Waylon Jennings became a legend - doing it his way

The cold is unbearable in Clear Lake, Iowa. Twenty-one-year-old Waylon Jennings, playing bass on tour for Buddy Holly, has just given up his prized seat on a chartered plane to J.P. "Big Bopper" Richardson. He will travel by bus instead.

"I hope your damn bus freezes up again," teases Buddy.

"Well, I hope your old plane crashes," responds Waylon with a chuckle.

When the bus pulls into Moorhead, Minn., Waylon learns that his joke has come horribly true - Buddy's plane has crashed, killing all aboard.

Fate spared Waylon Jennings' life on Feb. 3, 1959. Waylon had been given a second chance, and he used it to change the world of music forever. And after he had done that, Waylon Jennings passed away peacefully as he slept on Feb. 13, 2002, at age 64.

"Waylon kicked ass right to the end, and ruled the roost right up to the last minute," says his wife of 32 years, Jessi Colter. "Waylon always did things his way, and even won the final battle, because he got to die his way: at home and in his sleep."

The man who had spearheaded the 1970s "Outlaw" movement, unleashed classics like "Luckenbach, Texas," "Amanda" and "I'm A Ramblin' Man," and changed the way business was done in Nashville, died at his house in Chandler, Ariz.

His road had begun some 700 miles east of Chandler: Waylon Arnold Jennings was born in Littlefield, Texas, on June 15, 1937. There he grew up poor, idolizing country stars like Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams and Carl Smith. He began making his own music at an early age - as he wrote in his autobiography, "It was a way out."

By his mid-teens he was working as a radio deejay in nearby Lubbock, where he met hometown boy Buddy Holly. Buddy took young Waylon under his wing, producing his first recordings. (Those early songs are collected in a new album, Phase One: The Early Years 1958-1964.) "Buddy was the first person to have faith in my music," Waylon recalled later.

After Buddy's death, Waylon settled in Phoenix, where singer Bobby Bare heard him sing at a club. On Bobby's recommendation, Chet Atkins - then a producer for RCA Records - gave the brash youngster a shot.

Read more about the original "Outlaw" in the current Newsstand Issue!