Waylon Jennings's died aged sixty-four on 13th February 2002 from diabetic complications in Chandler, Arizona, U.S.A. He was survived by his wife, Jessi and their son Albright aka Shooter Jennings and is buried in the City of Mesa Cemetery, in Mesa, Arizona, U.S.A.
Waylon Jennings was born on 15th June 1937, on the G.W. Bitner farm, near Littlefield, Texas. The family moved from Tennessee and settled in Texas.
The name on his birth certificate was Wayland, meaning land by the highway. His name was changed after a Baptist preacher visited Waylon Jennings's 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. Waylon Jennings later expressed in his autobiography that he didn't like the name 'Waylon' because it sounded corny and hillbilly, but it had been good to him and he was well at peace with it just then.
After working as a laborer on the Bitner farm, Waylon's father moved the family to Littlefield and established a retail creamery.
When Waylon Jennings was eight, his mother taught him to play guitar with the tune "Thirty Pieces of Silver". Waylon used to practice with his relatives' guitars, until his mother bought him a used Stella, and later ordered a Harmony Patrician. Early influences were Bob Wills, Floyd Tillman, Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams, Carl Smith, and Elvis Presley.
Beginning at family gatherings, Waylon Jennings advanced to perform at the Youth Center, followed by appearances at the local Jaycees and Lions Clubs. He won a talent show, in Lubbock, singing "Hey Joe". He later made frequent performances at the Palace Theater in Littlefield, during local talent nights.
At twelve years old, Waylon auditioned for a spot on KVOW in Littlefield, Texas. Owner J.B. McShan, along with Emil Macha, recorded Waylon's performance. McShan liked his style and hired him for a weekly 30-minute program. Following this successful introduction, Waylon 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.
At age sixteen, after several disciplinary infractions, tenth-grader Waylon was convinced to drop out of high school by the superintendent. Upon leaving school, he worked for his father in the produce store, also taking temporary jobs. Waylon Jennings felt that music, his favorite activity, would turn into his career. The next year, Waylon 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. Meanwhile, he drove a truck for the Thomas Land Lumber Company, and a concrete truck for the Roberts Lumber Company. Tired of the owner, and after a minor driving accident, Waylon quit. Waylon and other local musicians, often performed at country radio station KDAV, and it is during this time he met Buddy Holly at a Lubbock restaurant. The two often met during local shows, and Waylon Jennings began to attend Holly's performances on KDAV's Sunday Party.
In addition to performing on air for KVOW, Waylon Jennings started to work as a DJ in 1956, and moved to Lubbock. His program ran for six hours, from 4:00 in the afternoon to 10:00 in the evening. Waylon played two hours of country classics, two of current country, and two of mixed recordings. During those final two hours, Waylon played artists such as Chuck Berry and Little Richard. The owner reprimanded him each time he aired the recordings, and when he then played two Little Richard records in a row, the owner fired him.
During his time at KVOW, Waylon Jennings was visited by DJ Sky Corbin, who worked at KLVT in Levelland. Corbin was impressed with his voice, and decided to visit Waylon Jennings at the station after hearing him sing a jingle to the tune of Hank Snow's "I'm Moving On". Waylon Jennings expressed his economic struggle to live on a fifty-dollars-a-week salary. Corbin invited Waylon Jennings to visit KLVT, where he eventually took Corbin's then-vacated position. 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 Waylon as the station's first DJ.
Waylon Jennings produced commercials and created jingles with the rest of the DJs. As their popularity increased, the DJs made public appearances. Waylon '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 Waylon Jennings. After returning from his England tour, Buddy Holly visited KLLL.
During his first recording session in September 1958, Waylon Jennings was accompanied by Buddy Holly on the guitar and King Curtis on the saxophone.
