From the Vault: Waylon Jennings (1999)
Originally published in the April 27, 1999 issue of Country Weekly featuring LeAnn Rimes on the cover. This story is presented here in its entirety.
Waylon Jennings’ first No. 1 was a song nobody liked. “The label said it was the biggest piece of junk they’d ever heard and didn’t want me to do it,” he recalls. He wrote “This Time” five years before it entered the charts April 27, 1974.
“I knew it was good,” Waylon says. “But the label didn’t feel the same way. In those days, I was so confused about what was a hit and what wasn’t. So I didn’t record it. “Years later I just happened to be rummaging through some of my old tapes and I found the song. And I recorded it.”
The song—about a man warning a woman to shape up or ship out—was written from personal experience. “It was one of those big macho songs that said, ‘This is going to be the last time if you don’t straighten up.’ There was probably an inspiration, but I don’t remember who she was,” Waylon says, laughing. “There is one part of the song that if you don’t watch it, it gets out of meter when you play it,” he says. “So we tried it a couple of times and I said, ‘Oh, this thing ain’t no good anyway.’ Then Richie Albright, my drummer, came in and said, ‘Let’s try it one more time.’ So we tried it one more time—and that’s the record.”
Waylon produced the song with his pal Willie Nelson. “It was like the blind leading the blind,” Waylon says. “Willie and I had fun with it. If it ain’t fun, we’ll go somewhere else and play golf. It was not a big to-do. Nowadays, making records is such a pressure deal,” he says. “They say, ‘Do another take’ and stuff. We never did anything like that. We just let the song carry everything. “If everybody was into it, it would happen. If it wasn’t happening, we’d quit for awhile and do something else. We’d try another song and then come back to that one.”
Waylon recalls how another noted producer would react when everything clicked in the studio. “When the magic was there, ol’ Jack would start dancing!” he says of Jack Clement who produced many albums for Waylon. “That’s what you look for . . . that magic moment. If that doesn’t happen, you may have perfection but you don’t have feeling.”
Waylon’s 1974 album, This Time, shattered some time-honored Nashville rules. “That was the album that broke the system completely,” Waylon says. “In those days I wasn’t supposed to record anywhere but with RCA—and in their studios. The label had contracts with the recording engineers that kept artists from using anyone else. That was the deal.” It was a deal Waylon didn’t like.
“I was able to produce my own records there, but I still had no control over them. So I cut this album with Willie at Tompall Glaser’s studio. Then I took it to RCA and they said, ‘We can’t have that. You’re going to have to recut it in studio or we’ll lose our engineers and the contracts that we have with them.’ “I told them, ‘This is all you’re going to get.’ I think greed broke them because they knew I was already selling records. And they knew it was a hit album. Finally they put it out. They did lose their deal with the engineers and had to sell their studios. In fact, all of the labels had to sell their studios.”
Waylon’s maverick recording style produced 10 gold and five platinum albums. He hit the top of the charts 15 more times with songs like 1975’s “Are You Sure Hank Done it This Way,” 1977’s “Luckenback, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love),” “1979’s “Amanda” and 1987’s “Rose in Paradise.” He’s shared the top spot several times in duets with Willie . . . 1975’s “Good Hearted Woman,” 1978’s “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to be Cowboys,” and 1982’s “Just to Satisfy You.”
“This Time” went No.1 on June 22, 1974 but Waylon didn’t know it. “Somebody had to tell me. I never kept score very much. I didn’t even know what a platinum album was until I had one.”
“‘This Time’ is a good record,” Waylon adds. “I don’t listen to my old records a lot, but that’s one of them that I still listen to. “‘Dreaming My Dreams With You’ is still one of my favorites of all time,” Waylon adds. “It says everything that I believe. Actually, it says if you ever love somebody, you always will. And you should never try to hate them.”
“I remember when I recorded that. I came out of the studio and into the control room. Allen Reynolds, the guy who wrote that, was standing there. I said ‘Allen, I don’t know you, but anybody who can write a song like that has got to be a pretty good old boy.’ “And I was right,” Waylon says of Reynolds, who went on to produce every Garth Brooks record. “He’s a good man.”
For nearly 30 years, Waylon’s had a good woman by his side, Jessi Colter, whom he wed in October 1969. “Being married to Jessi means everything to me,” Waylon says. “She’s my best friend. We have a great marriage, and I give all the credit to her.”
In the midst of Waylon’s winning streak on the charts he had a son. “Shooter was born in 1979,” Waylon says. “His birth was the peak of everything in my life. Shooter’s my hero,” he says, proudly. “He’s smarter than I ever was. He’s real musical. But most of all, he’s one of the best people on this earth. I’ve never been mad at Shooter—and you know I’m notorious for having a bad temper. He and I have never had a falling out. And yet, if he thinks I’m wrong, he’s the first to tell me. But you know what? When he tells me, I’ll listen, too. Because he’s usually right. He’s a very special person.”
As Waylon reflects on the last 25 years there have been many special people in his life. “I’ve always had fun with Willie, of course,” he says. “And Neil Young was always a lot of fun to tour with. But let me tell you something that’s going to floor you. My favorite audience that I ever worked in front of—and my favorite people to tour with—was Metallica. The Lollapalooza tour in New Orleans was my favorite audience ever. I was under the wrong impression about those kids. You see pictures of the mosh pit and all that stuff, but you go out there and play for them, and you can see the appreciation and you can hear it. They are the best audience I ever played for in my life.”
In the last 25 years, Waylon’s honors have included an ACM award, two Grammys and four CMA awards, including album of the year in 1976 for Wanted! The Outlaws. But he’s most proud of his songwriting. “I’ve written some great songs that I think will last,” he says. “I think ‘Good Hearted Woman’ will be around forever. And ‘Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way’ is going to keep coming around every once in awhile. Those songs were raw and right to the point. I’m proud of my songwriting.”
“I think the best song I’ve ever written is ‘I Do Believe’,” says Waylon of the tune that didn’t even make the charts. “It’s off of one of the Highwaymen albums. It wasn’t a hit, but it’s a good song. Most people who have heard it feel the same way. It’s about what a lot of people in this world are turning to now in the name of religion. But I think spirituality is where it’s at. It’s how you feel yourself. It’s how I felt and the way I still feel about things.”
As Waylon reminisces about his career, he’s most satisfied that he did things his way. “I changed a lot of things in Nashville,” he says. “I made it where the artist had more of an advantage in the music business. I created a music of my own and that’s probably what I’m proudest of, musically.”
Waylon takes his regrets with a grain of salt. “There’s a lot of things I wish I’d done differently,” he says. “But you can’t change what you’ve done. Most of things I did, I thought I was doing right. Maybe it was stupid. I should have never gotten into drugs. That cost me a lot of things. But I did, and there’s nothing I can do about it but laugh, now.”
These days, he’s doing all the right things. “I think I’m writing better songs now,” says Waylon, whose latest album, Closing In On the Fire includes self-penned songs. “I take it one day at a time now. I’d like to cut more albums every once in a while. But I’m just going to take it easy. “I’m going to tour again next year. I’m going back out on the road for a little bit to do shows—not a lot. But I’m getting my old band back together. “We’ll all get out there and play music again. I think we can do pretty good.”