Saturday, September 29, 2007

Waylon's Blues

Harvest Season, Healdsburg 2007
Whoop and holler, this is my 100th post. I'm surprised I actually got this far. I'd like to give a special shout out to my friend David who kind of infected me with the blog bug. So thanks, David, even though I can hardly hold a candle to your prolificness, I'm happy to be in your blog universe, nonetheless.

To be sure, I should have gotten here a long time ago. It's been a strange summer and I haven't been able to post here every day. Still, a milestone, even a small one, seems worth celebrating. So.... yippee.

Woo hoo.

Now that that's done with ...

I can't write about the Mets today. It's too hard to watch them disintegrate, even though y'all know I have long wondered whether they're really good enough to make any kind of serious post-season run. With all that's happened and their near-epic collapse, they could still make the playoffs with a win tomorrow (or a loss actually which I could explain if I wanted to go through the various scenarios). Make it or not, there will still be time to put this season into perspective. For now, though, on to more interesting things.

I admit to being a snob about some things. Beer, for one. I’d rather go thirsty than drink a Budweiser. Same way with country music. I mean what passes for country today is, well, crap. You can keep your Faith Hill and your Rascal Flats and definitely Brooks and Dunn. Not one of those shit-kickers can hold a candle to Waylon Jennings.

That’s why I offer Waylon as one of my fav artists.

Waylon died in 2002, way before his time. But all those years of hard partying finally got to the old guy. It was actually diabetes that killed him – he was only 64 – but his history of addiction and recovery was a long one.

Waylon will be remembered for a lot of things, but possibly his most underrated talent was his amazing singing voice. He was a rare singer/songwriter with a refined, unique voice. His baritone could be gruff, but he knew how to use it, could phrase with the best of them. It's a voice that would have been at home I am sure in much more demanding musical setting.

And while he ended up a larger-than-life character, he was a legend before his time, too. On Feburary 3, 1959, Jennings, who was then a member of Buddy Holly’s Crickets, famously gave up his plane seat to J.P. Richardson who was better known as the Big Bopper. Richardson was sick with the flu, or so the story goes, and Jennings was doing the man a good turn.

The act of kindness turned out to be lucky for the young Waylon. That plane, which also was carrying Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens crashed outside Mason City, Iowa, killing all on board.

Jennings lived on to become a true country music outlaw and is credited with starting the outlaw country movement, along with Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Billy Joe Shaver and Krist Kristofferson, among others. The truth was he was only rebelling against the state of country music, which was being dominated by the docile, sugary sounds of the Grand Old Opry.

Waylon was a Texan by birth and he shared the hard-drinking, rock-and-roll and blues influenced sounds of his fellow maverick singer/songwriters. His music was heavy on guitar and hot on swing rhythms and foot-stomping train songs and honky tonk. He rejected Nashville and those string-laden lost-my-dog-and-my-girl-my-pick-up-truck-broke shit. He was the true heir to Bob Willis and the Texas Playboys and because of guys like Waylon and Willie and Johnny Cash, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt and today, Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle, the torch is still lit and the fire burns strong.

Waylon made a lot of records, toward the end of his life more than a few lousy ones, but during his prime and sometime after, he was a force to be reckoned with, both as a singer and a songwriter. For my money, the three absolutely essential Waylon records are “Dreaming My Dreams,” “Ol’ Waylon” and “What Goes Around Comes Around.” But almost anything he did in the late 70’s, early 80’s likely has a few gems on them.

I’ve uploaded three of his classics to my Vox stash. This one called Waymore’s Blues is just classic, anti-establishment Waylon, showing how far he was from the typical saccharin country music of his day (and unfortunately ours). And here’s a medley of Elvis songs, which goes to remind us all where Elvis came from. Finally, my all-time favorite Waylon tune which I guarantee ain’t nothing like you’d expect from a country music superstar -- nice guitar riffing on the way out. I’m gonna use this song in a movie one day.

A lot of you 70's kids might know Waylon from his guitar -- that was him playing and singing the theme song to "Dukes of Hazzard," but he was so much more than that. Check him out and you'll see.

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