Waylon Jennings -Texas Outlaw of Country Music
"There's always one more way to do something...and that's your way." - Waylon Jennings
Waylon Jennings was country music's outlaw for over three decades, along with Willie Nelson, and Johnny Cash. But, it was Waylon that perpetuated it more with his beard, uncombed hair, and his continuing criticism of the Nashville system. A hard man at times, drinking, fighting, and a confessed drug addict for over 21 years.
Texas dancehalls were a rowdy place back in the day. Bar fights, hard drinking, and women. Waylon was born in Littlefield, Texas on June 15th 1937. His father, William Alvin Jennings, was a dancehall guitarist. Young Waylon was able to experience true Texas greatness listening to his hero Ernest Tubb. Waylon would never live small, getting his first music job at 14 as a DJ at radio station KLLL in Lubbock.
He would continue this job until he met a young Buddy Holly. Waylon soon befriended Holly, who in turn helped Waylon record his first single "Jole Blon" and also co-wrote "You're The One". After the subsequent recording Holly even hired Waylon to play bass for the 1958-1959 Buddy Holly and The Crickets tour.
During the tour tragedy struck, when a plane that was carrying Holly, The Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens, and others crashed. At the last minute, Waylon gave his seat aboard the plane to the Big Bopper, who had a cold. Buddy smiled and joked, "I hope your bus freezes up again", to which Waylon said "I hope your damn ol' plane crashes." It did. Waylon never forgot his friend Buddy and over the years recorded several songs in tribute to him.
After the crash Waylon briefly returned to KLLL, then went back to playing. He formed the Waylors in Phoenix at a new club called JD's. Soon Jennings was a local celebrity. Bobby Bare, working for RCA, stopped by to hear the Waylors while passing through and liked what he heard. After the show he called Chet Atkins from a pay phone to tell him about the group. Waylon was signed to the standard contract of Nashville musicians of the time. Which gave more control over his music to producer Chet Atkins.
The singer's first session with RCA was March 16, 1965 in Nashville. When he moved there, by chance he became a roommate of up-and-coming Johnny Cash.
The pair caused a sensation and numerous legends. Later in 1965 Waylon recorded and released "That's The Chance I'll Have To Take", "Anita, You're Dreaming", and "For Lovin' Me". In 1966, Waylon starred in Nashville Rebel and had three consecutive top 10 hits, "The Chokin' Kind" (#8, 1967) and "Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line" (#2, 1968), and a collaboration with the Kimberlys on "MacArthur Park" won a Grammy.
Waylon with his new found celebrity started remarking in interviews about his distaste of the Nashville "machine". The struggle for artistic freedom would take over a decade. Chet Atkins, angry over Waylons recent remarks turned him over to Danny Davis. When Davis became too demanding, Waylon pulled a pistol on him to protest what he called "studio bullying".
In 1970, Waylon had worn out his welcome with the greedy Nashville music machine. After a series of shows in typical rock and roll venues and some new recordings, Waylon was able to win popular acclaim and break into the mainstream, with Lonesome, On'ry and Mean and Honky Tonk Heroes. In 1973 he started an alternative country show at a DJ convention in Nashville with Willie Nelson, Sammi Smith, and Troy Seals, which started the Outlaws.
His battle for artistic freedom ended when he won CMA's Male Vocalist of the Year in 1975 and with his sales from the album, Wanted: The Outlaws, which included a number of collaborations. Ironically it was the first Platinum country record of all time. Mostly containing Waylon and Willie Nelson material, "Good Hearted Woman", "Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)", and "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys." This would be the first of four, "Waylon and Willie" albums.
Country had been a small segment of the broader musical landscape until that album. It was contending in a market dominated by rock and roll, and received national attention. In this period Waylon also developed a serious cocaine problem, which at one point was costing $1,500 a day. The addiction would last 21 more years. Along the way, he wrote another hit - the theme to The Dukes Of Hazzard television show, "Good Old Boys".
In the 1980s Waylon began working on a number of collaborations, one with his wife Jessi Colter, and Johnny Cash, "There Ain't No Good Chain Gang". Waylon also recorded with Johnny, Willie, and Kris Kristofferson in a group he named the Highwaymen, on several albums.
Suffering from poor health he still made time to record Waymore's Blues (Part II); the "Red Hot And Country" video; and the hit "I Believe" - a religious song that mirrored his Christian faith.
In 2001 Waylon released his autobiography.
73 albums contain the work of the Country Outlaw. Without Waylon, country music might have continued on the back burner of the music world. As a tough Texan, Jennings held out against the forces that control that so many country artists today.
(J. Charles Miller)