Holly took Waylon Jennings as his first artist. He outfitted him with new clothes, and worked with him to improve his image. He arranged a session for Waylon Jennings at Norman Petty's recording studios in Clovis, New Mexico. In September Waylon Jennings recorded the songs "Jole Blon" and "When Sin Stops (Love Begins)" with Buddy Holly and Tommy Allsup on guitars with saxophonist King Curtis. Holly then hired Waylon Jennings to play electric bass for him during his "Winter Dance Party Tour".
Before the tour, Buddy Holly vacationed with his wife in Lubbock, and visited Waylon Jennings's radio station in December 1958. Waylon Jennings and Sky Corbin performed the hand claps to Holly's tune "You're the One". Waylon Jennings and Holly soon left for New York City, arriving on 15th January 1959. Waylon 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. They later took a train to Chicago to join the band.
The Winter Dance Party tour began in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on 23rd January 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, with dire consequences. Holly's drummer Carl Bunch suffered frostbite to his toes (while aboard the bus) and was hospitalized, so Buddy Holly made the decision to find another means of transportation. Before their performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, Buddy Holly chartered a four-seat Beechcraft Bonanza airplane from Dwyer Flying Service in Mason City, Iowa, for himself, Waylon 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 Waylon 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.
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 Waylon Jennings ensued, and it would come back to haunt Waylon Jennings for decades to follow: Holly jokingly told Waylon Jennings, "Well, I hope your ol' bus freezes up!" Waylon Jennings jokingly replied, "Well, I hope your ol' plane crashes!" Less than an hour and a half later, shortly after 1:00 am on 3rd February 1959, later known as The Day the Music Died, Holly's charter plane crashed at full throttle into a cornfield outside Mason City, instantly killing all on board.
Later that morning, Waylon Jennings's family heard on the radio that Buddy Holly and his band had been killed. After calling his family, Waylon Jennings called Sky Corbin at KLLL from Fargo to say that he himself was alive. The General Artists Corporation promised to pay for first-class tickets for Waylon Jennings and the band to attend Holly's funeral in Lubbock in exchange for them playing that night in Moorhead. After the first show, they were initially denied their payment by the venue, but after Waylon Jennings's persistence, they were paid. The flights were never paid, and Waylon Jennings and Allsup continued the tour for two more weeks, featuring Waylon Jennings as the lead singer. They were paid less than half of the original agreed salary, and upon returning to New York, Waylon 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.
For decades afterward, Waylon 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 Waylon Jennings's career. The day of the flight was later known as the Day the Music Died. Waylon Jennings sang "The Stage", a tribute to the Day the Music Died.
"Jole Blon" was released on Brunswick in March 1959 with limited success. Now unemployed, Waylon Jennings returned to KLLL. Deeply affected by the death of Holly, Waylon 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.
Due to Maxine's father's illness, Waylon Jennings had to shuttle between Arizona and Texas. While his family lived back in Littlefield, Waylon Jennings found a job briefly at KOYL in Odessa, Texas. He moved with his family to Coolidge, Arizona, where his wife'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. Waylon Jennings also played during the intermission at drive-in theaters and in bars. After a successful performance at the Cross Keys Club in Phoenix, he was approached by contractors who were building a club for Jimmy D. Musiel, called JD's. Musiel employed Waylon Jennings as his main artist and designed the club around his act.
He formed his backing band, The Waylors, with bassist Paul Foster, guitarist Jerry Gropp, and drummer Richie Albright. Waylon Jennings and his band performed at the newly opened nightspot in Scottsdale, where they soon earned a strong local fanbase. At JD's, Waylon Jennings developed his "rock tempered" style of country music that defined him on his later career.
In 1961, Waylon Jennings signed a recording contract with Trend Records, and experienced moderate success with his single, "Another Blue Day". His friend, Don Bowman, took demos of Waylon Jennings to Jerry Moss, who at the time was starting A&M Records with associate Herb Alpert. On 9th July 1963, Waylon 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 in 1964.
