which are so great."
Cash and the other aforementioned country icons inspired Sutherland. "I starting writing about my life," Sutherland said. "It's been amazing. Country found me."
Sutherland's deep songs are typically written in 3/4 and 6/8 time. "They're almost waltzes," Sutherland said. "But they work for me."
The title track of his debut album tells the dark, desperate tale of an alcoholic. "Calling Out Your Name" is a sturdy, rough-hewn number. Each of Sutherland's tracks is its own entity and takes the listener to another place.
And then there is the art of performance, which is on the wane. Perhaps Sutherland is an expert at engaging audiences because he's an actor.
"I've gotten better at it," Sutherland said. "We played 60 shows on this tour and I got better as time went on. In the beginning, I just played and didn't talk too much. But now I feel more comfortable."
When Sutherland talks about influences, he steers the conversation back to the Man in Black. "I think Johnny Cash was amazing in concert," Sutherland said. "Johnny Cash commanded your attention but he also demanded your respect, which is hard to do. He never tried to be best friends with the audience."
That's where Sutherland nails it. There is so much pandering in the world of contemporary music. Sutherland's other musical heroes, Bob Dylan and Neil Young, never stooped so low. "Those guys have integrity," Sutherland said.
And that's where Sutherland performs. Sutherland is content to hit the smaller venues, when he's on break from "Designated Survivor," in which he portrays a low-level Cabinet member who is thrust into being the president of the United States.
"I'm pleased with it all," Sutherland said. "How can I not be? I'm incredibly fortunate. I get to focus on something I love, which is acting. That's a huge part of me being able to express myself creatively. There was a period in which I painted. Now I get to write songs. I love having the chance to express myself. I've had a great life but I've lost people and gone through breakups. That impacts my songs. Now I can put all of that into a song as a narrative, which is amazing."
KIEFER SUTHERLAND appears at 8:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30, at Infinity Music Hall & Bistro 32 Front St., Hartford; and 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1, at Norfolk's Infinity Music Hall, Route 44, 20 Greenwoods Road, West. Tickets are $39 and $69. 866-666-6306, infinityhall.com.