Vinson: Waylon's Declaration of Independence

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As of 1976, I very seldom listened to country music, per se. My friends and I were more likely to be found listening to 8-track tapes featuring southern rock & straight-ahead rock music, such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Allman Brothers Band, Black Oak Arkansas, The Doobie Brothers, Eric Clapton, etc.

At first, I thought, Nah, I'm hearing this all wrong: Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Tompall Glaser, and Jessi Colter (Jennings' wife) have released an album titled Wanted! The Outlaws, and everyone is buying and listening to it. (?) Something's wrong, I thought. Those four country cow-pokes couldn't put out a hip album that my crowd would dig.
Well, I can tell you something, indeed, was wrong . . . and that 'something' was me! After listening to Wanted! The Outlaws, I, along with a million-plus other listeners, went to the record shop and bought a copy of the 33 rpm LP. Originally released by the RCA Victor label in January 1976, Wanted! The Outlaws would become country music's "first platinum album."

A bit of a background to ensure the younger audience is tuned in:

Waylon Jennings was born June 15, 1937, in the cotton-field town of Littlefield, Texas, about an hour from Lubbock, Texas. After having landed a job as a disc jockey and playing music gigs at night, Jennings first met rock 'n' roll legend and Lubbock native Buddy Holly around 1957.

Having joined Buddy Holly & the Crickets (a revised version of the original Crickets) as a bass player, Jennings, following a performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, February 2, 1959, gave up his plane seat to another rock star, J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson (who had a major hit with "Chantilly Lace"), and Jennings took Richardson's place on a bus. The plane ran into a snowstorm and crashed the early morning of February 3, 1959, killing all aboard, including Holly and Richardson.

Credible legend has it that prior to parting ways on the cold night of February 2, 1959, Buddy Holly kidded Waylon that he would "freeze his ass off" on the bus, and Waylon rebutted, good-naturedly, with "Well, I hope your darn ol' plane crashes." This good-will exchange is said to have haunted Jennings until his death on February 13, 2002, at age 64.

But back to Waylon Jennings and the "Outlaw Movement" in country music;
A good deal of credit for the Outlaw Movement should be attributed to Jennings' drummer, friend and confidant Richie Albright. Having arrived in Music City in the mid-'60s, Waylon had experienced good success with his country music. However, he wasn't satisfied doing it the conventional Nashville Way, the "Shotgun Method," and Albright convinced him to venture out and do it the rock 'n' roll way, "the Six-Gun Approach."

Sporting a beard, long hair, and a new attitude, Waylon abandoned the sophistication of RCA Studio and started hanging out at Tompall Glaser's studio on Nineteenth Avenue South, in Nashville, known in country music circles as "Hillbilly Central."

Next thing you knew, Wanted! The Outlaws drew down on America's most popular radio stations and gunned its way to the top of both the country chart and the pop chart. As Lenny Kaye wrote, "the effect was as revolutionary as the Declaration of Independence."

Too, Waylon Jennings brought to Nashville's country music scene a simple guitar lick that has remained an iconic style: Do-do-da-doon . . . Do-do-da-doon . . . can be heard rhythmically driving many of today's current hits, including Jennings' biggest hit, "Only Daddy "That'll Walk the Line."

"To us, Outlaw meant standing up for your rights. We could see that we were gathering a new audience, with their own shape and personality. There was a mood out there that was craving our message of freedom and a fresh start. We represented 'New'" (quote from Waylon Jennings, page 12, from the book Waylon Backstage, by Lenny Kaye).

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Mike Vinson
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