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Most country music fans remember the first time they heard Waylon Jennings. His gruff, steady voice sang about every day things to which most of us could relate. Contrary to popular belief, though, Waylon wasn't born on the Opry stage. Like everybody else who has made it in country, Waylon paid his dues (and then some) coming through the ranks. Waylon Arnold Jennings was born June 15 1937 in the town of Littlefield, Texas. Waylon's dad, William Alvin Jennings, used to play guitar in the local Texas dance halls around Lubbock, Texas. At the age of 12, Waylon took a turn at being a disc jockey. While in Lubbock, Waylon met then struggling artist Buddy Holly. In 1958, Holly produced his debut single "Jole Blon" and they co-wrote "You're The One", a Holly demo that surfaced after his death. Jennings played bass on Holly's last tour, relinquishing his seat for that fatal plane journey to the Big Bopper . Jennings named his son, Buddy, after Holly and he recalled their friendship in his 1976 song "Old Friend". Much later (1996) he contributed a poignant version of "Learning The Game" with Mark Knopfler to the Buddy Holly tribute album notfadeaway . After Holly's death, Jennings returned to radio work in Lubbock, before moving to Phoenix and forming his own group, the Waylors. They began a two-year residency at a new Phoenix club, J.D's, in 1964. The album of their stage repertoire has worn well, but less satisfying was Don't Think Twice, Jennings' album for A&M. " Herb Alpert heard me as Al Martino,' says Waylon, "and I was wanting to sound like Hank Williams'. Bobby Bare heard the A&M album and recommended Jennings to record producer Chet Atkins.

In 1965, Waylon began recording for RCA, and made the US country charts with his first release, "That's The Chance I'll Have To Take". He co-wrote his 1966 country hit, "Anita, You're Dreaming", and developed a different folk-country style with the tune "For Lovin' Me". Part of Waylon's legend are the years he spent developing his talent network in Nashville. Stories are told he and Johnny Cash shared two wild years in Nashville, so it was apt that he should star in Nashville Rebel , a film that was quickly produced. Jennings continued to have country hits - "Love Of The Common People", "Only Daddy That'll Walk The Line" and, with the Kimberlys , "MacArthur Park". However, he was uncomfortable with session men, feeling that the arrangements were overblown. He did his best, even with the string-saturated "The Days Of Sand And Shovels", which was along the lines of Bobby Goldsboro's "Honey". When Jennings was ill with hepatitis, he considered leaving the business, but his drummer Richie Albright, who has been with him since 1964, talked him into staying on. Jennings recorded some excellent Shel Silverstein songs for the soundtrack of Ned Kelly, which starred Mick Jagger, and the new Jennings fell into place with his 1971 album, Singer Of Sad Songs, which was sympathetically produced by Lee Hazlewood . Like the album sleeve, the music was darker and tougher, and the beat was more pronounced. Songs like "The Taker", "Ladies Love Outlaws" and "Lonesome, On'ry And Mean" showed a tough image which Waylon did little to deny. The cover of Honky Tonk Heroes showed the new Jennings and the company he was keeping. His handsome looks were overshadowed by dark clothes, a beard and long hair, which became more straggly and unkempt with each successive album.

During the 1970s Waylon was the most visible artist of Nashville's "outlaw" movement. In 1976, the album Wanted! The Outlaws, which is a compilation of cuts by Jennings, Willie Nelson, Tompall Glaser and Jennings' wife, Jessi Colter , became the first country album to be certified platinum. He had most of his biggest hits--"Only Daddy That'll Walk The Line," "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way," "Good Hearted Woman," "Luckenbach, Texas (Back To The Basics Of Love)," during his 20-years with RCA Records. His 1969 version of "MacArthur Park" with the Kimberlys won him a Grammy, as did "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys," a duet with Nelson. In 1975, he was named the Country Music Association's Top Male Vocalist.

Part of the outlaw image to which Waylon held true presented an image of a man who did what he wanted with little regard for any negative results. This drive met with success throughout his career. One of his primary musical partners and fellow outlaw, Willie Nelson, produced some legendary CDs and records with Waylon. Wanted! The Outlaws and its hit single, "Good Hearted Woman", transformed both Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings' careers, making them huge media personalities in the USA (the 1996 Anniversary reissue added nine tracks, plus the brand new Steve Earle song "Nowhere Road", sung by Nelson and Jennings). The first of the four "Waylon And Willie" albums is the best, including the witty "Mammas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys" and "I Can Get Off On You". In his autobiography, Nelson subsequently revealed a constant drug habit, while in his own audio biography, A Man Called Hoss, Jennings admitted to 21 years' addiction in an ode bidding farewell to drugs. Jennings was tired of his mean and macho image even before it caught on with the public. He topped the US country charts for six weeks and also made the US Top 30 with a world-weary song for a small township, "Luckenbach, Texas", which is filled with disillusionment. Further sadness followed on "I've Always Been Crazy" and "Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit's Done Got Out Of Hand?". He aged quickly, acquiring a lined and lived-in face which, ironically, enhanced his image. His voice became gruffer but it was ideally suited to the stinging "I Ain't Living Long Like This" and "It's Only Rock & Roll". In addition to recording for RCA, Waylon also recorded for MCA and Epic Records. He also narrated TV's The Dukes Of Hazzard. Jennings returned to RCA to cut Waymore's Blues (Part II) in 1994 (produced by Don Was), and more recently has recorded for Houston-based Justice Records.

For many of us growing up in the Nashville musical community, remembering Waylon will be easy each time we go down Music Row or drive through any of the smaller communities south of Nashville. As a friend, colleague or just somebody you would run into at the Kroger or your local eye doctor (long story), he was a genuinely nice guy, Plans are now underway for an event to honor the life and music of Waylon Jennings at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville to take place on Saturday March 23. Though the details are few and no artists have yet been confirmed it's expected many artists will attend. A fitting tribute to the outlaw who gave more than he took.

Waylon links:

Waylon's Official Website: http://www.waylon.com

Waylon Jenning's Country Music Hall of Fame site: http://www.halloffame.org/hall/mem/waylon-jennings.html

The Old Dogs Website: http://www.theolddogs.com/