Country great Waylon Jennings dead at 64; defined the outlaw movement
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Waylon Jennings, whose rebellious songs and brash attitude defined the outlaw movement in country music, died Wednesday after a long battle with diabetes-related health problems. He was 64.
Jennings spokeswoman Schatzie Hageman said Jennings died peacefully at his home in Arizona.
Jennings, a singer, songwriter and guitarist, recorded 60 albums and had 16 No. 1 country singles in a career that spanned five decades and began when he played bass for Buddy Holly. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in October.
“Waylon was a dear friend, one of the very best of 35 years,” said Johnny Cash, who recorded and toured with Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson as The Highwaymen. “I’ll miss him immensely.”
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George Jones called it a “great loss for country music,” and Emmylou Harris said Jennings “had a voice and a way with a song like no one else.”
“He was also a class act as an artist and a man,” she said.
Jennings had been plagued with diabetes-related health problems in recent years that made it difficult for him to walk. In December, his left foot was amputated at a Phoenix hospital.
Jennings and his wife, singer Jessi Colter, sold their home in Nashville more than a year ago and moved to Chandler, Ariz. They held an auction before the move, offering up items like “Leon,” a wood carving of an Indian chief that was Jennings’ stage mascot for 20 years.
In 1959, Jennings’ career was nearly cut short by tragedy soon after it began.
He was scheduled to fly on the light plane that crashed and killed Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. Jennings gave up his seat on the plane to Richardson, who was ill and wanted to fly rather than travel by bus with those left behind.
With his pal Nelson, Jennings performed duets like “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” “Luckenbach” and “Good Hearted Woman.” Those 1970s songs nurtured a progressive sound and restless spirit embraced later by Travis Tritt, Charlie Daniels, Steve Earle and others.
His resonant, authoritative voice also was used to narrate the popular TV show “The Dukes of Hazzard.” He sang its theme song, which was a million seller.
“I aimed the narration at children and it made it work,” he said in a 1987 AP interview.
He traditionally wore a black cowboy hat and ebony attire that accented his black beard and mustache. Often reclusive when not on stage, he played earthy music with a spirited, hard edge.
“For Waylon it was always about the music,” said Joe Galante, president of RCA Records in Nashville. “The only spotlight he ever cared about was the one on him while he was onstage. It wasn’t about the awards or events.”
Jennings’ well-defined image matched his history of battling record producers to do music his way.
“There’s always one more way to do something,” Jennings said. “Your way.”
Some of his album titles nourished his brash persona: “Lonesome, On’ry and Mean,” “I’ve Always Been Crazy,” “Nashville Rebel,” “Ladies Love Outlaws” and “Wanted: The Outlaws.”
He often refused to attend music awards shows on the grounds that performers should not compete against each other. Despite those sentiments, Jennings won two Grammy awards and four Country Music Association awards. He did not attend his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame last year.
For about 10 years, he declined to appear on the Grand Ole Opry because a full set of drums was forbidden at the time. The rule was eventually dropped.
In 1992, he told the AP: “I’ve never compromised, and people respect that.”
Of his outlaw image, he said: “It was a good marketing tool. In a way, I am that way. You start messing with my music, I get mean. As long was you are honest and up front with me, I will be the same with you. But I still do things my way.”
Born in Littlefield, Texas, Jennings became a radio disc jockey at 14 and formed his own band not long afterward.
He and Holly were teen-age friends in Lubbock, Texas, and Jennings was in Holly’s band. Holly also produced Jennings’ first record.
“Mainly what I learned from Buddy was an attitude,” Jennings said. “He loved music, and he taught me that it shouldn’t have any barriers to it.”
By the early 1960s Jennings was playing regularly at a nightclub in Phoenix. In 1963, he was signed by Herb Alpert’s A&M Records, then was signed by RCA in Nashville shortly thereafter by Chet Atkins. In Nashville, he and Cash became friends and roommates.
His hit records began in the mid-1960s and his heyday was the mid-1970s.
His “Greatest Hits” album in 1979 sold 4 million — a rare accomplishment in country music for that era.
In the mid-1980s, he joined with Nelson, Cash and Kristofferson to form the Highwaymen.
“I’d like to be remembered for my music — not necessarily by what people see when they see us — but what they feel when they talk about you,” he said in 1984.
“Some people have their music. My music has me.”
His other hit singles included “I’m a Ramblin’ Man,” “Amanda,” “Lucille,” “I’ve Always Been Crazy” and “Rose in Paradise.”
He made occasional forays into TV movies, including “Stagecoach” and “Oklahoma City Dolls,” plus the Sesame Street movie “Follow That Bird” and the B-movie “Nashville Rebel.”
He has said he spent 21 years on drugs and had a $1,500-a-day cocaine habit.
“I did more drugs than anybody you ever saw in your life,” he told the Country Music Association’s Close Up magazine in 1994.
In 1977, he was arrested at a Nashville recording studio and charged with conspiracy and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. The charges were later dismissed.
He kicked the habit in 1984 by leasing a house in Arizona and going cold turkey, he said.
He and Colter, his fourth wife, married in 1969. They had one son, Shooter.
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