Happy 80th, Waylon

I still remember the first time my grandparents popped in a Willie Nelson CD in the car while I was hanging out with them. I had to have been no older than five or six, but I vividly remember hearing my grandpa sing along to “Nothing I Can Do About it Now” and “On the Road Again.” My grandparents gave me that CD, and it was a gateway into my passion for country music and its history. After that came some Merle, John Denver, and George Jones. I didn’t just stumble across songs like “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” I sought them out. I listened to my grandparents sing them and play them. I wanted to know all there was to know about these giants of the genre.

But the greatest giant of them all, one who can’t be beat in my opinion, is Waylon Jennings. My grandpa talked about him, and I heard Waylon’s voice on songs like “Good Hearted Woman” and “Amanda.” I can still recall how that funky bass sounded when I heard “Clyde” for the first time. And of course, Waylon singing the theme to The Dukes of Hazzard!

The songs that were on my first Waylon album. I first heard these when I was around seven or eight.

There was something different in Waylon that I gravitated toward. That driving back beat, Ralph Mooney’s steel guitar that complimented Waylon’s own telecaster masterfully, a backing band that was so talented and skilled at their jobs. It was unlike anything I had ever heard before and would likely to ever hear again. But in a broader sense, Waylon was unlike anything the country music world had ever seen and would likely be to ever hear again.

But what really, absolutely, definitively made Waylon my favorite country music artist of all-time was listening to Waylon Live: The Expanded Edition. It was my sophomore year of college, and I was looking for some live Waylon material. I came across the aforementioned album, and the first time I heard it, I was speechless. This was Waylon in the prime of his outlaw days, tearing through every hit and album cut like a musical genius. One of my favorite parts of listening to the album is knowing that some of the places he was playing were not even country venues. Waylon remembered being asked by an audience member who he was, and Waylon responded, “I’m Waylon Goddamn Jennings.” It was that swagger, that confidence, that not only permeates through Waylon Live but his entire career.

So happy 80th, Waylon. Wish you were still with us today, Hoss.

My 2016 visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame.