Waylon Jennings

Waylon Jennings
Waylon Jennings RCA cropped.jpg
Jennings circa 1974
Waylon Arnold Jennings

(1937-06-15)June 15, 1937
Died February 13, 2002(2002-02-13) (aged 64)
  • Singer
  • songwriter
  • musician
  • disc jockey[1]
Years active 1949–2001[2]
Maxine Lawrence
( m. 1955; div. 1962)

Lynne Jones
( m. 1962; div. 1967)

Barbara Elizabeth Rood
( m. 1967; div. 1968)

( m. 1969)
Children 6, including Shooter
Musical career
  • Vocals
  • guitar
  • bass
  • piano
Associated acts
Website waylonjennings.com A signature penned in black ink
Signature of Waylon Jennings

Waylon Arnold Jennings (June 15, 1937 – February 13, 2002) was an American singer, songwriter, and musician. He is best known as one of the founding pioneers of the Outlaw Movement.

Jennings first played guitar at age eight and first performed at age twelve on KVOW radio, after which he formed his first band, The Texas Longhorns. Jennings left high school at age sixteen, determined to become a musician, and bounced around as a performer and DJ on KVOW, KDAV, KYTI, KLLL, in Coolidge, Arizona, and Phoenix.

In 1958, Buddy Holly arranged Jennings's first recording session, and hired him to play bass. Jennings gave up his seat on the ill-fated flight in 1959 that crashed and killed Holly, J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson and Ritchie Valens.

Jennings formed a rockabilly club band, The Waylors, which became the house band at "JD's", a club in Scottsdale, Arizona. He recorded for independent label Trend Records and A&M Records, but did not achieve success until moving to RCA Victor, taking on Neil Reshen as a manager, who negotiated significantly better touring and recording contracts for him.

After finally wresting creative control from RCA Victor, his career turning point became the critically acclaimed albums Lonesome, On'ry and Mean and Honky Tonk Heroes, followed by hit LPs Dreaming My Dreams and Are You Ready for the Country. During the 1970s, Jennings was instrumental in the inception of outlaw country and with Willie Nelson, Tompall Glaser, and Jessi Colter recorded country music's first platinum album, Wanted! The Outlaws. It was followed by Ol' Waylon and the hit song "Luckenbach, Texas".

Jennings was featured in the 1978 album White Mansions, performed by various artists documenting the lives of people in the Confederacy during the Civil War. Jennings also appeared in films and television series, including Sesame Street, and a stint as the balladeer for The Dukes of Hazzard, composing and singing the show's theme song and providing narration for the show.

By the early 1980s, Jennings struggled with a cocaine addiction, which he overcame in 1984. Later, he joined the country supergroup The Highwaymen with Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash, which released three albums between 1985 and 1995. During that period, Jennings released the successful album Will the Wolf Survive.

He toured less after 1997 to spend more time with his family. Between 1999 and 2001, his appearances were limited by health problems. In 2001, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 2007, he was posthumously awarded the Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award by the Academy of Country Music.

Early life

Waylon Arnold Jennings was born on June 15, 1937, on the J.W. Bittner farm, near Littlefield, Texas. He was the son of Lorene Beatrice (née Shipley) and William Albert Jennings.[3] The Jennings family line descended from Irish and Black-Dutch.[clarification needed] The Shipley line descended from Cherokee and Comanche families.[4]

The name on Jennings's birth certificate was Wayland. It was changed after a Baptist preacher visited his parents and congratulated his mother for naming him after the Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, Texas. Lorene Jennings, who had been unaware of the college, changed the spelling to Waylon. Jennings later expressed in his autobiography, "I didn't like Waylon. It sounded corny and hillbilly, but it's been good to me, and I'm pretty well at peace with it right now."[5]

After working as a laborer on the Bitner farm, Jennings's father moved the family to Littlefield and established a retail creamery.[6]

Music career

Beginnings in music

When Jennings was eight, his mother taught him to play guitar with the tune "Thirty Pieces of Silver". Jennings used to practice with his relatives' instruments until his mother bought him a used Stella guitar, and later ordered a Harmony Patrician.[7] Early influences were Bob Wills, Floyd Tillman, Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams, Carl Smith, and Elvis Presley.[8][9][10][11]

