Lucinda Williams

 “America’s best songwriter”

  • Time Magazine

“Lucinda Williams writes songs about women looking for independence and fulfillment, about men and women welcoming love or barring the door against it, about people doing their best to get by in a world too self-absorbed to care”

  • NY Times

It’s been quite a ride over the course of some 40 years and 17 albums for Lucinda Williams; progressing from making a record of reverent Blues covers, (Ramblin’ On My Mind), to a snarling, angry statement / observation of a Trump led America (Good Souls Better Angels).

In the course of that trip, I had an opportunity to catch Lucinda and her excellent backing trio – Buick 6 – a few years ago at Massey Hall in Toronto. The moment for me, (of many fine moments), was when Lucinda sent the band off-stage to perform solo. That offered an opportunity, with only the backing of Lucinda’s acoustic guitar, to really zone in on her lyrical expertise. Williams once described the song writing exercise as something akin to going to the bottom of the well, scraping that bottom, and resurfacing with spirit intact to share the experience. That night she summarized that skill with her solo rendition of “When I Look At The World”. It’s a song that might be downplayed as just another good Lucinda Williams song, but it struck a definite chord with me. Forever melancholy, but filled with the optimism of renewal:

“I’ve been out of luck; I’ve been talked about
I’ve been locked up; I’ve been shut out
I’ve had some bad dreams; and then feel the regret
I’ve made a mess of things; and been a total wreck
I’ve been disrespected; and taken for a ride
I’ve been rejected; and had my patience tried

But then I look at the world in all its glory
I look at the world and it’s a different story
Each time I look at the world”

Her father, celebrated poet and college professor Miller Williams, passed on the love of poetry and language. It was also her father– that, incidentally, introduced a young Lucinda to the Delta Blues, Hank Williams and John Coltrane – who urged her to express her feelings without censoring herself. Lucinda benefitted from not only that guidance but also a wealth of life experiences as she and her two siblings moved to different locales as dictated by their father’s various teaching jobs. Miller Williams, who gained custody of the children after his divorce from Lucinda’s mother moved them from their home in Lake Charles Louisiana to different destinations in Mississippi, Georgia, Mexico City, and Santiago Chile before settling at The University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

Miller Williams – probably most famous for his reading of a poem at President Clinton’s second inauguration – was part of a literary crowd that included friendships with a peer group of Flannery O’Connor, James Dickey, and Charles Bukowski among others. It was commonplace to have the aforementioned as frequent visitors to the Williams home.

As a young adult, not only did Lucinda benefit by observation at these intellectual gatherings but she would also take part in some of the activities. Those activities often included her father reading a new poem that he might have written as well as Lucinda playing a role by singing one of her songs*. And Lucinda would get immediate feedback that naturally accelerated her learning. It’s no surprise that Lucinda would soon adopt a poet’s sense of refinement.

(*An interesting footnote: In a rare 2014 performance in Chicago, Lucinda and her father traded poems and songs in what Lucinda described as a “songwriters’ in-the-round show”.)

Her mother, Lucille, a concert pianist, whose health issues prevented her from pursuing a music career, also played a role in Lucinda’s arts education. Lucinda’s Folk bearings were courtesy of her mother who exposed her to the likes of Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and Joan Baez – outstanding song writers all. A product of her environment, Lucinda, first showed signs of song writing skills at 6 years of age. She was inspired later, at the age of 12, to play guitar, sing, and write songs after hearing Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited. Lucinda explained her fascination with the recording saying “He was the first artist who actually managed to incorporate both of the worlds I came out of, which was more the traditional Folk music of America and the poetic, literary world. That’s when I decided what I wanted to achieve”. It’s no secret that Lucinda’s admiration for Dylan remains to present day as she named him as her favourite artist, (living or dead), in a recent interview.

As Lucinda was immersing herself in poetry and Folk music, she added a natural Roots music idiom common to the southern landscape – the Blues. Lucinda recalls that her first real introduction to the Blues took place when the family was living in Macon Georgia. It happened that her father brought her downtown to hear Rev. Pearly Brown, a local blind preacher and street singer, playing on a street corner. Brown was soon discovered and recorded an album, Georgia Street Singer, that Miller Williams brought home. Lucinda further described the experience: “It’s beautiful stuff, like Gospel Blues. That was a real pivotal moment for me, because I had actually seen this guy singing and playing, and then he had an album I could listen to.”