His records had little success, because A&M's main releases were folk music rather than Country. He had a few hits on local radio in Phoenix, 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 five hundred copies were sold at the club, another five hundred copies were pressed by the Sounds label. He also played lead guitar for Patsy Montana on a 1964 album.
Singer Bobby Bare heard Waylon Jennings's "Just to Satisfy You" on his car radio while passing through Phoenix, eventually recording it and "Four Strong Winds". After stopping in Phoenix to attend a Waylon Jennings performance at JD's, while driving to Las Vegas, Bare stopped and called Chet Atkins in Nashville, suggesting that he needed to sign Waylon Jennings.
When he was made aware of the new deal, Waylon was not sure if he should quit his gig at JD's. He then went to get the advice of his friend, RCA artist Willie Nelson, who had gone to see one of Waylon's shows. When Willie and Waylon met, after talking about the possibilities and considering Waylon's profits at the club, Nelson suggested that Waylon should stay in Phoenix and not to move to Nashville.
Nonetheless, Waylon Jennings decided to accept the offer, and asked Herb Alpert to release him from his contract with A&M. Alpert agreed, though later A&M would compile all of Waylon Jennings's singles and unreleased material the label had and release it as Don't Think Twice. Atkins formally signed Waylon Jennings to RCA Victor in 1965. On 21st August Waylon Jennings made his first appearance on the Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart with "That's the Chance I'll Have to Take".
From the album of the same name, the song was a local radio hit for Waylon Jennings in Nashville.
In 1966, Waylon Jennings released his debut album for RCA Folk-Country, followed by Leavin' Town and Nashville Rebel. Leavin' Town resulted in significant chart success as the first two singles "Anita, You're Dreaming" and "Time to Burn Again" both peaked at number 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", became Waylon Jennings's first top ten single, peaking at number nine. Nashville Rebel was the soundtrack to an independent film of the same name, starring Waylon Jennings. The single "Green River" charted on Billboard country singles at number 11. In 1967, Waylon Jennings released a hit single, "Just to Satisfy You". During an interview, Waylon remarked that the song was a "pretty good example" of the influence of his work with Buddy Holly and rockabilly music. Waylon produced midchart albums that sold well, including Just to Satisfy You, that included the same-named hit single of 1967. Waylon 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.
During this time, Waylon Jennings rented an apartment in Nashville with singer Johnny Cash. Waylon Jennings and Cash were both managed by "Lucky" Moeller's booking agency Moeller Talent, Inc. 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, Waylon Jennings's profits were reduced, with him frequently requesting advances from the agency or RCA Records to play the next venue. While playing 300 days on the road, Waylon Jennings's debt increased along with his consumption of amphetamines, as he believed himself to be trapped on the circuit.
In 1972, Waylon Jennings released Ladies Love Outlaws. The single that headlined the album became a hit for Waylon , and was his first approach to Outlaw Country. Waylon Jennings was accustomed to performing and recording with his own band, The Waylors, a practice that was not encouraged by powerful Nashville producers. Over time, however, Waylon Jennings felt limited by the Nashville sound's lack of artistic freedom. The music style publicized as "Countrypolitan" was characterized by orchestral arrangements, and the absence of traditional Country music instruments. The producers did not let Waylon Jennings play his own guitar or select material to record.
In an interview, Waylon 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." By 1972, after the release of Ladies Love Outlaws, his recording contract was nearing an end. Sick with hepatitis, Waylon Jennings was hospitalized. Afflicted by disease, and the music industry, he was considering retirement. Albright visited him and convinced him to continue. Albright talked to him about making Neil Reshen his new manager. Meanwhile, Waylon Jennings requested a twenty-five thousand dollar royalty advance from RCA Records to cover his living expenses during his recovery. The same day he met Rashen, RCA sent Jerry Bradley to offer Waylon Jennings five thousand dollars as a bonus for signing a new 5% royalty deal with RCA, the same terms he had accepted in 1965. After reviewing with Reshen, he rejected the offer and hired Reshen.