Beginning with performing at family gatherings, Jennings played his first public concert at the Youth Center with Anthony Bonanno, followed by appearances at the local Jaycees and Lions Clubs. He won a talent show at Channel 13, in Lubbock, singing "Hey Joe". He later made frequent performances at the Palace Theater in Littlefield, during local talent night.[12]

At 14 years,[13] Jennings auditioned for a spot on KVOW in Littlefield, Texas. Owner J.B. McShan, along with Emil Macha, recorded Jennings's performance. McShan liked his style and hired him for a weekly 30-minute program. Following this successful introduction, Jennings formed his own band. He asked Macha to play bass for him and gathered other friends and acquaintances to form The Texas Longhorns. The style of the band, a mixture of Country and Western and Bluegrass music, was often not well received.[14]

After several disciplinary infractions 16 year-old tenth-grader Jennings was convinced to drop out of high school by the superintendent. Upon leaving school, he worked for his father in the family store, also taking temporary jobs. Jennings felt that music, his favorite activity, would turn into his career.[15] The next year, Jennings and The Texas Longhorns recorded a demo of the songs "Stranger in My Home" and "There'll Be a New Day" at KFYO radio in Lubbock.[14] Meanwhile, he drove a truck for the Thomas Land Lumber Company, and a cement truck for the Roberts Lumber Company. Tired of the owner, Jennings quit after a minor driving accident.[16] Jennings, and other local musicians, often performed at country radio station KDAV. During this time he met Buddy Holly at a Lubbock restaurant.[17] The two often met during local shows, and Jennings began to attend Holly's performances on KDAV's Sunday Party.[18]

In addition to performing on air for KVOW, Jennings started to work as a DJ in 1956[19] and moved to Lubbock.[19] His program ran from 4:00 in the afternoon to 10:00 in the evening, filled with two hours of country classics, two of current country, and two of mixed recordings.[20] The latter included early rock-and-roll stars such as Chuck Berry and Little Richard. The owner reprimanded him each time he aired such recordings, and after playing two Richard records in a row Jennings was fired.[21]

Jennings during a broadcast of his show on KLLL in 1958

During his time at KVOW Jennings was visited by DJ Sky Corbin of KLVT in Levelland. Corbin was impressed with his voice, and decided to visit Jennings at the station after hearing him sing a jingle to the tune of Hank Snow's "I'm Moving On". Jennings expressed his struggle to live on a US$50-a-week salary. Corbin invited Jennings to visit KLVT, where he eventually took Corbin's position when it opened.[22] The Corbin family later purchased KLLL, in Lubbock. They changed the format of the station to country, becoming the main competition of KDAV. The Corbins hired Jennings as the station's first DJ.[23]

Jennings produced commercials and created jingles with the rest of the DJs. As their popularity increased, the DJs made public appearances. Jennings's events included live performances. During one performance, Buddy's father, L.O. Holley, approached them with his son's latest record and requested them to play it at the station. L.O. mentioned his son's intention to start producing artists himself, and Corbin recommended Jennings. After returning from his tour of England Buddy Holly visited KLLL.[24]

Holly took Jennings as his first artist. He outfitted him with new clothes, and worked with him to improve his image.[25] He arranged a session for Jennings at Norman Petty's recording studios in Clovis, New Mexico. On September 10, Jennings recorded the songs "Jole Blon" and "When Sin Stops (Love Begins)" with Holly and Tommy Allsup on guitars and saxophonist King Curtis. Holly then hired Jennings to play bass for him during his "Winter Dance Party Tour".[19]

Winter Dance Party Tour

Before the tour, Holly vacationed with his wife in Lubbock and visited Jennings's radio station in December 1958. Jennings and Sky Corbin performed the hand claps to Holly's tune "You're the One".[23] Jennings and Holly soon left for New York City,[26] arriving on January 15, 1959. Jennings stayed at Holly's apartment by Washington Square Park prior to a meeting scheduled at the headquarters of the General Artists Corporation, that organized the tour.[27] They later took a train to Chicago to join the band.[28]

