The Friday Five: Waylon Jennings

Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings gettin’ a little sugar of the refined variety.

Transman has few heroes, but ever since his humiliation at the hands of his sister Twyla Faye and her band of cheerleaders made him see the error of his Elvis infatuation, Transman has had a soft spot for Waylon Jennings. Unlike Elvis, Waylon was his own man through-and-through. Even when people tried to control his career for him, Waylon still found ways to do his own thing and make music on his own terms.

It probably seems unlikely that a little Transman would pick a “horseless cowboy singer” for a role model, but Transman ditched his Elvis-style jumpsuit (well, all right, it was just a shiny track suit) for jeans and a leather vest when he was about 8 years old. Little Transman just thought Waylon looked and sounded cool. Big Transman respects Waylon’s artistic integrity and support of other artists.

Transman’s admiration is also rooted in Waylon’s attitude. The publicity photo for the box set, Nashville Rebel, says, “He didn’t become a legend by following the rules.” That a transkid had to break some societal rules along the way to adulthood seems like a no-brainer. Yes, different situations, but sometimes when life got particularly trying, Transman would visualize Waylon Jennings giving the finger to the system for inspiration. Some people meditate and conjure up images of sandy beaches or white rooms; Transman happens to visualize a badass guitar slinger. You can read more about why Transman digs Waylon here.

Jennings was born in Littlefield, Texas June 15, 1937. As a teenager, he was a disc jockey and started playing bass in Buddy Holly’s band after meeting him at the radio station. While touring with Holly, Jennings gave up his seat on the plane to the Big Bopper; the plane crashed killing Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens. In his autobiography, Jennings talks about how deeply Holly’s death affected him; for many years he struggled with survivor’s guilt.

In 1975, he was named male vocalist of the year by the Country Music Association, but it was the 1976 album, Wanted: The Outlaws! that propelled him to stardom. The album, recorded with Tompall Glaser, Willie Nelson, and Jessi Colter, was the first platinum album recorded in Nashville. The watershed album pushed the musicians, especially Willie and Waylon, into the spotlight and found them fans far outside the country market.

Waylon Jennings died Feb. 13, 2002, from diabetes complications. The Waylon Fund supports diabetes research. In honor of what would have been his 75th birthday, there are several “Birthday Bash” concerts around the country this year that raise funds for the cause.

Now, for the music:

“I’ve Always Been Crazy” is one of his signature tunes; there is good footage here of steel guitar player Ralph Mooney, who helped define Waylon’s live sound.

Waylon got the idea for “Good Hearted Woman” from a newspaper story about Ike and Tina Turner. He and Willie Nelson wrote the song together during a poker game. Willie jokes that he gave Waylon one line and took half the song.

Waylon always put together a great band. Here they are on the Cowboy Jack Clement Show doing their version of Steve Young’s “Lonesome, On’ry and Mean”:

Waylon and Johnny Cash had a long friendship. They were roommates in the 60s and Cash often had Waylon as a guest on his variety show and television specials; in the 1990s, they formed The Highwaymen with Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson.

Waylon always had a good ear for original songwriting. Here, he’s doing Billy Joe Shaver‘s “Slow Rollin’ Low.”

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13 responses to “The Friday Five: Waylon Jennings

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