15 June 1937
Littlefield, Lamb County, Texas, United States
13 February 2002 (aged 64)
Waylon Arnold Jennings (June 15, 1937 – February 13, 2002) was an American singer, songwriter, and musician. Jennings began playing guitar at eight and began performing at 14 on KVOW radio. His first band was The Texas Longhorns. Jennings worked as a DJ on KVOW, KDAV, KYTI, and KLLL. In 1958, Buddy Holly arranged Jennings's first recording session, of "Jole Blon" and "When Sin Stops (Love Begins)". Holly hired him to play bass. In Clear Lake, Iowa, the story is told that Jennings gave up his seat on the ill-fated flight in 1959 that crashed and killed Holly, J. P. Richardson, Ritchie Valens, and pilot Roger Peterson.
Jennings then worked as a DJ in Coolidge, Arizona, and Phoenix. He formed a rockabilly club band, The Waylors. He recorded for independent label Trend Records and A&M Records before succeeding with RCA Victor after achieving creative control.
During the 1970s, Jennings was instrumental in the inception of Outlaw country movement. He released critically acclaimed albums Lonesome, On'ry and Mean and Honky Tonk Heroes followed by hit albums Dreaming My Dreams as well as Are You Ready for the Country. In 1976, he released the album Wanted! The Outlaws with Willie Nelson, Tompall Glaser, and Jessi Colter, the first platinum country music album. That success was followed by Ol' Waylon and the hit song "Luckenbach, Texas". Jennings was featured in the 1978 album White Mansions performed by various artists documenting the lives of people in the Confederacy during the Civil War. The songs on the album were written by Paul Kennerley. By the early 1980s, Jennings was struggling with a cocaine addiction, which he quit in 1984. Later, he joined the country supergroup The Highwaymen with Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash, which released three albums between 1985 and 1995. During that period, Jennings released the successful album Will the Wolf Survive. He toured less after 1997 to spend more time with his family. Between 1999 and 2001, his appearances were limited by health problems. On February 13, 2002, Jennings died from complications of diabetes.
Jennings also appeared in films and television series. He was the balladeer for The Dukes of Hazzard, composing and singing the show's theme song and providing narration for the show. In 2001, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, which he chose not to attend. In 2007, he was posthumously awarded the Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award by the Academy of Country Music.
Jennings's music was characterized by his "powerful" singing voice, noted by his "rough-edged quality", as well as his phrasing and texture. He was also recognized for his "spanky-twang" guitar style. To create his sound, he used a pronounced 'phaser' effect' plus a mixture of thumb and fingers during the rhythmic parts, while using picks for the lead runs. He combined hammer-on and pull-off riffs, with eventual upper-fret double stops and modulation effects. Jennings played a 1953 Fender Telecaster, a used guitar that was a gift from The Waylors. Jennings's bandmates adorned his guitar with a distinctive leather cover that featured a black background with a white floral work. Jennings further customized it by filing down the frets to lower the strings on the neck to obtain the slapping sound. Among his other guitars, Jennings used a 1950 Fender Broadcaster from the mid-1970s, until he gave it to guitarist Reggie Young in 1993. The leather covers of his guitars were carved by leather artist Terry Lankford.
His signature image was characterized by his long hair and beard, as well as his black hat and the black leather vest he wore during his appearances.
Jennings's music had a major influence on several neotraditionalist and alternative country artists, including Hank Williams Jr., The Marshall Tucker Band, Travis Tritt, Steve Earle, Jamey Johnson, John Anderson, his son, Shooter Jennings, Sturgill Simpson, and Hank Williams III.
In 2008, his first posthumous album, Waylon Forever, was released. The album consisted of songs recorded with his son Shooter when he was 16. In 2012, Waylon: The Music Inside a three-volume project, consisting of covers of Jennings's songs by different artists, was released. The same year, it was announced for September the release of Goin' Down Rockin': The Last Recordings, a set of 12 songs recorded by Jennings and bassist Robby Turner before his death in 2002. Jennings's family was reluctant to release any new material because they did not feel comfortable at the time. The songs only featured Jennings and Turner on the bass, while further accompaniment would be added later. Ten years after, Turner completed the recordings with the help of former Waylors. The Jennings family approved the release despite the launch of a new business focused on his estate. Shooter Jennings arranged deals for a clothing line, while also launching a renewed website, and started talks with different producers about the making of a biographical film.
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