The Winter Dance Party tour began in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on January 23, 1959. The amount of travel created logistical problems, as the distance between venues had not been considered when scheduling each performance. Adding to the problem, the unheated tour buses twice broke down in freezing weather, leading to drummer Carl Bunch being hospitalized for frostbite on his toes. Holly made the decision to find another means of transportation.[29]

Before their performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, Holly chartered a four-seat Beechcraft Bonanza airplane from Dwyer Flying Service in Mason City, Iowa, for himself, Jennings, and Tommy Allsup, to avoid the long bus trip to their next venue in Moorhead, Minnesota. Following the Clear Lake show (which ended around midnight), Allsup lost a coin toss and gave up his seat on the charter plane to Ritchie Valens, while Jennings voluntarily gave up his seat to J. P. Richardson, known as The Big Bopper, who was suffering from the flu and complaining about how cold and uncomfortable the tour bus was for a man of his size.[30][31]

When Holly learned that his bandmates had given up their seats on the plane and had chosen to take the bus rather than fly, a friendly banter between Holly and Jennings ensued, and it would come back to haunt Jennings for decades to follow: Holly jokingly told Jennings, "Well, I hope your ol' bus freezes up!" Jennings jokingly replied, "Well, I hope your ol' plane crashes!"[32] Less than an hour and a half later, shortly after 1:00 am on February 3, 1959, Holly's charter plane crashed at full throttle into a cornfield outside Mason City, instantly killing all on board.[33]

Later that morning, Jennings's family heard on the radio that "Buddy Holly and his band had been killed." After calling his family, Jennings called Sky Corbin at KLLL from Fargo to say that he hadn't been aboard the plane.[34] The General Artists Corporation promised to pay for first-class tickets for Jennings and the band to attend Holly's funeral in Lubbock in exchange for them playing that night in Moorhead.[35] After the first show, they were initially denied their payment by the venue, but after Jennings's persistence, they were paid.[36] The flights were never paid,[37] and Jennings and Allsup continued the tour for two more weeks, featuring Jennings as the lead singer.[19] They were paid less than half of the original agreed salary, and upon returning to New York, Jennings put Holly's guitar and amplifier in a locker in Grand Central Terminal and mailed the keys to Maria Elena Holly. Then, he returned to Lubbock.[38]

In the early 1960s, Jennings wrote and recorded "The Stage (Stars in Heaven)", a tribute to Valens, the Big Bopper and Holly, as well as Eddie Cochran, a young musician who died in a road accident a year after the plane crash.

For decades afterward, Jennings repeatedly admitted that he felt responsible for the crash that killed Holly. This sense of guilt precipitated bouts of substance abuse through much of Jennings's career.[39]

"Jole Blon" was released on Brunswick in March 1959 with limited success.[8] Now unemployed, Jennings returned to KLLL. Deeply affected by the death of Holly, Jennings's performance at the station worsened. He left the station after he was denied a raise, and later worked briefly for the competition, KDAV.[40]


Due to his wife Maxine's father's illness, Jennings had to shuttle between Arizona and Texas. While his family lived back in Littlefield, Jennings found a job briefly at KOYL in Odessa, Texas.[41] He moved with his family to Coolidge, Arizona, where Maxine's sister lived. He found a job performing at the Galloping Goose bar, where he was heard by Earl Perrin, who offered him a spot on KCKY. Jennings also played during the intermission at drive-in theaters and in bars.[42] After a successful performance at the Cross Keys Club in Phoenix, he was approached by two contractors who were building a club in Scottsdale for James (Jimmy) D. Musil, called JD's. Musil engaged Jennings as his main artist[43] and designed the club around his act.[44]

Jennings formed his backing band, The Waylors, with bassist Paul Foster, guitarist Jerry Gropp, and drummer Richie Albright.[45] The band soon earned a strong local fan base at JD's,[46] where Jennings developed his rock-influenced style of country music that defined him on his later career.[47]

