ICONS: Waylon Jennings, The Man Behind the Outlaw.
June 15th would have been Waylon Jenning's 84th birthday. One of the biggest padres in the Outlaw country movement, Waylon was a voice for working America who typified the rebel with a good heart. Here's some facts about the iconic outlaw.
He was born Wayland. His mother Lorene later changed the spelling after a visiting pastor assumed she and her husband named their son after "Wayland Baptist University," which Lorene had never heard of. Waylon didn't like his name either way, calling it "corny and hillbilly."
His mother taught him to play guitar at age 8. His first song was "Thirty Pieces of Silver."
He was a high school dropout. Waylon dropped out of high school at 16, at the encouragement of his principle following some youthful misbehavior. At age 52 he would go back and earn his GED to set an example for his kids about the importance of education.
He was fired from his DJ job for having great taste. After playing Little Richard records back-to-back on his program Waylon was dumped from the station.
He was in Buddy Holly's band. He played bass behind Buddy Holly. The two were great friends. In 1959, Jennings gave up his seat on an airplane to another band member who had a flu. That plane went down, taking the lives of Buddy Holly and several other members of the band.
He was roommates with Johnny Cash. When both were rising stars they shared an apartment in Nashville.
He grew his beard during a hospital stay and kept it. It's hard to imagine Jennings without a beard but it was the accidental result of a hospital stay. After he left, Waylon realized the beard made him look more outlaw and kept it for good.
He was the narrator on Dukes of Hazzard. He narrated the show for all 7 seasons, and wrote and recorded the theme song "Good Ol' Boys."
He had a wild run-in with the DEA. Long story short, in 1977 the feds intercepted a shipment of cocaine with Waylon's name on it and came a-knockin'. Waylon and his drummer frantically flushed cocaine down the toilet, threw out the coke in their pockets, and hid a bag in a crack in the wall. The DEA couldn't find anything but arrested the singer anyway. Charges were dropped, and Jennings wrote "Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit's Done Got Out of Hand" about the incident. You can read the full tale here.
He was a guest star on the Sesame Street movie. Jennings played a turkey farmer who gives a hitchhiking Big Bird a lift in a bit role. He sings Big Bird a song called "Ain't No Road Too Long."
He took a $25,000 piss break. Famously, Waylon was mid-contract renegotiations at RCA when he unceremoniously got up to use the bathroom. When he came back out, his lawyer informed him while he was occupied, the execs thought Jennings was leaving for good and decided to give him the $25,000 he'd been requesting on the spot.
He was part of the first country album to go platinum. That 1976 album was Wanted: The Outlaws, made with Willie Nelson, Tompall Glaser, and Waylon's wife Jessi Colter. Next year, his album Ol' Waylon was the first by a solo country artist to go platinum.
He rented a house in Arizona for a month to get himself clean. After decades of struggling with addiction, Waylon decided to get clean. He rented a house and quit drugs and smoking by putting himself through a self-created rehab.
He was a devoted dad. Waylon loved his kids (four biological, three adopted through marriage) and was a very devoted dad. In 1993 he released a children's album called Cowboys, Sisters, Rascals & Dirt that featured "Shooter's Theme" --- a song named for his son.
He said meeting his wife Jessi Colter was the best thing that ever happened to him. Jennings was married three times and Colter once before the couple met in 1969. They were married the same year and became one of Nashville's most enduring couples, together until Waylon's death in 2002. "When I met Jessi, I was pretty well at my lowest point. I weighed 138 pounds, and I was bent on self-destruction. Wallerin' in self-pity was the biggest part of it, stayin' depressed all the time and stoned. Jess was the best thing that ever happened to me."
He visited Luckenbach, Texas . . . once. Waylon had never visited the little town that became synonymous with his career when he released his famous single. "Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)" was written by Chips Moman and Bobby Emmons and remains one of Outlaw country's defining anthems, immortalizing "Waylon and Willie and the boys."
His son played him in a movie. Shooter Jennings played his famous father in the 2005 Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line.