From the Vault: Waylon in ’94

In this interview with Country Weekly from 1994, Waylon Jennings talks about getting back into the game after recovering from surgery.

In the past few months, Waylon Jennings has completed a new album and an Australian concert tour, tackled high-profile television and movie roles, began his autobiography and rode the crest of a creative wave that saw him write dozens of new songs.

Just wait until he can use both hands and really get to work.

“You know, I’ll probably be around messing with people for a long time,” Waylon, 57, mused in his baritone rumble.

Before a concert in Plover, Wis., Waylon still had both wrists in splints following surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome and “trigger finger”—the inability to straighten his index fingers. His doctors believe years of guitar playing caused the damage.

But this once-and-future Outlaw of country music has shaken off the surgery and is riding high again, with his proud musical family at his side.

“He’s just amazing,” Jessi Colter, his wife of 24 years, told Country Weekly before joining Waylon and their conga-playing son Shooter, 15, for two 60-minute shows at the Golden Sands Festival. Fans there saw Waylon strap on his trademark black-and-white guitar, just the second time he decided to play through the pain of the surgery.

“We were just with some friends of his—peers—who were saying, “Just when we’re all sort of relaxing and settling down, you’re coming on and peaking and reaching heights you’ve never reached before,’ ” Jessi said.

“He’s either writing or producing something that’s about to take shape. He’s involved in things that you’ll see a lot of the fruits of in the next year. He’s happy being back at RCA, which is like home. It’s given him renewed enthusiasm and interest.”

The results go on display Sept. 13, the release date of Waymore’s Blues (Part II). Waylon wrote nine of 10 songs on the Don Was-produced disc.

“This may be the best album I’ve ever done,” the bearded legend said. “It’s really different. It’s kind of impressionistic. We got away from the predictability.”

The album’s not the only bullet in this Outlaw’s chamber.

Already this year he has completed a concert tour of Australia and co-hosted the TNN/Music City News Country Awards. He appeared on Fox Television’s Married With Children and in a cameo in the feature film Maverick. He also re-recorded his 1975 hit “Rainy Day Woman” as a duet with Mark Chesnutt, and plans to team up in song with rowdy friends Travis Tritt and Hank Williams Jr.

A double-CD retrospective boxed set, Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line, celebrates his 20 years on RCA from 1965-85. He’s working on an autobiography due out next fall from Warner Books. And he’ll enter a Los Angeles studio Oct. 31 to begin cutting a new Highwaymen album with Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and producer Was.

With so much on his plate, it’s hard to believe that two years ago Waylon’s record company dumped him.

“I was told by the people at Epic Records that they didn’t think anybody wanted to play my records anymore, that people weren’t that interested,” he explained to Country Weekly.

RCA thought otherwise, and signed him to a new contract late last year. A major creative spurt during two years away from the studio led him to write nearly 100 songs.

Waylon and Jessi, who will mark their 25th wedding anniversary Oct. 26, are talking of doing their own book and a duet album.

“She’s the most even-tempered person I ever met,” Waylon said of his wife. “We’re a perfect couple because I’m black/white, right/wrong, dead and alive. She’s in the gray area; she can see both sides immediately, and it takes me awhile to see it. And she don’t know where she’s going and I don’t know what I’m doing,” he said with a soft chuckle. “You couldn’t find anything any better than that.”

Their union has produced one son, Shooter. Waylon also has three children from his first marriage, a daughter from his second and two adopted daughters.

Wanting his son on the road with him, Waylon encouraged Shooter’s early interest in congas. “I said, “Come on, play ’em. You don’t have to play ’em great, just play ’em where you feel it.’ He does some great stuff back there that really fits.

“He taught himself to play. He’s been messin’ with drums since he was just a little-bitty kid. I’m talking when he was about a year and a half old.”

The teenager is also heavily involved in making music and designing video games with computers. One such game is based on stories from the Bible.

“In fact, he’s cut his own record on a computer and it’s pretty wild. He’s gotten me into [rock bands] Enigma, Nine Inch Nails and all those things, and I’m learning a lot from it.

“He doesn’t have any desire to be out there on the streets. I told him I’ve been there and there’s nothing out there, nothing he wants. I tell him that it pays to be a good guy, and it does.”

“He’s just a boy that can meet any challenge,” bragged Shooter’s mom. “It’s not easy to work with these seasoned musicians musically. But he’s doing a great job. And he’s creating his own music on the side.”

The teenager is heading back to school at the exclusive Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville after touring all summer with his mom and dad as a regular member of Waylon’s band.

Shooter will leave behind onstage a father who has learned to grin and bear his wrist discomfort.

Waylon confided that he was in excruciating pain—it felt as if electricity was shooting deep into his palms.

For his two shows in Plover, the splints were temporarily removed and his fingers were flying over the fretboard. Waylon masked the pain well, and even joked about it with the audience.

“The trigger fingers aren’t healing as fast as they thought they would,” he confided to Country Weekly.

Jerry “Jigger” Bridges, Waylon’s band leader and road manager, said recovery hasn’t been easy for the band, either.

“Waylon hasn’t been playing, and we rely heavily on the Waylon sound, which is the guitar,” he said. “I did the Waylon [guitar] stuff when he wasn’t playing, but I’m glad he’s back.”

WAYLON’S TROPHY CASE

  • 1969 Grammy for “MacArthur Park” (with The Kimberlys)
  • 1975 Country Music Association’s Male Vocalist of the Year
  • 1976 CMA Single of the Year, “Good Hearted Woman” (with Willie Nelson)
  • 1976 CMA Album of the Year, The Outlaws (with Willie Nelson, Tompall Glaser and Jessi Colter)
  • 1976 CMA Vocal Duo of the Year
  • 1978 Grammy for “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” (with Willie Nelson)
  • 14 gold and multi-platinum albums
  • 16 Billboard No. 1 songs, including “I’m a Ramblin’ Man,” “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way,” “Luckenbach, Texas,” “I’ve Always Been Crazy,” “Amanda,” “Just to Satisfy You” and “Rose in Paradise”

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