In 1961, Jennings signed a recording contract with Trend Records,[46] and experienced moderate success with his single, "Another Blue Day".[48] His friend, Don Bowman, took demos of Jennings to Jerry Moss, who at the time was starting A&M Records with associate Herb Alpert. In July 1963 Jennings signed a contract with A&M that granted him 5% of record sales. At A&M, he recorded "Love Denied" backed with "Rave On", and "Four Strong Winds" backed with "Just to Satisfy You". He followed up by recording demos of "The Twelfth of Never", "Kisses Sweeter than Wine", and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right", and also produced the single "Sing the Girls a Song, Bill", backed with "The Race Is On". The singles were released between April and October 1964.[49]

Jennings's records found little success at A&M, because the label was releasing mostly folk music rather than country at the time.[50] He had a few regional hits around Phoenix, due to local radio airplay with Ian Tyson's "Four Strong Winds" and "Just To Satisfy You", which was co-written with Bowman. Meanwhile, he recorded an album on BAT records, called Waylon at JD's. After 500 copies were sold at the club another 500 were pressed by the Sounds label.[51] He also played lead guitar for Patsy Montana on a 1964 album.[52]

RCA Victor publicity portrait of Jennings (1965)

Singer Bobby Bare heard Jennings's "Just to Satisfy You" on his car radio while passing through Phoenix, and recorded it and "Four Strong Winds".[53] After stopping in Phoenix to attend a Jennings performance at JD's, Bare called Chet Atkins, head of the RCA Victor studios in Nashville, and suggested he sign Jennings.[54]

Unsure after being offered a deal with RCA if he should quit his gig at JD's and relocate to Nashville, he sought the advice of RCA artist and friend Willie Nelson, who had attended one of Jennings' shows. Upon hearing how well financially Jennings was doing at JD's Nelson suggested he stay in Phoenix.[55]

Jennings then asked Herb Alpert to release him from his contract with A&M, which Alpert did.[56] (Later, after Jennings became successful, A&M compiled all of his singles and unreleased recordings and issued them as an album, Don't Think Twice).[57] Atkins formally signed Jennings to RCA Victor in 1965.[58] In August Jennings made his first appearance on the Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart with "That's the Chance I'll Have to Take".[59]

The Nashville Sound

In 1966, Jennings released his debut RCA Victor album Folk-Country, followed by Leavin' Town and Nashville Rebel.[60][61] Leavin' Town resulted in significant chart success as the first two singles "Anita, You're Dreaming" and "Time to Bum Again" both peaked at no. 17 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. The album's third single, a cover of Gordon Lightfoot's "(That's What You Get) For Lovin' Me", peaked at no. 9, Jennings's first top 10 single. Nashville Rebel was the soundtrack to an independent film, The Nashville Rebel, starring Jennings.[62] The single "Green River" charted on Billboard country singles at #11.[59] In 1967, Jennings released a hit single, "Just to Satisfy You". During an interview, Jennings remarked that the song was a "pretty good example" of the influence of his work with Buddy Holly and rockabilly music.[63] Jennings produced mid-chart albums that sold well, including 1967's Just to Satisfy You, which included the hit single.[60] Jennings's singles enjoyed success. "The Chokin' Kind" peaked at number eight on Billboard's Hot Country Singles in 1967, while "Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line" hit number two the following year. In 1969, his collaboration with The Kimberlys on the single "MacArthur Park" earned a Grammy Award for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group. His single "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" reached number three at the Hot Country Singles chart by the end of the year.[64]

During this time, Jennings rented an apartment in Nashville with singer Johnny Cash.[65] Jennings and Cash were both managed by "Lucky" Moeller's booking agency Moeller Talent, Inc.[66] The tours organized by the agency were unproductive, with the artists being booked to venues located far from each other in close dates. After paying for the accommodation and travel expenditures, Jennings was frequently forced to request advances from the agency or RCA Victor to make the next venue. While playing 300 days on the road, Jennings's debt increased, and along with it his consumption of amphetamine. He believed himself to be trapped on the circuit.[67]

In 1972, Jennings released Ladies Love Outlaws. The single that headlined the album became a hit for Jennings, and was his first approach to outlaw country.[68] Jennings was accustomed to performing and recording with his own band, The Waylors, a practice that was not encouraged by powerful Nashville producers, who favored the Nashville sound produced by a roster of experienced local studio musicians. The music style publicized as "Countrypolitan" was characterized by orchestral arrangements and the absence of most traditional country music instruments. The producers did not let Jennings play his own guitar or select material to record.[48] Over time, however, Jennings felt limited by Nashville's lack of artistic freedom.[69] He began to prepare for a change in direction with his career.