Seeing her future as a Folk / Blues artist Lucinda left home in 1970, at 17, to hit the road. She first started performing publicly in New Orleans and then split her time between Austin and Houston before trying the Greenwich Village scene and later Los Angeles. In fact, Lucinda spent a good part of her 20’s, (and early 30’s), bouncing from Austin, Houston, New York, and L.A. just scraping by. Her time was spent busking, waiting tables, working at a record store – never abandoning her craft – and waiting for a break that would be long in coming.

While by no means an enviable or glamourous life, Williams used that time creatively, always documenting her view of day to day occurrences in the world around her. Some topics were autobiographical, others nuanced observations, with all conveyed in raw mournful assertions be they of love, heartbreak, death, or despair. Even in her early song writing forays her talent to stab you in the heart or kick you in the gut with doses of reality was readily apparent.

Surprisingly, when Williams did have the opportunity to record her first album, her song writing wasn’t featured. Conversely, her 1979 album Ramblin’ On My Mind – released later as Ramblin’ – was a purist Country Blues affair. With Lucinda on 12 string acoustic guitar accompanied solely by John Grimaudo on 6 string, Williams laid down credible versions of selections from the songbooks of Robert Johnson, (the title track and “Stop Breakin’ Down”), Memphis Minnie (“Me And My Chauffer”), Sleepy John Estes, (“Drop Down Mama” here renamed as “Daddy”), and Hank Williams (“Jambalaya”) among the 14 cuts. (Lucinda explained the traditionalist approach as one of being influenced by       recording at Malaco Studios, in the lap of Blues country, in Jackson Mississippi). Ramblin’ would be the last recording of its kind – solely one genre that is – in Lucinda’s career. But the Blues, or the spirit of the form, would continue to permeate her work going forward.

Williams followed the next year with Happy Woman Blues, a self-produced effort cut in Houston. While still Blues based and still acoustic driven, the release is a full band work, comprised of completely original material. Although using shopworn themes, the subject matter, under Lucinda’s purview, sounds fresh and contemporary. Unfortunately, like its’ predecessor, Happy Woman Blues didn’t cause a ripple with listeners and record buyers. It would be eight more years before Williams would establish herself as a force to be reckoned with.

Williams recorded a demo of 12 songs that broke with all that had gone before. She traded her traditional Blues for a feminist anthem, (the first of more to follow in her catalogue), channelled through a blend of Country, Blues, Folk, and Rock. But what would prove to be a ground breaking release initially failed to catch a record company’s attention. Fortunately, after being turned down by CBS as well as other labels, Rough Trade, the British Indie label – that had recently opened up shop in the U.S. – was on the lookout for artists and took a chance signing Williams. The label, that had made its mark with Punk, seized the opportunity to release the set of songs. While recognizing the various themes that incorporated a Southern U.S. sensibility and imagery had little in common with Punk, they were sure that the record’s raw energy would override any concerns that came into play. Thus, the classic Lucinda Williams burst on the scene in 1988, and announced Williams’ arrival in no uncertain terms.

The first song “I Just Wanted To See You So Bad” bolts out of the gate resolute in its’ singular objective – repeating the title line 14 times in an intense 2:26 of primal need:

“I drove my car in the middle of the night
I just wanted to see you so bad
The road was dark but the stars were bright
I just wanted to see you so bad

It didn’t matter what my friends would say
I was gonna see you anyway
I just wanted to see you so bad
I just wanted to see you so bad”

“See You So Bad” immediately grabs the listener’s attention and sets the stage for the remainder of the record that goes a long way in establishing the foundation of Lucinda’s style and sound that she would carry with her for the rest of her career. And the breakthrough and sheer strength of the release wasn’t lost on Williams: “Before that I hadn’t found myself yet. The Rough Trade album – that’s the one that opened the door”.

Along with the opener two other songs form the core of release and its’ assertive female characters: “Changed The Locks” and “Passionate Kisses”.

“Changed The Locks” is a defiant post break-up song delivered in a sneering thrashing Blues. It’s a rant that details all at her disposal to ensure that her former lover can’t find her while helping erase any memories of the affair:

“I changed the lock on my front door so you can’t see me anymore…
I changed the number on my phone so you can’t call me up at home…
I changed the kind of car I drive so you can’t see me when I go by…
I changed the kind of clothes I wear so you can’t find me anywhere…
I changed the tracks underneath the train so you can’t find me again…

I changed the name of this town so you can’t follow me down…”

“Passionate Kisses” isn’t a request but an out and out demand:

“Passionate kisses
Passionate kisses, whoa oh oh
Passionate kisses from you

Do I want too much?
Am I going overboard to want that touch?

I shouted out to the night
“Give me what I deserve ’cause it’s my right”

The appeal of the album wasn’t lost on her peers. “Passionate Kisses” would earn Lucinda her first Grammy for “Country Song Of The Year” when it was covered by Mary Chapin Carpenter on her album Come On Come On and “Changed The Locks” would be covered by Tom Petty on his Angel Dream release.

Lucinda had finally arrived at 35 years of age. But despite the aforementioned songs and other strong supporting cuts to recommend it, Lucinda Williams didn’t sell well initially. It wasn’t until two subsequent re-issues, in 1998 (with additional tracks), and 2014 (a 2 CD Deluxe Edition including additional studio and live tracks), that the release gained traction and eventually went Gold. 

A total of 13 more albums followed the Lucinda Willliams release; every one of them critically acclaimed. But it was her 5th, that hit the streets a full ten years after Lucinda Willliams, that’s a cut above the rest. Car Wheels On A Gravel Road shares the praise with her self-titled release as a cornerstone of Roots / Americana. The album was, and continues to be, universally celebrated as Williams’ masterpiece.

“Car Wheels” is a star studded affair that contains some of Williams’ best song writing complete with earworm worthy melodies. The album kicks off with a radio friendly “Right In Time”; and Lucinda tells her musical stories via fully evolved world weary, whiskey soaked vocals that reveal an array of emotions. And she does so while describing seemingly mundane incidences like standing over the stove watching the water boil. (Reading the lyrics is a treat and is highly recommended).

As effortless as the final product appears, “Car Wheels” has a long troubled history that bears repeating. That history certainly plays a major role in the frequently circulated stories that Lucinda is difficult to work with in the studio. I counter that it reflects the focused approach of a perfectionist leaving nothing to chance while bent on putting forward the best product possible, (and one representative of her significant talent).

The project started with Lucinda and her guitar player Gurf Morlix co-producing (as they had done with the previous two albums including Lucinda Williams). Recorded in Nashville, the resultant product didn’t meet with Lucinda’s expectations which led to Morlix leaving the project. A year later Lucinda turned to Steve Earle and his production associate Ray Kennedy to revamp the tracks. While their work moved the tracks closer to what Lucinda had envisioned, she still wasn’t satisfied. In turn, she took the tapes to L.A. and asked Roy Bittan of The E Street Band to help with some keyboard and accordion overdubs. It took three years for the final product to be completed but, it goes without saying, it was well worth the wait. Every track’s a killer! The album that earned Lucinda her second Grammy, (“Best Contemporary Folk Album”) as well as a nomination for “Best Female Rock Vocal Performance” for the single “Can’t Let Go” went Gold and remains her bestselling album to date.

Lucinda had truly hit her stride with Car Wheels On A Gravel Road and she has continued to build on her singular vocals and extraordinary song writing that have encompassed testimonies on problematic topics including broken relationships and tragic loss on her stellar future releases.

While acknowledging Car Wheels On A Gravel Road’s special place, if you were to ask Lucinda Williams fans and critics alike what would be the best of her releases that follow you would conceivably get ten different answers. So I’ll weigh in and say that special mention should be accorded Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone and Good Souls Better Angels.

Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone, a 2014 release, is an ambitious 20 song double CD. Her first on her own label – Highway 20 – the album marks the first time that Williams has complete control over the creative process; and she takes full advantage of the situation. The song writing, as always, is top notch; but it’s her vocals that draw the listener in. Herein she adopts a more aggressive style while stretching out to include Gospel inflected shouts and melismatic Jazz phrasings. Along with the previously mentioned “When I Look At The World”, highlights are numerous. Of special mention is “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, a straight ahead Southern Blues that benefits greatly from fellow Louisianan Tony Joe White’s guitar providing sufficient voodoo. Suffice to say that there isn’t a weak cut as Lucinda leads the listener on a journey of emotional touchstones.

Lucinda Williams’ latest, Good Souls Better Angels, is without question her most socially conscious, topical release to date. Backed by Buick 6, Lucinda didn’t dwell on the songs; she recorded them live – usually in two or three takes. Using a Blues oriented approach, an angry Williams spits out the lyrics while Stuart Mathis’ sonic guitar attacks add to the “go for the throat” mentality. The song titles alone tell the story: “You Can’t Rule Me”, “Bone Of Contention”, Man Without A Soul” (a thinly veiled Trump directed shot), “Bad News Blues”, “Pray The Devil Back To Hell”. And no discussion or narrative relating to the release would be complete without citing the apparently autobiographical and horrific depiction of domestic abuse laid out in “Wakin’ Up (From A Bad Dream)”. It’s for real. And, if it shocks you or makes you uncomfortable, Williams has achieved her objective.

Actually, there are two additional more recent releases that bear mentioning, and at first blush, might be – but rightfully shouldn’t be – written off as strictly for diehard Lucinda Williams fans. Breaking with the norm, the 2021 CD’s: Lu’s Jukebox Vol. 1 and Lu’s Jukebox Vol. 2, are outlets for tributes to artists and covers of songs that have made an impression or influenced Williams. Vol. 1 is Runnin’ Down A Dream – A Tribute To Tom Petty and Vol. 2 is Southern Soul – From Memphis To Muscle Shoals.

Both are cut live in the studio, have value, and carry emotional weight. “Southern Soul” in particular is a standout. Given Lucinda’s Southern sensibilities, this set of covers – some from the golden age of Soul – is a natural extension of Lucinda’s own work. If you’re looking to categorize the release, call it Alt Soul. And, interestingly, there are no keyboards employed on any of the selections. Defying the accepted Soul band format, guitars are left to do the heavy lifting.

Be warned to wipe your memory bank of the original versions because, as you’d expect, Lucinda takes a lot of liberties with the various choices. Notable is Lucinda’s account of “Take Me To The River”, that borrows more from Talking Heads’ version than it does Al Green’s original, and includes a totally irreverent, badass guitar solo courtesy of Stuart Mathis.

Not long after recording Lu’s Jukebox series Lucinda Williams suffered a stroke at her Nashville home in November 2020. After surgery to remove a blood clot on her brain, and the required physical therapy, Williams has pronounced herself fit to carry on. Her mobility has been affected – she’s currently walking with the help of a cane – but at this writing she planned to be ready for a scheduled summer tour. The 68 year old Williams remarked that she might have to perform “sitting down like some old Bluesman” to get the job done. That’s more than good enough for me.


  1. Ramblin’ On My Mind
  2. Lafayette
  3. I Just Wanted To See You So Bad
  4. Changed The Locks
  5. Passionate Kisses
  6. Something About What Happens When We Talk
  7. Pineola
  8. Right In Time
  9. Car Wheels On A Gravel Road
  10. 2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten
  11. Drunken Angel
  12. Lake Charles
  13. I Can’t Let Go
  14. Joy
  15. Essence
  16. Get Right With God
  17. Bus To Baton Rouge
  18. Ventura
  19. World Without Tears
  20. Unsuffer Me
  21. Honey Bee
  22. Blessed
  23. Protection
  24. West Memphis
  25. Something Wicked This Way Comes
  26. When I Look At The World
  27. Dust
  28. Ghosts Of Highway 20
  29. You Can’t Rule Me
  30. Big Black Train
  31. Dedicated To The One I Love (with Dan Penn)
  32. Whispering Pines (with Boz Scaggs)
  • Rico Ferrara, September 2021

Waylon Jennings – Nashville Rebel

“Waylon Jennings was an American archetype, the bad guy with the big heart”

  • Kris Kristofferson

I was moved to write an article on Waylon Jennings after listening to Shannon McNally’s fine – and very ambitious – CD, The Waylon Sessions. (A recording that reinforced just how truly fearless McNally is).

