Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 15 June 1937, Littlefield TX; d 13 February 2002) Country-rock singer, songwriter. With well over 50 albums and having helped change the nature of the country music business in the 1970s, he became a living legend. He began as a disc jockey in Lubbock, where he met Buddy Holly, joining his group on bass '58; was nearly on Holly's last flight, but had taken the bus. He went back to disc jockey work; met Herb Alpert and signed with him as a solo act, but an album on A&M was unsuccessful. His early years in Nashville included work with Bobby Bare, Chet Atkins, Johnny Cash. He appeared in film Nashville Rebel '66, contributed a song to the Mick Jagger film Ned Kelly '70. The best of his '60s work was collected on two-disc Waylon Music '80, which included covers of Beatle songs.

He chafed at restrictions imposed by the Nashville star system; encouraged by country-rock fusion of Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons and Kris Kristofferson he pioneered the 'outlaw' movement alongside Willie Nelson, who produced his This Time '74. A seminal album of the movement was Honky Tonk Heroes '73, which displayed him at his full-throated best; compilation Wanted! The Outlaws '76 is said to have been the first country LP to sell a million, with Waylon, his wife Jessi Colter, Nelson and Tompall Glaser: it highlighted the authenticity of the so-called outlaws, including Waylon's classic 'My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys'. The paean to Hank Williams 'Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?' was a minor pop hit '74; CMA named him Male Singer of the Year.
With the outlaw movement well under way he made 'Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit's Done Got Out Of Hand?' Able to do as he pleased, he entered a fruitful period with Ol' Waylon '77, including the classic 'Luckenbach, Texas', 'Belle Of The Ball', Rodney Crowell's 'Till I Gain Control Again'. A collaboration Waylon And Willie '78 included his 'Red Headed Stranger', continued with Waylon And Willie II '82 and Take It To The Limit '83, with a fine version of the Eagles' title song, Paul Simon's 'Homeward Bound' (a later set with Willie was Clean Shirt '91 on Epic). I've Always Been Crazy '78 included a medley of Holly hits with the Crickets; Music Man '80 included the theme from The Dukes Of Hazzard TV show, which Waylon had written (he was also the narrator on the show); Greatest Hits '79 was well chosen, from poignant 'Amanda' to gutsy 'Lonesome, Orn'ry And Mean'. It's Only Rock'n'Roll '83 was flawed, though including 'Living Legends (A Dying Breed)'; Waylon And Company '83 an interesting if patchy collection of duets with Emmylou Harris, Hank Williams Jr, Ernest Tubb; Never Could Toe The Mark '84 was less inspired, Turn The Page '85 a marginal improvement. All these are on RCA; he switched to MCA for renaissance Will The Wolf Survive '85 (a Los Lobos title song), by his own admission the first LP he'd made in some time without the aid of stimulants. It did not include his long-time steel guitar player Ralph Mooney, restored on Hangin' Tough '87, with a  cover of Gerry Rafferty's 'Baker Street'. A Man Called Hoss '87 was a concept, a musical autobiography instead of the book he didn't want to write.
He guested on Neil Young's Old Ways '85, appeared with him at Farm Aid; made well-received The Highwayman '85 with Cash, Nelson, Kristofferson. His ear for the best songs for his distinctive voice, writing talent and choice of sidemen and producers, and his single-minded devotion to country music as a means of self-expression made him a giant. He had heart surgery '89, came back looking and sounding fitter than ever. Nineteen albums made the pop LP chart, best entry Waylon And Willie at no. 12; other top 50 LPs included Dreaming My Dreams '75, Are You Ready For The Country '76, Waylon Live '76 (recorded in Austin '74), What Goes Around Comes Around '79, Black On Black '82, Leather And Lace '81 with Jessi. More recent albums were Full Circle '88 on MCA, The Eagle and Too Dumb For New York City, Too Ugly For L.A. '90-1 on Epic; he reactivated the Highwaymen for touring and albums including Highwaymen 2 '90 on Columbia, The Road Goes On Forever '95 on Liberty. A children's album Cowboys, Sisters, Rascals And Dirt '91 on Ode 2 Kids was a labour of love. Back on RCA with Don Was on Waymore's Blues II '94, then on Texas-based Justice Records with Right For The Time '96. Two-CD compilation Only Daddy That'll Walk The Line: The RCA Years '93. Clovis To Phoenix - The Early Years was on a Zu-Zazz CD.