Outlaw Country

In an interview Jennings recalled the restrictions of the Nashville establishment: "They wouldn't let you do anything. You had to dress a certain way: you had to do everything a certain way.... They kept trying to destroy me.... I just went about my business and did things my way.... You start messing with my music, I get mean."[70] By 1972, after the release of Ladies Love Outlaws, his recording contract was nearing an end. Upon contracting hepatitis Jennings was hospitalized. Sick and frustrated with the Nashville music industry he was considering retirement. Albright visited him and convinced him to continue, suggesting he hire Neil Reshen his new manager. Meanwhile, Jennings requested a US$25,000 royalty advance from RCA Records to cover his living expenses during his recovery. The same day he met Reshen, RCA sent Jerry Bradley to offer Jennings US$5,000 as a bonus for signing a new 5% royalty deal with RCA, the same terms he had accepted in 1965. After reviewing the offer with Reshen, he rejected it and hired Reshen.[71]

Reshen started to renegotiate Jennings's recording and touring contracts. At a meeting in a Nashville airport Jennings introduced Reshen to Willie Nelson. By the end of the meeting Reshen had become Nelson's manager, as well. Jennings's new deal included a $75,000 advance and artistic control.[72][73] Reshen advised Jennings to keep the beard that he had grown in the hospital, to match the image of Outlaw Country.[74][75][76]

L-R: Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings at the Dripping Springs Reunion, in 1972

By 1973 Nelson found success with Atlantic Records. Now based in Austin, Texas, he began to attract rock and roll fans to his shows, which gained him notice in its press.[77][78] Atlantic Records made a bid to sign Jennings, but Nelson's rise to popularity persuaded RCA to renegotiate with him before losing another potential star.[79]

In 1973, Jennings released Lonesome, On'ry and Mean and Honky Tonk Heroes, the first albums recorded and released under his creative control. This heralded a major turning point for Jennings, kicking off his most critically and commercially successful years. More hit albums followed with This Time and The Ramblin' Man, both released in 1974. The title tracks of both albums topped the Billboard Country singles chart, with the self-penned "This Time" becoming Jennings's first no. 1 single. Dreaming My Dreams, released in 1975, included the no. 1 single "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way", and became his first album to be certified gold by the RIAA; it was also the first of six consecutive, solo studio albums to be certified gold or higher.[80][81] In 1976 Jennings released Are You Ready for the Country. Jennings wanted Los Angeles producer Ken Mansfield to produce the record, but RCA initially balked. Jennings and The Waylors traveled to Los Angeles and recorded with Mansfield at Jennings's own expense. A month later, Jennings returned to Nashville and presented the master tape to Chet Atkins, who, after listening to it, decided to release it. The album hit number one on Billboard's country albums three times the same year, topping the charts for 10 weeks. It was named Country album of the year in 1976 by Record World magazine and was certified gold by the RIAA.[82]

In 1976, RCA released the compilation album Wanted! The Outlaws, with Jennings, Willie Nelson, Tompall Glaser, and Jennings's wife, Jessi Colter. The album was the first Country music album certified platinum.[48] The following year, RCA issued Ol' Waylon, an album that produced a hit duet with Nelson, "Luckenbach, Texas".[83] The album Waylon and Willie followed in 1978, producing the hit single "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys".[84] Jennings released I've Always Been Crazy, also in 1978.[85] The same year, at the peak of his success, Jennings began to feel limited by the outlaw movement. [86] Jennings referred to the overexploitation of the image in the song "Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit's Done Got Out of Hand?", claiming that the movement had become a "self-fulfilling prophecy".[86][87] In 1979, RCA released Jennings first Greatest Hits compilation,[88] which was certified gold the same year, and quintuple platinum in 2002.[89]