I’ve been a casual Waylon fan since a hometown friend introduced me to him and the classic 1973 album Honky Tonk Heroes back in the day. At that time I was – and still am – heavily into Blues and R&B but open enough to be taken by the sound of the overall recording and that unmistakable voice that could only be Waylon Jennings. Additionally, the liner notes underlined the gravity of the whole affair when noted that the prime songwriter Billy Joe Shaver threatened to fight Jennings because “he was messin’ with my melody”. Knowing more about Jennings today that just all seems so fitting, and in keeping with the tough imposing image put forward by Waylon Jennings.

That threatening persona was no doubt amplified by Jennings being viewed as the high profile leader of the Outlaw movement. The Outlaw phenomenon – exemplifying a hard living lifestyle – was a Nashville marketing strategy, and, as laid out for public consumption it was, for the most part, independent of Jennings. The legitimate Outlaw stance, as spearheaded by Jennings, can be found in the backstory of Jennings rebelling against the Nashville establishment’s business practices. Jennings was characterized as an outlaw in Nashville because he wanted artistic freedom. Specifically, the crux of the matter is that Waylon insisted on having the right to record material that he wanted to record while employing songwriters and musicians of his choosing. (The musicians in question being his road band, The Waylors, instead of the regular Nashville session players; and the songwriters being those other than the Nashville staff or established songwriters). As a backdrop, it should be taken into account that Rock stars had benefitted from those same “indulgences” for years. To Jennings’ credit, in fighting the accepted style and approach of the sterile Nashville Sound, he changed the way things were done in Music City forever. And, other Country stars – initially in the likes of Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson – followed suit.

In sum, rather than trying to destroy the system, his actions displayed the steadfastness of a strong willed Jennings wanting to do music his way. It was a tendency that spoke more of the self-reliance that was evident some years previous, going back to the start of his career. That beginning for Waylon was as a teenage DJ and musician in his Texas hometown of Littlefield, located about 25 miles south of Lubbock.  

Waylon Arnold Jennings, (June 15, 1937 – February 13, 2002), began his life and career in Littlefield, and, along with his parents and three younger brothers, worked the cotton fields of the family farm. Like many families in West Texas the Jennings knew only an impoverished existence. Although the parents may have known differently, the four boys’ outlook on life was that everyone, black and white, was as poor as they were. The situation left a lasting impression on Waylon and shaped his view on race relations. On reflection, later in life, Waylon would say: “There was just no difference in a poor country boy and black people in my mind. I worked the fields with black people and never paid much attention to it.”

The Jennings household was a musical one in that the family gathered around the radio regularly to listen to The Grand Ole Opry and The Louisiana Hayride and both parents were accomplished guitar pickers. Of the four boys it was Waylon for whom the music flame burned the brightest. Waylon’s mother taught him the basics of guitar when he was 8 years old and Waylon said of his father: “My dad played like Jimmie Rodgers. And we’d sit around and sing his songs when I was a kid”. Young Waylon was a devotee of Hank Williams and Ernest Tubb and cited influences including Bob Wills, Floyd Tillman, Carl Smith, and Elvis Presley.

As a young preteen Waylon worked as a DJ both in Littlefield as well as in Lubbock. At 13, performing for the first time, Jennings won first prize at a jamboree sponsored by local radio station KSEL. By the time he was 14 Waylon was a known commodity at regional talent shows playing guitar and singing a mix of Country and Pop tunes. Waylon left high school at 16 to pursue a career in music, continuing to both DJ as well as perform in venues and on the radio with his first band The Texas Longhorns.

While working as a DJ for KLLL in Lubbock in 1958, Waylon struck up a friendship with native son Buddy Holly. They became close with Holly mentoring Waylon and arranging for his first recording session. The resultant single, “Jole Blon”, a traditional Cajun waltz, often called “the Cajun national anthem” failed to make any noise but it forged the start of the Holly / Jennings story. (Incidentally, Jennings couldn’t understand the Louisiana patois of the recording that he used to learn the song, so he sang the song phonetically).

