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Waylon Jennings

If any one performer personified the outlaw country movement of the '70s, it was Waylon Jennings. Though he had been a professional musician since the late '50s, it wasn't until the '70s that Waylon, with his imposing baritone and stripped-down, updated honky tonk, became a superstar. Jennings rejected the conventions of Nashville, refusing to record with the industry's legions of studio musicians and insisting that his music never resemble the string-laden, pop-inflected sounds that were coming out of Nashville in the '60s and '70s. Many artists, including Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, followed Waylon's anti-Nashville stance and eventually the whole "outlaw" movement -- so-named because of the artists' ragged, maverick image and their independence from Nashville -- became one of the most significant country forces of the '70s, helping the genre adhere to its hardcore honky tonk roots. Jennings didn't write many songs, but his music -- which combined the grittiest aspects of honky tonk with a rock & roll rhythm and attitude, making the music spare, direct, and edgy -- defined hardcore country, and it influenced countless musicians, including members of the new traditionalist and alternative country subgenres of the '80s.

Jennings was born and raised in Littlefield, TX, where he learned how to play guitar by the time he was eight. When he was 12 years old, he was a DJ for a local radio station and, shortly afterward, formed his first band. Two years later he left school and spent the next few years picking cotton, eventually moving to Lubbock, TX, in 1954. Once he was in Lubbock, he got a job at the radio station KLLL, where he befriended Buddy Holly during one of the station's shows. Holly became Waylon's mentor, teaching him guitar licks, collaborating on songs, and producing Jennings' first single, "Jole Blon," which was released on Brunswick in 1958. Later that year, Waylon became the temporary bass player for Holly's band the Crickets, playing with the rock & roller on his final tour. Jennings was also scheduled to fly on the plane ride that ended in Holly's tragic death in early 1959, but he gave up his seat at the last minute to the Big Bopper, who was suffering from a cold.

Following Holly's death, Jennings returned to Lubbock, where he spent two years mourning the loss of his friend and working as a DJ. In late 1960, he moved to Phoenix, AZ, where he founded a rockabilly band called the Waylors. Jennings and the Waylors began to earn a local following through their performances at the local club JD's, eventually signing to the independent label Trend in 1961. None of the group's singles made any impact, and Jennings began working for Audio Recorders as a record producer. In 1963, Waylon moved to Los Angeles, where he landed a contract with Herb Alpert's A&M Records. By this point, Waylon's music was pure country, and Alpert wanted to move him toward the pop market; Jennings didn't cave in to the demands and his sole single, "Sing the Girl a Song, Bill," and album for A&M flopped.

Following the A&M debacle, Jennings landed a contract with RCA with help from Chet Atkins and Bobby Bare, and he moved to Nashville in 1965. After arriving in Nashville, he moved in with Johnny Cash, and the two musicians began a long-lasting friendship (which eventually resulted in a collaboration in the form of the Highwaymen in the '80s). Waylon released his first single for RCA, "That's the Chance I'll Have to Take," late in the summer of 1965, and it became a minor hit. With his second single, "Stop the World (And Let Me Off)," he had his first Top 40 country hit, and it began a string of moderate hits that eventually developed into several Top Ten singles -- "Walk on Out of My Mind," "I Got You," "Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line," "Yours Love" -- in 1968. At this point, he was working with Nashville session men and developing a sound that was halfway between honky tonk and folk. As the next decade began, he started to move his music toward hardcore country.

In 1970, Jennings recorded several songs by a struggling but promising songwriter called Kris Kristofferson, which led to a pair of ambitious albums -- Singer of Sad Songs and Ladies Love Outlaws -- the following year. On these two records, he developed the roots of outlaw country, creating a harder, tougher muscular sound with a selection of songs by writers like Alex Harvey and Hoyt Axton. During the following year, Waylon began collaborating with Willie Nelson, recording and writing several songs with the songwriter.

By 1972, he had renegotiated his contract with RCA, demanding that he assume the production and artistic control of his records. Honky Tonk Heroes, released in 1973, was the first album released under this new contract. Comprised almost entirely of songs by the then-unknown songwriter Billy Joe Shaver and recorded with Jennings' road band, the album was an edgy, bass-driven, and surly variation on stripped-down honky tonk. Jennings and his new sound slowly began to gain more fans, and in 1974 he had his first number one, "This Time," followed by yet another number one single, "I'm a Ramblin' Man," and the number two "Rainy Day Woman." Waylon's success continued throughout 1975, as Dreaming My Dreams -- featuring one of his signature songs, the number one "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way" -- reached number 49 on the pop charts; he was also voted the Country Music Association's Male Vocalist of the Year.

Jennings truly crossed over into the mainstream in 1976, when Wanted! The Outlaws -- a various-artists compilation of previously released material that concentrated on Waylon but also featured songs from his wife Jessi Colter, Willie Nelson, and Tompall Glaser -- peaked at number one on the pop charts. Following the success of Wanted!, Waylon became a superstar, as well known to the mainstream pop audience as he was to the country audience. For the next six years, Jennings' albums consistently charted in the pop Top 50 and went gold. During this time, he recorded a number of duets with Nelson, including the multi-platinum Waylon & Willie (1978), which featured the number one single "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys." Over the course of the late '70s and early '80s, Jennings scored ten number one hits, including "Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)" (which hit number 25 on the pop charts and spent six weeks at the top of the country charts), "The Wurlitzer Prize (I Don't Want to Get Over You)," "I've Always Been Crazy," "Amanda," "Theme from 'The Dukes of Hazzard' (Good Ol' Boys)," and three duets with Nelson.