Also in 1979, Jennings joined the cast of the CBS series The Dukes of Hazzard as the Balladeer, the narrator. The only episode to feature him as an actor was "Welcome, Waylon Jennings", during the seventh season. Jennings played himself, presented as an old friend of the Duke family. For the show he also wrote and sang the theme song "Good Ol' Boys", which became the biggest hit of his career. Released as a single in promotion with the show it became Jennings's 12th single to reach number one on the Billboard Country Singles chart. It was also a crossover hit, peaking at no. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100.[90]

Later years

In the mid-1980s, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Nelson, and Jennings formed a successful group called The Highwaymen.[91] Aside from his work with The Highwaymen, Jennings released a gold album WWII (1982) with Willie Nelson.[84]

Waylon Jennings in concert, playing his custom 1953 Fender Telecaster

In 1985, Jennings joined with USA for Africa to record "We Are the World", but he left the studio because of a dispute over the song's lyrics that were to be sung in Swahili.[92][93] By this time, his sales had decreased. After the release of Sweet Mother Texas, Jennings signed with MCA Records.[94] His debut release with the label, Will the Wolf Survive (1985), peaked at number one in Billboard's Country albums in 1986.[95] Jennings's initial success tailed off, and in 1990, he signed with Epic Records. His first release, The Eagle, became his final top 10 album.[94][96]

Also in 1985, he made a cameo appearance in the live-action children's film Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird. In the movie, he plays a turkey farm truck driver who gives Big Bird a lift. He also sings one of the film's songs, entitled "Ain't No Road Too Long".

In 1993, in collaboration with Rincom Children's Entertainment, Jennings recorded an album of children's songs, Cowboys, Sisters, Rascals & Dirt, which included "Shooter's Theme", a tribute to his 14-year-old with the theme of "a friend of mine".[97]

Although his record sales and radio play took a downturn during the '90s, Jennings continued to draw large crowds at his live performances.[94] In 1996, Jennings released his album, Right for the Time, featuring some of his newer songs, including "The Most Sensible Thing". In 1997, after the Lollapalooza tour, he decreased his tour schedule and became centered on his family.[98]

In 1998, Jennings teamed up with Bare, Jerry Reed, and Mel Tillis to form the Old Dogs. The group recorded a double album of songs by Shel Silverstein.[99]

In mid-1999, Jennings assembled what he referred to as his "hand-picked dream team" and formed Waylon & The Waymore Blues Band. Consisting primarily of former Waylors, the 13-member group performed concerts from 1999 to 2001.[100] In January 2000, Jennings recorded what became his final album at Nashville's historic Ryman Auditorium, Never Say Die: Live.[101]

Music style and image

Jennings's music was characterized by his powerful rough-edged singing voice, phrasing and texture.[102][103] He was also recognized for his "spanky-twang" guitar style. To create his sound, he used a pronounced 'phaser' effect (see 'Modulation Effects': below) plus a mixture of thumb and fingers during the rhythmic parts, while using picks for the lead runs. He combined hammer-on and pull-off riffs, with eventual upper-fret double stops and modulation effects.[104] Jennings played a 1953 Fender Telecaster, a used guitar that was a gift from The Waylors. Jennings's bandmates adorned his guitar with a distinctive leather cover that featured a black background with a white floral work.[105][106] Jennings further customized it by filing down the frets to lower the strings on the neck to obtain the slapping sound.[107][108] Among his other guitars, Jennings used a 1950 Fender Broadcaster from the mid-1970s, until he gave it to guitarist Reggie Young in 1993.[109] The leather covers of his guitars were carved by leather artist Terry Lankford.[110]

Jennings's signature image was characterized by his long hair and beard, and black hat and black leather vest he wore during his appearances.[111][112]

Personal life

Jennings was married four times and had six children. He married Maxine Caroll Lawrence in 1956 at age 18, with whom he had four children: Terry Vance (January 21, 1957 – January 25, 2019), Julie Rae (August 12, 1958 – October 3, 2014), Buddy Dean (born March 21, 1960), and Deana. Jennings married Lynne Jones on December 10, 1962, adopting a child, Tomi Lynne. They divorced in 1967. He married Barbara Elizabeth Rood in 1967. He composed the song "This Time" about the trials and tribulations of his marriages and divorces. He married country singer Jessi Colter in Phoenix, Arizona, on October 26, 1969. Colter had a daughter, Jennifer, from her previous marriage to Duane Eddy. The couple had a son, Waylon Albright, known as Shooter Jennings. In the early 1980s Colter and Jennings nearly divorced due to his abuse of drugs and alcohol, but remained together until Jennings's death in 2002.