Holly, had who had recently disbanded the first incarnation of The Crickets, convinced Waylon to come aboard as the bass player of the newly formed Crickets. Waylon, displaying only rudimentary bass skills at the outset, would go on to play with Holly for 2 years (1958-59). The end would come with the ill-fated 1959 Winter Dance Party tour and plane crash that would take the lives of Buddy Holly as well as Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. The three fell prey to bad weather and, complicating matters, an inexperienced pilot.

There are conflicting stories as to who was supposed to occupy the 3 available seats on the chartered plane that was to travel some 365 miles from Clear Lake Iowa to Moorhead Minnesota in the early hours of February 3, 1959. Suffice to say that Waylon and fellow bandmates, Tommy Allsup and Carl Bunch, were not on the plane, and made the trip in the rundown tour bus used to transport them as well as the others on the bill: Dion & The Belmonts and Frankie Sardo.

Before take-off Holly and Jennings were cracking wise with each other with Holly saying “I hope your bus freezes up again” and Waylon responding with “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes”. Those words would come back to haunt Waylon who, racked with survivor’s guilt, completed the tour and then headed back to Lubbock with “no intention of playing another note.”

Once back in Texas he returned to working as a DJ and it wasn’t until a year later in 1960 that he moved to Phoenix Arizona and restarted his musical career. He soon formed The Waylors playing a number of clubs in Arizona before he developed a huge local following as the house band at JD’s, a club in Scottsdale. That led him to recording a few singles for Trend, a minor Arizona based label. Although not generating much in actual sales, those singles combined with his JD’s following brought Waylon to the attention of Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss at A&M Records who signed him to a contract in 1963, prompting a move to the City of Angels.

The Jennings / A&M union was short lived however. An apparent difference of opinion surfaced when A&M – with their view of Waylon being more Folk than Country – planned to steer him in a Folk / Pop direction. When subsequent recordings tanked, Waylon asked for his release. (Waylon summed up his A&M experience by saying that Alpert and Moss wanted him “to sound like Al Martino and I wanted to sound like Flatt and Scruggs.”)

Waylon’s next course of action would serve to establish him as a prominent recording and performing artist, and – aided by his Outlaw persona – cement his position as a Country superstar. It all started when, on the recommendation of a number of people including Bobby Bare and Willie Nelson, Waylon was signed to RCA by then talent scout, producer, and VP of RCA’s Country Division Chet Atkins. The Jennings / RCA partnership would last for 20 years including 5 years – 1965 to 1970 – with Atkins producing Waylon’s recordings.

*(An interesting Nashville sidebar. When Waylon moved there in 1965 he made the acquaintance of Johnny Cash, and for a time, the future lifelong friends, were roommates in Music City. Jennings would later comment that he and Johnny were “the original odd couple” with an agreement that Waylon would do the cleaning and Cash the cooking. Waylon didn’t think too much of Cash’s culinary skills other than to say “he could put together a breakfast.”

And, without dwelling on the topic, Jennings and Cash both ingested amphetamines by the handful. Waylon, providing perspective, noted that “pills were the artificial energy on which Nashville ran around the clock and then some”. Drug dependency would play a role in Waylon’s life going forward.)*

Starting with his first RCA album Folk Country, a 1966 release, Waylon went on to record 9 more albums under Chet Atkins’ supervision. And, by 1968 Waylon had several hit singles including the first one out of the gate in 1965: “Stop The World (And Let Me Off)” that was a Top 20 Country single. Other notable singles in that time period include “Walk On Out Of My Mind” (1967, #5 Country), “The Chokin’ Kind” (1967, #8 Country), and “Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line” (1968, #2 Country).

Also, in that time frame, Waylon starred in the 1966 movie “Nashville Rebel” handling both acting and performance roles. And, Jennings – who in the course of his career would win 2 Grammys and score 13 nominations – won his first Grammy in 1967 for his recording of “MacArthur Park”, (shared with the The Kimberlys vocal group).

