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Waylon Jennings Biography

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album cover essential waylon jennings
Image courtesy of Legacy Recordings

Overview:

Waylon Jennings's full-bodied music eschewed the sleek sounds of Nashville, and for that he was branded an outlaw.

After fighting for creative control in the '60s, he earned his place among country music's legends with the influential albums Honky Tonk Heroes and Lonesome On'ry and Mean.

Country Style:

Outlaw Country

Interesting Facts:

  • Waylon Jennings worked as a disc jockey and played bass for Buddy Holly before beginning his country career. Jennings was set to be on the fateful plane crash that killed Holly -- but gave his seat to The Big Bopper.
  • In the mid-1960s Jennings and Johnny Cash were roommates.
  • Jennings sung the theme song to The Dukes of Hazzard and provided the voice of the Balladeer.

Early Years:

Waylon Jennings was born in Littlefield Texas, on June 15, 1937. He received his first guitar at the age of eight, which his mother taught him how to play.

Jennings got his start in the music industry working at a radio station; it was there he met Buddy Holly.

Buddy Holly and Hoss:

Waylon joined Holly's band after the breakup of the Crickets, and played bass for the singer throughout the late '50s. His tenure with the band was cut short when Holly died in a plane crash in 1959; Jennings was travelling to the next stop by bus.

Jennings would come to regret his jesting last words to Holly: "I hope your ole plane crashes."

Country Career:

After Holly's death, Jennings returned to radio and began playing regularly in Phoenix, Arizona. After singer Bobby Bare caught Jennings' energetic act, he brought the young artist to the attention of RCA Records,

Jennings relocated to Nashville, where he roomed with a drug-addled Johnny Cash. He released his first album for RCA in 1965, Folk-Country, with Chet Atkins producing.

He later appeared in the 1966 Nashville Rebel, which featured many of his songs and helped contribute to his growing fame.

In 1969, Jennings married fellow country singer Jessi Colter.

Nashville Rebel:

Through it all, Jennings was unhappy creatively. He wanted to record with his own band, the Waylors, and choose which songs he would perform. His fights with the label resulted in hard-won victories -- and the classic albums Lonesome, On'ry and Mean and Honky Tonk Heroes. The latter written almost entirely by a then-unknown songwriter, Billy Joe Shaver.

In 1976, Waylon had another success with Wanted: The Outlaws, his collaboration with Willie Nelson and others. It helped reinforce Jennings' maverick image and had the distinction of being the first country record to achieve platinum sales figures.

Cocaine Addiction:

Waylon Jennings's cocaine addiction took its toll on his career in the 1980s. According to the singer's 1996 autobiography, he was spending as much as $1,500 a day on his habit.

Legacy:

By the '90s, Jennings had conquered his addiction.

In 2002, he received entry into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He didn't show up to the ceremony and died several weeks after.

His son Shooter would carrry on his rabble-rousing country tradition with records like Put the O Back in Country and Electric Rodeo.

Recommended Waylon Jennings Albums:

Best Waylon Jennings Songs

Books about Waylon Jennings

This is an uncompromisingly honest and thoroughly entertaining book by the singer about his career. He delves into all of the high points as well as the low. The audiobook version, though abridged, has the added value of being read by the man himself in his trademark baritone.

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