b. Wayland Arnold Jennings, 15 June 1937, Littlefield, Texas, USA. Jennings’ mother wanted to christen him Tommy but his father, William Alvin, insisted that the family tradition of W.A. must be maintained. His father played guitar in Texas dance halls and Jennings’ childhood hero was Ernest Tubb, with whom he later recorded. When only 12 years old, he started as a radio disc jockey and then, in Lubbock, befriended an aspiring Buddy Holly. In 1958, Holly produced his debut single Jole Blon and they co-wrote You're The One, a Holly demo which surfaced after his death. Jennings played bass on Holly's last tour, relinquishing his seat for that fatal plane journey to the Big Bopper. Jennings named his son, Buddy, after Holly and he recalled their friendship in his 1976 song, Old Friend. After Holly's death, Jennings returned to radio work in Lubbock, before moving to Phoenix and forming his own group, the Waylors. They began a two-year residency at a new Phoenix club, J.D's, in 1964. The album of their stage repertoire has worn well, but less satisfying was Jennings’ album for A&M, DON'T THINK TWICE. ‘ Herb Alpert heard me as Al Martino,’ says Waylon, ‘and I was wanting to sound like Hank Williams. Bobby Bare heard the A&M album and recommended Jennings to record producer Chet Atkins. Waylon started recording for RCA in 1965 and made the US country charts with his first release, That's The Chance I'll Have To Take. He co-wrote his 1966 country hit, Anita, You're Dreaming and developed a folk-country style with For Loving Me. He and Johnny Cash shared two wild years in Nashville, so it was apt that he should star in Nashville Rebel, a dire, quickly-made film. Jennings continued to have country hits—Love Of The Common People, Only Daddy That'll Walk The Line and, with the Kimberlys, MacArthur Park. However, he was uncomfortable with session men, no matter how good they were, he felt the arrangements were overblown. He did his best, even with the string-saturated The Days Of Sand And Shovels, which was along th lines of Bobby Goldsboro's Honey. When Jennings was ill with hepatitis, he considered leaving the business, but his drummer Richie Albright, who has been with him since 1964, talked him into staying on. Jennings recorded some excellent Shel Silverstein songs for the soundtrack of Ned Kelly, which starred Mick Jagger, and the new Waylon fell into place with his 1971 album, SINGER OF SAD SONGS, which was sympathetically produced by Lee Hazlewood. Like the album sleeve, the music was darker and tougher, and the beat was more pronounced. Such singles as The Taker, Ladies Love Outlaws and Lonesome, On'ry And Mean showed a defiant, tough image. The cover of HONKY TONK HEROES showed the new Waylon and the company he was keeping. His handsome looks were overshadowed by dark clothes, a beard and long hair, which became more straggly and unkempt with each successive album.
The new pared-down, bass-driven, no frills allowed sound continued on THE RAMBLIN' MAN and his best album, DREAMING MY DREAMS. The title track is marvellously romantic, while the album also included Let's All Help The Cowboys (Sing The Blues), an incisive look at outlaw country, Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?, and a tribute to his roots, Bob Wills Is Still The King. WANTED : THE OUTLAWS and its hit single, Good Hearted Woman transformed both Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings’ careers, making them huge media personalities in the USA. The first of the four Waylon And Willie albums is the best, including the witty Mammas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys and I Can Get Off On You. In reality, Nelson reveals a constant habit in his autobiography, while Jennings admits to 21 years addiction in an ode bidding farewell to drugs, in his audio-biography, A MAN CALLED HOSS. Jennings was tired of his mean and macho image even before it caught on with the public. He topped the US country charts for six weeks and also made the US Top 30 with a world-weary song for a small township, Luckenbach, Texas, which is filled with disillusionment. Further sadness followed on I've Always Been Crazy and Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit's Done Got Out Of Hand?. He aged quickly, acquiring a lined and lived-in face which, ironically, enhanced his image. His voice became gruffer but it was ideally suited to the stinging I Ain't Living Long Like This and It's Only Rock & Roll. His theme for 'The Dukes Of Hazzard' made the US Top 30 but the outlaw deserved to be convicted for issuing such banal material as The Teddy Bear Song and an embarrassing piece with Hank Williams, The Conversation. The latter was included on WAYLON AND COMPANY, which also featured duets with Emmylou Harris and actor James Garner. Jennings has often recorded with his wife, Jessi Colter; he and Johnny Cash had a hit with There Ain't No Good Chain Gang and made an underrated album, HEROES. His two albums with Nelson, Cash and Kris Kristofferson as the Highwaymen were highly successful, but early 1993 it was anounced that the quartet would no longer work together. Jennings and Cash had major heart surgery at the same time and recuperated in adjoining beds. A change to MCA and to producer Jimmy Bowen in 1985 had improved the consistency of his work, including two brilliant re-workings of Los Lobos’ Will The Wolf Survive? and Gerry Rafferty's Baker Street. His musical autobiography, A MAN CALLED HOSS (Waylon refers to everyone as ‘hoss’), included the wry humour of If Ole Hank Could Only See Us Now. Willie and Waylon will be remembered as outlaws and certainly they did shake the Nashville establishment by assuming artistic control and heralding a new era of grittier and more honest songs. Whether they justify being called outlaws is a moot point—Jerry Lee Lewis is more rebellious than all the so-called Nashville outlaws put together.
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