Chet Atkins, for his part, played a major role in Waylon’s early success. That is, Atkins, who is credited with establishing the Pop heavy Nashville sound, produced a string of hits, and was responsible for maintaining RCA and Nashville’s prominent profile in Country Music. Waylon chafed under Chet Atkins’ studio direction because Waylon plainly wanted to play music as he felt it. As he said: “Some people have their music. My music is me”. While at odds musically with Atkins, Waylon respected him, and understood that Atkins had to serve what he viewed to be RCA’s best interests. In addition, Jennings acknowledged that his drug using lifestyle – that didn’t coincide with the straight edged Atkins’ view on life – may have played a role in their relationship. Waylon summed it up this way: “The guy the drunk man hates the most is a sober man”.

By the start of the 70’s Waylon started to assert himself. When he felt he was being frozen out by Nashville’s mainstream, he responded by hiring Neil Reshon, Miles Davis’ eccentric NYC based manager. Reshon was instrumental in Waylon broadening his audience appeal by getting him into high profile venues like Max’s Kansas City, a New York City spot usually reserved for Rock acts. And, in 1972, most importantly from Waylon’s perspective, when it was time to renew his RCA contract, Reshon helped him gain artistic control of his recordings going forward. From there Waylon started putting his own spin on hard core Country songs of heartbreak, bad breaks, and difficult choices. He did so by incorporating accepted Country instrumentation, and merging Folk’s introspective lyrics with Rock’s rhythms on a tougher more bass driven sound.

With artistic freedom assured, Waylon’s first statement, Honky Tonk Heroes, stands with his best recordings. “Heroes” marked a distinct departure from the slick production of traditional Country music. Backed by The Waylors and choice studio musicians, (including guitar players Eddie Hinton and Reggie Young usually associated with Southern Soul), Waylon displays a fresh urgency and excitement on 10 songs. There isn’t a weak cut on the album; highlights include the title song plus other gems like “Omaha”, and “Black Rose”; (with the fitting lyrics: “The Devil made me do it the first time / The second time I did it on my own / Lord, put a handle on a simple handed man / And help me leave that black rose alone”).

Honky Tonk Heroes started a trend of a number of commercially and critically acclaimed releases including the highly regarded follow-up, This Time, that contains Waylon’s first #1 Country hit of the same name. Following are some highlights of the remainder of Waylon’s 45 studio albums (with 20 of them landing in the Top 10). It should also be kept in mind that the total of 60 albums that Waylon recorded over a 50 year career contained an impressive 16 #1 Country singles.

1967 Love Of The Common People

  • A foreshadowing of Waylon coming into his own
  • Includes the hits “The Chokin Kind” and “Walk On Out Of My Mind”

1971 The Taker / Tulsa

  • Waylon’s first post Chet Atkins release
  • It’s a sampling of Waylon welcoming new songwriters to Nashville with the album featuring four songs by Kris Kristofferson
  • Includes “Lovin’ Her Was (Easier Than Anything I’ve Ever Done)”, “Sunday Morning Comin’ Down”, and “The Taker” – all written by Kristofferson

1973 Lonesome On’ry And Mean

  • The first album unfettered by the clutches of old school Nashville
  • Backed by The Waylors; produced by Waylon
  • Includes the title cut and outstanding covers of Danny O’Keefe’s “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues” and Kristofferson’s “Me And Bobby McGee”

1974 This Time

  • The follow-up to Honky Tonk Heroes
  • The title song was Waylon’s first #1 hit
  • Includes 4 Willie Nelson songs and the fine Buddy Holly Medley: “Well Alright / It’s So Easy/ Maybe Baby / Peggy Sue”

1974 The Ramblin’ Man

  • The album personifies Waylon’s Outlaw image
  • Waylon’s first #1 hit album
  • Top songs include “I’m A Ramblin’ Man”, the exquisite “Amanda”, “Oklahoma Sunshine”, and “Memories of You And I”

1975 Dreamin’ My Dreams

  • Another #1 album
  • Hailed by many critics as Waylon’s finest release; and Waylon as “my favourite album I’ve ever done”
  • Produced by Waylon and singer songwriter and ex Sun Records producer “Cowboy” Jack Clement who Waylon likened in approach to Buddy Holly: “Like Buddy, Jack was another guy going after the feel”.
  • Includes “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way”, “Waymore’s Blues”, and “Bob Wills Is Still The King”
  • “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” was Waylon’s first crossover hit