In 1997, he gave up touring to be closer to his family. To set an example about the importance of education to his son Shooter, Jennings earned a GED at age 52.[113][114]

Addiction and recovery

Jennings started to consume amphetamines while he lived with Johnny Cash during the mid-1960s. Jennings later stated, "Pills were the artificial energy on which Nashville ran around the clock."[8] In 1977, Jennings was arrested by federal agents for conspiracy and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. A private courier warned the Drug Enforcement Administration about the package sent to Jennings by a New York colleague that contained 27 grams of cocaine. The DEA and the police searched Jennings's recording studio but found no evidence because, while they were waiting for a search warrant, Jennings disposed of the drug. The charges were later dropped and Jennings was released.[115] The episode was recounted in Jennings's song "Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit's Done Got Out of Hand".[116]

During the early 1980s, his cocaine addiction intensified. Jennings claimed to have spent $1,500 a day on his habit, draining his personal finances and leaving him bankrupt with debt up to $2.5 million.[117][118] Though he insisted on repaying the debt and did additional tours to do so, his work became less focused and his tours deteriorated.[116] Jennings leased a home in the Phoenix area and spent a month detoxing himself, intending to start using cocaine again in a more controlled fashion afterward. In 1984, he quit cocaine. Jennings claimed that his son Shooter was his main inspiration to finally do so.[117]

Illness and death

Grave of Waylon Jennings

Decades of excessive smoking and drug use took a large toll on Jennings's health. In 1988, four years after quitting cocaine, he finally ended his six-pack-a-day smoking habit.[119] That same year, he underwent heart bypass surgery.[120][121] By 2000 his diabetes worsened, and the pain so reduced his mobility that he was forced to end most touring.[113] That same year, he underwent surgery to improve his left leg's blood circulation.[8] In December 2001, his entire left foot was amputated at a hospital in Phoenix. On February 13, 2002, Waylon Jennings died in his sleep from diabetic complications at the age of 64, at his home in Chandler, Arizona. He was buried in the City of Mesa Cemetery, in Mesa.[122] At his memorial service on February 15 Jessi Colter sang "Storms Never Last".[113]


Waylon Jennings Boulevard sign in Littlefield, Texas

Between 1965 and 1991 96 Jennings singles charted, with 16 reaching Number 1. Between 1966 and 1995 54 albums charted, with 11 reaching Number 1.[123]

In October 2001 Jennings was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In an act of defiance he sent son Buddy Dean Jennings in his place.[113]

On July 6, 2006, Jennings was inducted to Guitar Center's RockWalk in Hollywood, California.[124] On June 20, 2007, Jennings was posthumously awarded the Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award by the Academy of Country Music.[125]


Jennings's music had an influence on numerous artists,[94] including Hank Williams Jr.,[126] The Marshall Tucker Band,[127] Travis Tritt, Steve Earle, Eric Church, Cody Jinks, Jamey Johnson, John Anderson,[128] his son, Shooter Jennings, Sturgill Simpson, and Hank Williams III.[129] His impact included neotraditionalist and alternative country musicians.

In 2008 the posthumous album Waylon Forever was released, which consisted of songs recorded with his then sixteen-year-old son Shooter.

In 2012 the three-volume Waylon: The Music Inside was released, featuring covers of Jennings's songs by different artists. Also released the same year was Goin' Down Rockin': The Last Recordings, a set of 12 songs recorded by Jennings and bassist Robby Turner before Jennings' death in 2002. The songs initially featured only Jennings' guitar and vocals, with Turner on bass; further accompaniment was to be added later. Turner completed the recordings in 2012 with the help of former Waylors. The Jennings family approved the release. Meanwhile, it launched a new business focused on his estate. Shooter Jennings arranged deals for a clothing line, launched a renewed website, and started talks with different producers on a biographical film.[130]



