Personalities | Waylon Jennings | Country Rock & The Outlaws | Country

Waylon Jennings (vocals, guitar, 1937–2002) was a teenage disc jockey in Lubbock, Texas, when he first met the hometown hero Buddy Holly (1936–59). Holly produced Jennings’ first single, ‘Jole Blon’, in September 1958, and hired Jennings as his bassist the following January.

On 3 February 1959, Jennings was all set to take a charter flight with Holly from Clear Lake, Iowa, to Moorhead, Minnesota, but gave up his seat at the last minute to the Big Bopper. That plane, of course, crashed and killed all on board.

That Rhythm Thing

It took a traumatized Jennings six years to get his music career back on track, but when he did, he never forgot the lessons of his brief time with Holly. He never forgot how exciting country music can sound when you add an electric guitar, drums and lusty vocals. He never forgot how Holly insisted on producing his own sessions, picking his own songs and setting his own arrangements. He never forgot how Holly transformed Elvis Presley’s rock’n’roll by putting a West Texas country twist on it.

After several dj jobs, a rockabilly band in Phoenix and some pop-folk singles in Los Angeles, Jennings found himself in Nashville in 1965, sharing an apartment with the newly divorced Johnny Cash. Jennings had a Top 40 hit before the year was out and a Top 10 hit the following year. He was singing whatever RCA Records told him to sing – the honky-tonk classic ‘The Only Daddy Who’ll Walk The Line’, as well as songs borrowed from Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Bobby Vinton, Richard Harris, Joe Simon and Peter, Paul And Mary – and was singing in whatever way producers Chet Atkins and Danny Davis told him to.

But Jennings, remembering Holly’s example, began to assert himself. He started insisting on singing songs by such renegades as Lee Clayton, Hoyt Axton and Tony Joe White in a rougher, less polished way. When his contract came up for renewal in 1972, he had already had 23 Top 40 singles, including eight Top 10 hits. He was in a position to demand artistic control over all aspects of his career – and that’s what he got. His first album under the new contract, Lonesome, On’ry And Mean, showcased songs by Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Mickey Newbury.

Father Of The Outlaws

Nine of the 10 songs on the second album, 1973’s Honky Tonk Heroes, were by the unknown and unconventional Texas songwriter Billy Joe Shaver. From the lean mix of blues harmonica, Texas swing fiddle and Jennings’ rockabilly road band to Shaver’s celebration of ‘lovable losers and no-account boozers and honky-tonk heroes like me’, to the front-cover photo of the dishevelled musicians drinking, smoking and grinning in the studio, it was unlike any album Nashville had ever released. The album yielded a Top 10 single, ‘You Ask Me To’, and seized the imagination of a younger audience hungry for a...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Music, consultant editor Bob Allen


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