Waylon Jennings, #1 Nashville Outlaw

Lenny Kaye

By Lenny Kaye

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Though it doesn't detract from the value of the music contained therein, the title of this album is a misnomer. It was not recorded in Nashville, it predates Jennings'”Outlaw” period by more than a decade and finds Waylon hardly numerological. Instead, this collection shows an artist discovering who he is and who he might become, the seedlings that would grow into one of country music's most notable voices and personas.

The seedlings that would grow into one of country music’s most notable voices and personas.

In September of 1958, Waylon was a twenty-one-year-old disc jockey on KLLL in Lubbock, Texas, where he had struck up a friendship with local hero Buddy Holly. Taking him under his wing, Buddy brought Jennings to Norman Petty's studio in Clovis, New Mexico, hoping to cut a version of the Cajun classic, “Jole Blon.” The moment was fraught with tension between Holly, on the verge of moving to New York, and Petty, who was about to lose the rock & roll star he had nurtured. Waylon was caught in the middle, and though the track was enhanced by King Curtis'saxophone, Waylon's first shot at stardom was a bittersweet experience. On the flip side of the single, “When Sin Stops (Love Begins),” Norman made Waylon sing the song an octave lower than was comfortable, though his voice even then demonstrated the range and expressiveness that would become his trademark.

Waylon accompanied Buddy on that last fated Winter Dance Party tour. He had been scheduled to ride on the plane with his mentor until he gave up his seat to another Texas disc jockey turned performer, the Big Bopper. Returning to Lubbock, he couldn't face the ghosts of his might-have-beens, and moved to Arizona, where he began picking up the pieces of his performing life.

#1 Nashville Outlaw

Waylon Jennings

He wound up in Phoenix, starring at a nightclub called J.D.'s, where he led a house band that played a little of everything — rock & roll, country, folk. Pretty soon he was the hottest thing in town, and the four sets a night and the chance to understand himself musically is the real beginning of a journey that would take him to becoming his own primal force in country music. He would sign to A&M Records while at J.D.'s, and later be discovered at the club by Bobby Bare who would introduce him to Chet Atkins, placing him within the Nashville Sound at RCA Victor, where he would spend several years gaining respect if not record sales until finally breaking out of Nashville's strictures to become the Outlaw he was always meant to be.

This is the before of all those afters. Backed by the Waylors, of whom drummer Richie Albright would become Waylon's most trusted accomplice for the next two decades, they took their live act into Audio Recorders in Phoenix in the fall of 1964, and in one night cut these souvenirs of their J.D.'s stay. It was a varied bunch of songs, from two Roy Orbison covers (“Crying” and “Dream Baby”), to Bob Dylan's “Don't Think Twice,” Mel Tillis'”Burning Memories,” and Buck Owens'”Love's Gonna Live Here.” Guitarist Jerry Gropp takes a turn on “Money” (and that's bassist Paul Foster on “Lorena” and “Abilene”), and all join in a true rockabilly romp on “White Lightning.”

These recordings have been out of print for many years, and it's a welcome find to see these early flights of the Flying W — which also comprise the Burning Memories collection available on eMusic, though here you get two additional tracks — once again available.