Category Archives: Waylon Jennings

Waylon’s Honky Tonk Heroes and the State of Our Country (Music)


In May 1973 Waylon Jennings released his masterpiece album Honky Tonk Heroes (HTH) on RCA. The record company was reluctant to release it, but they had just renegotiated Waylon’s contract giving him full control of his recording so as not to lose him to Atlantic Records. They were worried this collection of Billy Jo Shaver songs were too raw, too honest, too off the Nashville map for success. They were leery of the players, for the first time the recording was done by Waylon’s touring band and not hired Nashville guns. What they released was the initial wave of a musical storm named “Outlaw”.

HTH set the benchmark and the blueprint for what was to follow, a turn away from the Nashville factory and to personal vision and artistic truth, not only to the songs but to the arrangements. This sound brought many aspects of rock and roll into the fold, one most notable was the rhythm section. Waylon, being the bass player in Buddy Holly and the Crickets, loved the thump of the bottom end locked into a perfect duet with the percussion. The ignition of HTH influenced many artists and songwriters: such as Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Hank Williams Jr., Townes Van Zandt, Tanya Tucker, Jessi Colter, Sammi Smith, and Emmylou Harris.

The coming years would see this sub-genre explode with Waylon and Willie throwing most of the dynamite. HTH remains a powerful reminder of how great Country Music can be. I listen to the “new country” and it seems so safe and generic. I tell friends it’s mainly “bad Eagles music” or Jimmy Buffet with a cowboy hat, excuse me I mean a backward baseball hat. I know there are exceptions, but it seems to me we need a Waylon Jennings and a Honky Tonk Heroes to wash away lots of plastic on Country’s beach.

Honky Tonk Heroes is one of those seminal works that everyone should own, or at least hear once.


My Five and Why.


I was asked the other day what are my favorite albums? I really couldn’t answer because I have so many, but I was pressed and I gave an answer. Looking back on it, and having time to ponder, I’ve picked the five that I would have to keep. The five you could only listen to for the rest-of -your-life-five.  I made some parameters: only one from any artist/band, no live albums, no greatest hits and no various collections (no K-tel allowed baby).

1. Rubber Soul – The Beatles. No surprise I’m sure, they are intrinsic to my DNA, picking one was almost impossible, but I listen to Rubber Soul at least once a week, how could I not ever hear it again.

2. The Band (The Brown Album) – The Band – A seminal work for me, easing out Music From Big Pink by a guitar string. This album changed the way I heard and thought about music and it’s rich American heritage. Through this piece of work I discovered Bob Dylan, the blues, country and western, gospel and much more. It forked the road for me from British/American pop to another darker less traveled path.

3. Into the Music – Van Morrison. I can’t imagine never hearing Van’s voice again, and this work shines vocally. In his grunts and swoons I can hear Elvis, Jackie Wilson, Tom Waits, Sam Cooke, Wilson Pickett, Frank Sinatra and many more. I chose this for the vocalists I love, with Van at the top of the heap.

4. Broken Moon – Lowen & Navarro. I cannot put into words how I feel about this album, it has healed me many times. I think Eric Lowen and Dan Navarro are two of the best songwriters, singers and performers I have ever had the pleasure to know. I have given this album to friends almost as much as I have given them Rubber Soul;  it’s that good and that important to me. Lowen and Navarro are the brave working troubadours, carrying on a time honored tradition of  songwriting and truth. And brave may be too weak a word.

5. Honky Tonk Heroes – Waylon Jennings. The greatest country album by one of the greatest country artists. The songs of Billy Joe Shafer brought to stunning life by a crackerjack band and a soulful singer. But it’s on the list for more than that, this album is a chapter of my life in 1973-1975 that remains as some of the best years I had as a young man and with the best brothers- in-arms a friend could ask for… and also because of Lakeside Amusement Park, three fingered whiskey and wiiiiiiild buffaloes.

So there’s my five and why, now you do the same, post yours in the comments below and let’s listen to what your life is like.