Remembering Waylon Jennings: June 15, 1937 – February 13, 2002

Waylon Jennings

I feel guilty for saying this, but the first thing I think of when someone says Waylon Jennings is the television show “The Dukes of Hazzard.” The opening theme song with the leather wrapped Telecaster picking the opening chords to the show and the highlight reel showing Bo and Luke Duke in the General Lee driving fast, kicking up dust, stirring up trouble for Roscoe P. Coltrane and Boss Hog, and the eventual jumping of the General Lee over the creek bed. Pure ’70s genius.

However, the Duke boys weren’t my first introduction to Waylon Jennings.

Back when I was a kid growing up in the 1970s, family car trips usually involved the AM country radio station where my Dad and Mom would listen to the likes of Waylon, Willie, and the good ole boys of country. At the time being stuck in the backseat of the family car listening to Don Williams, Dolly Parton, and Johnny Cash etc. etc. was pure torture. I think this is where my daydreaming skills started. I would look out the window and watch the highway fly by and think of anything but the country music that was playing on the radio.

If my brother and I were lucky, Mom would change the radio station so we’d get to listen to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 Countdown and his “Long Distance Dedications.” I didn’t know those people dedicating songs, but I was sure happy they did so I didn’t have to listen to those country crooners.

As much as I detested the country music at the time, somehow, someway those songs were embedded in my memory—”Good Hearted Woman,” “I’m a Ramblin’ Man,” and of course
“Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love).” In my later years I would find myself going back to these country singers—you know when country was country—and enjoy the songs. Hell, Johnny Cash is my hero now, so maybe I owe my parents a thank you.

Then, some 30 years later I felt a little part of my childhood die.

February 13, 2002, I remember it like it was yesterday. I was at a sound check for a musician named Lennon covering her concert for a magazine I was freelancing for (this was pre-Innocent Words). We were sitting on the stage talking and someone mentioned that Waylon Jennings had died. I couldn’t believe it. My first thought was I had to call my Dad, so I excused myself from the conversation and ran across the venue up a flight of stairs to the office to call my Dad.

“Did you hear who died today?”

My Dad said “No.”

“Waylon Jennings” I said.

“Are you kidding me?” My Dad was in disbelief as well. We hung up and I sat down in someone’s office chair and thought about “The Dukes of Hazzard,” Waylon being in Buddy Holly’s band, and all those car trips my family took listening to AM radio and how I once hated that music so much, but now I was sad that Waylon was gone. My, how times had changed.

Waylon Jennings entered my life again in 2006 when I got to interview his son Shooter Jennings, who was releasing his sophomore album ‘Electric Rodeo.’ If you haven’t seen Shooter, he is the spitting image of his father—the long dark hair, a beard, and, of course, the sunglasses. Shooter was also nice as could be. He treated me like I had known him forever. We talked about his new album, leather wrapped guitars, and his father. He was very open and honest about everything, dare I say a good ole southern boy? Even if he was living in New York, with his then girlfriend and actress Drea de Matteo (“Sopranos,” “Assault on Precinct 13”).

Like with any iconic musician, they will never truly be gone. At any given time you can put on an album or download a song and hear their voice. If you are lucky, you might even be able to catch a rerun of “The Dukes of Hazzard” on television. Yeeeee Haaawww.

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