Year Award Organization
1970 Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal w/ The Kimberlys for "MacArthur Park" The Recording Academy
1975 Male Vocalist of the Year Country Music Association[131]
1976 Album of the Year with Jessi Colter, Willie Nelson and Tompall Glaser for "Wanted! The Outlaws" Country Music Association[131]
1976 Vocal Duo of the Year with Willie Nelson Country Music Association[131]
1976 Single of the Year with Willie Nelson for "Good-Hearted Woman" Country Music Association[131]
1979 Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal with Willie Nelson for "Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys" The Recording Academy[132]
1985 Single of the Year with the other members of The Highwaymen for "Highwayman" Academy of Country Music[133]
1999 Texas Country Music Hall of Fame induction Texas Country Music Hall of Fame[134]
2001 Country Music Hall of Fame induction Country Music Association[131]
2006 Guitar Center's RockWalk induction Guitar Center
2007 Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award Academy of Country Music
2007 Lifetime Achievement Award Nashville Songwriters' Festival[134]
2017 100 Greatest Country Artists of All Time, Rank No. 7 Rolling Stone[135]

See also


  1. ^ Dansby, Andrew (February 14, 2002). "Waylon Jennings Dead at Sixty-four". Rolling Stone. Retrieved April 12, 2020.
  2. ^ Kienzle, Rich (October 29, 2012). "CD Review: Waylon Jennings' Last Musical Testament". Post-Gazette. Retrieved April 29, 2020.
  3. ^ Jennings & Kaye 1996, p. 4.
  4. ^ Jennings & Kaye 1996, pp. 9, 11.
  5. ^ Jennings & Kaye 1996, p. 6.
  6. ^ Jasinski 2012, p. 432.
  7. ^ Jennings & Kaye 1996, p. 22.
  8. ^ a b c d Dansby, Andrew (February 14, 2002). "Waylon Jennings Dead at Sixty-four". Rolling Stone. Wenner Media LLC. Retrieved November 1, 2011.
  9. ^ Wishart 2004, p. 540.
  10. ^ Jennings & Kaye 1996, p. 271.
  11. ^ Jennings & Kaye 1996, p. 34.
  12. ^ Jennings & Kaye 1996, p. 36.
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  60. ^ a b Cramer 2009, p. 715.
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  133. ^ "Winners". Academy of Country Music. Retrieved February 6, 2019. (not possible to link directly to search results)
  134. ^ a b Jasinski 2012, p. 831
  135. ^ Browne, David; et al. (June 15, 2017). "100 Greatest Country Artists of All Time". Rolling Stone. Retrieved February 6, 2019.



  • Denberg, Jody (January 1988). "Chantilly Lace and Jolly Face". Texas Monthly. Vol. 16 no. 1. ISSN 0148-7736.
  • Henderson, Richard (May 12, 2001). "The RCA 100: Ambitious Reissue Program Represents A Century of Diverse Music". Billboard. Vol. 113 no. 19. ISSN 0006-2510.
  • Jessen, Wade; Evans Price, Deborah; Stark, Phyllis (February 23, 2002). "Waylon Jennings Remembered as Country Music Legend". Billboard. Vol. 114 no. 8. ISSN 0006-2510.
  • Weatherby, Gregg (1988). "Still Waylon". Spin. Vol. 3 no. 8. SPIN Media LLC. ISSN 0886-3032.
  • Billboard. Vol. 112 no. 12. March 18, 2000. ISSN 0006-2510. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  • "Patsy Montana Early Country Favorites". Bluegrass Unlimited. Vol. 18 no. 1–6. Bluegrass Unlimited. 1983. ISSN 0006-5137.
  • Country song roundup staff (1967). "Country song roundup". No. 102. Country Song Roundup. p. 15. Cite magazine requires |magazine= (help)
  • The Journal of country music. Vol. 6 no. 3. The Country Music Foundation. Fall 1975. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  • The Southern Quarterly. University of Southern Mississippi. 22. 1983. ISSN 0038-4496. Missing or empty |title= (help)

Further reading

  • Denisoff, R. Serge. Waylon: A Biography (1983). Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press. ISBN 0-87049-387-6.
  • Smith, John L. (compiled by) The Waylon Jennings Discography (1995). Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-29745-2.

External links