Reshen started to renegotiate Waylon Jennings's recording and touring contracts. At a meeting in a Nashville airport, Waylon introduced Reshen to Willie Nelson. By the end of the meeting, Reshen had become Nelson's manager, as well. Waylon Jennings's new deal gained him a seventy-five thousand dollar advance and artistic control. Reshen advised Waylon Jennings to keep the beard that he had grown in the hospital, to match the image of Outlaw Country.
By 1973, Willy Nelson had returned to music, finding success with Atlantic Records. Now based in Austin, Texas, he had made inroads into the rock and roll press by attracting rock audiences. Atlantic Records was now attempting to sign Waylon Jennings, but Nelson's rise to popularity persuaded RCA to renegotiate with Waylon Jennings before losing another potential star.
In 1973, Waylon Jennings released Lonesome, On'ry and Mean and Honky Tonk Heroes, the first albums recorded and released under his creative control. The release of these albums heralded a major turning point for Waylon 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 Waylon Jennings's first number one single. Dreaming My Dreams, released in 1975, included the number one single "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way" and was his first album to be certified gold by the RIAA; it was also the first of his next six consecutive, solo studio albums to be certified gold or higher. ] In 1976, Waylon Jennings released Are You Ready for the Country, Waylon Jennings wanted the record to be produced by Los Angeles producer Ken Mansfield. Although RCA denied the request, Waylon Jennings and The Waylors went to Los Angeles and recorded with Mansfield at his expense. After a month, Waylon Jennings presented the master tape to Chet Atkins, who decided to release it. The album hit number one on Billboard's country albums three times the same year, topping the charts for ten weeks. It was named Country album of the year in 1976 by Record World magazine and it was certified gold by the RIAA.
In 1976, Waylon Jennings released the album Wanted! The Outlaws, recorded with Willie Nelson, Tompall Glaser, and Jessi Colter for RCA. The album was the first Country music album certified platinum. The following year, RCA issued Ol' Waylon, an album that produced a hit duet with Nelson, "Luckenbach, Texas". The album Waylon and Willie followed in 1978, producing the hit single "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys". Waylon Jennings released I've Always Been Crazy, also in 1978. The same year, at the peak of his success, Waylon Jennings began to feel limited by the outlaw movement. He 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". In 1979, he released Greatest Hits, which was certified gold the same year, and quintuple platinum in 2002. Also in 1979, Waylon Jennings joined the cast of the CBS series The Dukes of Hazzard as the Balladeer, the narrator. The only episode to feature him in person was "Welcome, Waylon Jennings", during the seventh season. Waylon 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 Waylon Jennings's 12th single to reach number one on the Billboard Country Singles chart. It was also a crossover hit, peaking at number 21 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In the mid-1980s, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Nelson, and Waylon Jennings formed a successful group called The Highwaymen. Aside from his work with The Highwaymen, Waylon Jennings released a gold album WWII in 1982 with Willie Nelson.
In 1985, Waylon 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. Ironically, after Waylon Jennings left the session, the idea was dropped at the prompting of Stevie Wonder, who pointed out that Ethiopians did not speak Swahili. By this time, his sales had decreased. After the release of Sweet Mother Texas, Waylon Jennings signed with Music Corporation of America. The debut release with the label Will the Wolf Survive in 1985 peaked at number one in Billboard's Country albums in 1986. Waylon 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. 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, Waylon 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".
Although his record sales and radio play dwindled during the '90s, Waylon Jennings continued to draw large crowds at his live performances. In 1996, Waylon released his album, Right for the Time, including some of his newer songs, including "The Most Sensible Thing", which was covered by Angry Grandpa in 2015. In 1997, after the Lollapalooza tour, he decreased his tour schedule and became centered on his family.
In 1998, Waylon 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. In mid-1999, Waylon 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. In January 2000, Waylon Jennings recorded what became his final album at Nashville's historic Ryman Auditorium, Never Say Die: Live.