Through the course of profiling artists, writers, musicians, film directors, and actors down through the years, it seems only natural that I would bond with and become close to some of these individuals. That was the case in my interactions with Terry Jennings. Jennings was the son of arguably one of the greatest country music artist of all time - Waylon Jennings. Terry would go on to write about his relationship with his famous father - warts and all. While he tended to stay out of the spotlight, he didn't always stay out of trouble. He would later redeem himself by carving out a successful career as a talent scout and music publisher. His rolodex consisted of the who's who of country music - Johnny Cash, George Jones, Dolly Parton, and Willie Nelson just to name a few. So it saddened me to learn of his death last month. I will miss his easy going style,
humor, and sage advice. He was a rarity in that he could commune with the heavenly angels and the Hells Angels. His dad often called those he took a shine to "Hoss". Terry used the moniker "brother". I considered it an honor to be dubbed such. Rest in peace brother.
There must be something in the water (or more specifically the Ogallala Auquifer) that has given rise to such diverse musical acts like Buddy Holly, Bob Wills, Joe Ely, Birch Hancock, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Terry Allen, Mac Davis, Don Williams, and last but not least the great Waylon Jennings who hailed from the West Texas town of Littlefield. Jennings is the subject of a book by his son Terry called:
Waylon: Tales Of My Outlaw Dad.
Told with candor and brutal honesty, Jennings describes his relationship with his legendary dad as a combination of Andy/Opie and Bart/Homer Simpson. My eleven year old son can relate to that but much of the book cannot be recommended reading for a pre-teen. It is a tale of sex, drugs, pinball addiction, and...outlaw country music.
Jennings begins with his dad's humble origins in Littlefield to the dizzying heights of popularity in the mid to late 70's on to his friendships/collaborations with Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson and ending with Waylon' s sobriety and retirement. Terry quit high school and went to work for his dad as a drum tech, roadie, and any other assignments deemed necessary to keep team Waylon functioning. The book is as much his story as that of his dad's.
Waylon initially rose to prominence as part of Buddy Holly' s backing band on that fateful tour that took his life. Don McLean described it in American Pie "as the day the music died". Terry got the straight scoop from his dad as to what actually happened that allowed Holly to board that doomed plane and how Waylon ended up on a frigid bus. The death of his friend in an Iowa cornfield haunted him the rest of his life.
The "outlaw" part of the tale revolves around Waylon' s rebellion against the entrenched "Nashville Sound" that was prevalent in the 60's and early 70's as a means to soften country music's harder rough-hewn sound in order to compete with pop radio. Although his rough and rowdy ways and employing Hells Angels as bodyguards gave some credence to Jennings being an actual outlaw. There were other artists who actually served hard prison time like David Allan Coe and Johnny Paycheck who were identified as part of the movement.
Just as instrumental as Waylon as far as shaking things up in Nashville was his manager Neil Reshen. Before Reshen came along, no one had the balls to demand the record labels open up their books and do an honest accounting. Producers would basically tell artists to just shut up and sing the songs provided for them. Reshen helped Waylon gain almost total control over his music and ensuring his client was fully compensated by his record label (RCA). At that time, artists were subjected to accounting trickery that prevented them from receiving their proper royalties. Reshen changed all that. Instead of Waylon owing $200,000 to RCA, Reshen determined that RCA actually owed Waylon $200,000. And with that leverage, Waylon was able to create his own sound and thus the outlaw movement got off the ground. Terry Jennings had a front row view to these proceedings and his retelling of these significant events is fascinating.
Terry shares many road stories, as well as trying to figure out where everybody stood in a somewhat dysfunctional family propelled by Waylon's four marriages. His last to the lovely, and talented Jessi Colter. He also shares the touching story of his son's problematic birth just as he was starting to settle down and getting his own life together. He would later become the CEO of his own music management/publishing company.
Regrets? I'm sure he's had a few, but too few to mention as Frank Sinatra so famously crooned. Yet Terry Jennings realizes that it took all that to get himself to the place he's at now. And according to him, it's a damn good place to be.