By the mid-'80s, the momentum of Waylon's career began to slow somewhat, due to his drug abuse and the decline of the entire outlaw country movement. Jennings kicked his substance habits cold turkey in the mid-'80s and formed the supergroup the Highwaymen with Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash in 1985; over the next decade, the band released three albums, yet none of them were more successful than their debut, which spawned the number one single, "Highwayman." Also in 1985, Jennings parted ways with RCA, signing with MCA Records the following year. At first, he had several hit singles for the label, including the number one "Rose in Paradise," but by the end of the '80s, he was no longer able to crack the Top 40. In 1990, Waylon switched labels again, signing with Epic. "Wrong," his first single for the label, reached the Top Ten in 1990, and "The Eagle" reached the Top 40 the following year, but after that minor hit, none of his singles were charting.

Despite his decreased sales -- which were largely due to the shifting tastes in country music -- Waylon remained a superstar throughout the '90s and was able to draw large crowds whenever he performed a concert, while many of his records continued to receive positive reviews. In 1996, he signed to Justice Records, where he released the acclaimed Right for the Time. Closing In on the Fire followed in 1998. His work was slowed by his health in the years following that album, as complications from diabetes made it difficult for him to walk. His foot was amputated in December 2001 because of his illness, and he died on February 13, 2002, at his home in Arizona. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

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Track List: Nashville Rebel

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Track List: The Journey: Six Strings Away

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Track List: The Journey: Destiny's Child

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Disc 5
Disc 6

Comments

Saw him and Willie at the Cain's.1977. I miss him. RIP, Hoss.+






















Waylon was fer sure one of the greats
Loves me some Waylon
Love you Johnny, but Waylon was the man.
Song almost makes me cry Go Waylon
This is on gta v
Waylon#1
Very good ednamurray.
Waylon was a god
walon kicks some a**
Charlie daniels is best
You know I still love u 4 ever don't be mad 4 ever u don't know what u missing wait till daddy gone
Absolutely The Best!!!!
Two kings together WOW !!!!!!
Waylonwasthe g r e a t e s t
David allen u r the best
Bigdaddy
Waylon was Big Daddy
suziehome2
Music breath of fresh air
God bless Waylon!
Best of Waylon to me!
Laid back and wasted, soaking up that great Southern Outlaw spirit. Yep doesn't get any better than this. Absolute solid gold.
I reject much of my southern culture..but not waylon...ste e l e guitar....Ca s h , W i l l i e , H a n k jr. David allan coe...lol
closee8
this genre owes everything to Waylon, Willie, and the boys.
Wow did not know Waylon did this kind of misic. Good
Are you sure hank done it this way is played in GTA 5. So is Convoy, Highwayman and if heaven aint a lot like dixie and more!!!
They don't make them like this anymore!
Don't sing them like Waylon no more
Good ol' boys, great movie, only better movies are smokey and the bandit and convoy
Waylon. No one will ever surpass you. Loved everything that was you. Miss you....
Whenever I think of Waylon I think of the dukes of hazard! Good song and good show!
like waylon said the honky TONKS IN TEXAS are the greatest western when ur down in texas bob wills is still the king. miss u brother\
Right waylôn was a litt
smt1953
A Man's man. Provided me the inspiration and courage to exorcise most of my personal demons from Southeast Asia. Prime example that it is OK to be yourself even if you are different. Cold chills, blood rush and a smile every time I hear his voice. "Still crazy after all these years".
I'm 47 dad was right outlaw country is were its at he had a great 8 track collection brings back good memories funny how I listen to his music now love my Waylon Pandora station
sure mis waylon and johnny
Tina tuner
Waylon...the goodest of all good ol' boys. Outlaw love.
Yah some country and I'm 11
Is this songwining
I love. This Song
Waylon my man in fact Waylon is my middle name
Waylon Jennings , one of the best artist this planet has ever had the pleasure of being graced with ! If your not listening to it or passing it on to your kids you are doing a disservice to society. My kids are now 10 &12 and can sing word for word to any pop song on the radio but can call a Jennings or Cash song in the first verse as well as sing the lyrics and have been able to for quite a few years. RIP Waylon , I sure miss your contribution s .
Outlaw country .....it doesn't get any better than this
Country actually really cool more I listen to guys like Waylon Jennings.
Pop country still sucks donkey balls though ..there is a ton of excellent underground country music out there ..start with Hank 3,Shooter Jennings, Justin Townes Earle,Lucero & Drive By Truckers & you're on the right path
Aside from Johnny Cash I absolutely hated country music until a buddy played me some Waylon ...I was floored ..the voice & the swagger ..one of my all time favorites now
Waylon! King of Outlaw Country!
nicko252008
Real Country music
The Dukes Of Hazards. :D
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