"That's a hell of an ambition, to be mellow. It's like wanting to be senile."
Randy Newman
on "middle of the road" music.




I met Waylon Jennings one time and got lucky. Six hours later we were still together, although part of the time he was performing just a few feet away from my side-stage seat.

We actually had dinner, along with his lovely and amazingly warm wife and soul mate, Jessi Coulter. This unforgettable evening encounter took place at Lanierland Music Park, about forty miles north of Atlanta, a facility snuggled into a bucolic mountain setting.

“My friends are my wife, our son and a few old-timers like Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard,” Waylon said. “I lost some pals when I quit booze and drugs years ago, but I don’t miss them or my bad habits.” Mr. Jennings' candor about his alcohol and drug abuse was refreshing and would have done more for clean living than all those stupid television ads. And, the old outlaw was so open about everything; you could have had him telling the world his story complete with credibility.

It didn’t happen.

The Grim Reaper visited Waylon’s bedroom in his home just outside Phoenix, and as The Evil One did with Waylon’s childhood friend Buddy Holly over four decades ago, the life was snatched out of this phenomenally gifted musician and his soul flew away. Upward.

They called him a music “outlaw.” I think he liked the label because he was a hard-core, defiant rebel. He hated every record company on earth for their commitment to poor country music preferring mini-skirted sex kittens that have in common beautiful bodies and terrible material. Think lower-end rock and roll that is as nourishing as junk food. I mean Waylon hated them. For years he had a morning drive-time radio show in Nashville and his sole mission was “to crucify these worthless bastards.”

Waylon Jennings did things no other singer has done. Besides composing and recording songs that sold into the millions for a career that began when he was a teenager in Lubbock, Texas, he wrote and recorded a tribute to all southerners who suffered and died in the Civil War, titled “White Mansions.” He wrote the theme song for and narrated the popular television show, “The Dukes of Hazard.” He sang some of the songs used in the monumental PBS epic, “The Civil War.” And he performed live concerts throughout this planet.

His last band was a mixture of jazz, blues, rock and country virtuosos. These guys could boogie on down and play any kind of music. If you’ve yet to hear Waylon Jennings do Little Richard’s classic “Lucille,” then you have one more big event to look forward to in this life. His unequalled, rich bass baritone - Waylon’s best instrument—is showcased in pure form.

Waylon Jennings was one of our last links to the beginnings of rock and roll. He was the surviving member of the immortal Buddy Holly and The Crickets. God must have created him to play a Fender Telecaster. He played with little effort in a style that defies copying. But, more than anything, I remember him as a good man, proud of those he loved deeply and honest enough to lay on the table those very few things which offended him.

My favorite line from a Waylon Jennings song is “I’ve always been crazy, but it’s kept me from going insane.” Someday, I may paint this on a wall, or even have it tattooed so everyone can see it.

 

Other pages:

Hank Ballard, creator of The Twist

The Blind Boys of Alabama

Elvis in the Fifties

Atlanta's Freddy Cole

The X-Miss Americas

Jazz Funeral of a Crescent City legend

Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra on tour

Opera Theatre in St. Louis

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