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A Brit's View of
Waylon Jennings


JENNINGS, Waylon ~
(b 15 June '37, Littlefield TX; d 13 February 2002) Country-rock singer, songwriter. With well over 50 albums and having helped change the nature of the country music business in the '70s, he was a living legend. He began as a disc jockey in Lubbock, where he met Buddy Holly, joining his group on bass '58; Holly produced Jennings' first single that year, a cover of 'Jole Blon'. He was nearly on Holly's last flight, but had given up his seat to another and taken a bus; he remained faithful to Holly's memory for the rest of his life. He went back to disc jockey work, then met Herb Alpert and signed with him as a solo act; his early years in Nashville included work with Bobby Bare, Chet Atkins and Johnny Cash. He appeared in the film Nashville Rebel '66 and contributed a song to the Mick Jagger film Ned Kelly '70. The best of his '60s work was collected on a two-disc Waylon Music '80, which included covers of Beatle songs.

He chafed at restrictions imposed by the Nashville star system, and encouraged by the country-rock fusion of Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons and Kris Kristofferson he became one of the pioneers of the 'outlaw' movement alongside Willie Nelson, who produced his This Time '74. A seminal album of the movement was Honky Tonk Heroes '73, which displayed him at his full-throated best; compilation Wanted! The Outlaws '76 is said to have been the first country LP to sell a million, with Waylon, his wife Jessi Colter (his fourth, since 1969), Nelson and Tompall Glaser: it highlighted the authenticity of the so-called outlaws, including Waylon's classic 'My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys'. A paean to Hank Williams 'Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?' was a minor pop hit '74; CMA named him Male Singer of the Year.

With the outlaw movement well under way he made 'Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit's Done Got Out Of Hand?'. Able to do as he pleased, he entered a fruitful period with Ol' Waylon '77, including the classic 'Luckenbach, Texas', 'Belle Of The Ball' and Rodney Crowell's 'Till I Gain Control Again'. The collaboration Waylon And Willie '78 included 'Red Headed Stranger', continued with Waylon And Willie II '82 and Take It To The Limit '83, with a fine version of the Eagles' title song, Paul Simon's 'Homeward Bound' (a later set with Willie was Clean Shirt '91 on Epic). I've Always Been Crazy '78 included a medley of Holly hits with the Crickets; Music Man '80 incl. theme from The Dukes Of Hazzard TV show; Greatest Hits '79 was well chosen, from poignant 'Amanda' to gutsy 'Lonesome, Orn'ry And Mean'. It's Only Rock'n'Roll '83 was flawed, though with 'Living Legends (A Dying Breed)'; Waylon And Company '83 an interesting if patchy collection of duets with Emmylou Harris, Hank Williams Jr, Ernest Tubb; Never Could Toe The Mark '84 was less inspired, Turn The Page '85 a marginal improvement. All these were on RCA; he switched to MCA for renaissance Will The Wolf Survive '85 (a Los Lobos title song), by his own admission the first LP he'd made in some time without the aid of stimulants. It did not include his long-time steel guitar player Ralph Mooney, restored on Hangin' Tough '87, with a cover of Gerry Rafferty's 'Baker Street'. A Man Called Hoss '87 was a concept, a musical autobiography instead of the book he didn't want to write.

He had 87 Billboard country chart hit singles '65-88, including 18 duos with Anita Carter, Cash, Colter, Nelson, Jerry Reed and Hank Williams Jr, and a quartet with Nelson, Cash and Kristofferson. Sixteen of them reached no. 1. He won two Grammys for best country performance by a duo or a group: in 1970 for 'MacArthur Park' with the Kimberlys, and in 1977 for 'Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys' with Nelson.

He guested on Neil Young's Old Ways '85 and appeared with him at Farm Aid; made well-received The Highwayman '85 with Cash, Nelson and Kristofferson. His ear for the best songs for his distinctive voice, his writing talent and choice of sidemen and producers and his single-minded devotion to C&W as means of self-expression made him a giant. He had heart surgery '89 and came back looking and sounding fitter than ever. Nineteen albums made the Billboard album chart, the best entry Waylon And Willie at no. 12; other top 50 LPs included Dreaming My Dreams '75, Are You Ready For The Country '76, Waylon Live '76 (recorded in Austin '74), What Goes Around Comes Around '79, Black On Black '82, Leather And Lace '81 with Jessi. More recent albums were Full Circle '88 on MCA, The Eagle and Too Dumb For New York City, Too Ugly For L.A. '90-91 on Epic; he reactivated the Highwaymen for touring and albums including Highwaymen 2 '90 on Columbia, The Road Goes On Forever '95 on Liberty. A children's album Cowboys, Sisters, Rascals And Dirt '91 on Ode 2 Kids was a labour of love. Back on RCA with Don Was on Waymore's Blues II '94, then on Texas-based Justice Records with Right For The Time '96. Two-CD compilation Only Daddy That'll Walk The Line: The RCA Years '93. With Bare, Jerry Reed and Mel Tillis he made the whimsical Old Dogs '98. Clovis To Phoenix -- The Early Years was on a Zu-Zazz CD. He suffered from diabetes; he and Colter moved from Nashville to Arizona, and his left foot was amputated in December 2001.

(Used with permission)


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