Honourable Mentions (not original studio recordings as such in that they’re compilations, but included here because of their huge impact on Country Music in general):

1976 Wanted! Outlaws

  • Actually a compilation of previously released material
  • The first Country album to be certified Platinum
  • Features Willie Nelson, Tompall Glaser, and Jessi Colter; (the release furthered all of their careers; Waylon’s participation significantly enhanced his reputation as a central figure of Outlaw Country and a major Country star)
  • Includes the Grammy nominated Jennings / Colter duet “Suspicious Minds”
  • A prime marketing vehicle in RCA’s promotion of the Outlaw mystique

1979 Greatest Hits

  • A compilation of 9 outstanding tracks
  • Not a comprehensive set but it stands as a snapshot of Waylon’s prominent role in the Outlaw phenomenon
  • Included here on the basis of the impressive 4 million copies sold – unprecedented in Country music at the time

Once again the list as cited stands as highlights of Waylon’s recording career. There are other releases – with more than 35 more studio albums to choose from – that are worthy of being on the list but these provide an even-handed cross section of Waylon’s works.

Waylon continued his maverick / Outlaw ways – at odds with the industry while touring extensively and remaining a major draw even when the hits dried up as the 80’s drew to a close. He often refused to attend music awards shows reasoning that artists shouldn’t be competing against each other. Instead his feeling was that those shows should exist solely as a celebration of the art itself. In fact, Waylon was the only living entertainer who ever refused to show up at his own induction into the Country Music Hall Of Fame in Nashville in 2001. (He sent his son Shooter to accept on his behalf).

Amidst all of the above Waylon continued in the spotlight. He won his second Grammy Award for his duet with Willie Nelson on the classic “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”. (The single was taken from the multimillion selling album Waylon & Willie). And he followed that up with 2 Grammy nominated albums with The Highwaymen (with Nelson, Cash, and Kristofferson).

Representative of his mainstream appeal, Waylon appeared on TV shows such as “Sesame Street” and narrated “The Dukes Of Hazard” as well as writing and recording the theme song “Good ‘Ol Boys”. All of this and more was captured in his highly regarded 1996 autobiography Waylon, The Life Story Of Waylon Jennings (co-authored with guitarist and writer Lenny Kaye).

The “more” includes his 21 year addiction to amphetamines and cocaine that he quit cold turkey in the mid 80’s when he came to the realization of how it affected those close to him – especially his wife Jessi Colter and son Shooter. Although he was able to shake his substance abuse he still endured associated heart and diabetes troubles. Resultant surgeries and a desire to spend more time with his family led Waylon to quit touring in 1997.

Waylon Jennings died in his sleep at home in Chandler Arizona on February 13, 2002, Cause of death was attributed to a heart attack.

Waylon Jennings was a towering figure in Country Music. While maintaining an acrimonious relationship with the Country Music establishment till the end, he continued to be loved by his many fans and held in high regard by his peers.

“I loved Waylon. He had a great voice and a way with a song like no one else. He was a class act as an artist and a man; I’m really going to miss him”.

  • Emmylou Harris

“Waylon was a great friend, one of the very best for 35 years, I’ll miss him immensely”

  • Johnny Cash


  1. Stop The World (And Let Me Get Off)
  2. Walk On Out Of My Mind
  3. The Chokin’ Kind
  4. Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line
  5. Lovin’ Her Was (Easier Than Anything I’ve Ever Done)
  6. Sunday Morning Comin’ Down
  7. The Taker
  8. Honky Tonk Heroes
  9. Omaha
  10. You Asked Me To
  11. Black Rose
  12. We Had It all
  13. This Time
  14. I’m A Ramblin’ Man
  15. Amanda
  16. Oklahoma Sunshine
  17. Memories Of You And I
  18. Lonesome On’ry And Mean
  19. Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way
  20. Waymore’s Blues
  21. Bob Wills Is Still The King
  22. Suspicious Minds (w/ Jessi Colter)
  23. Good Hearted Woman (w / Willie Nelson)
  24. Mama Don’t let Your ladies Grow Up To Be Cowboys (w/ Willie Nelson)
  25. Luckenbach Texas (Back To The Basics Of Love)
  • Rico Ferrara, September 2021