Waylon Jennings - vocals, guitars, banjo; Jessi Colter - vocals; Richie Albright - drums; Ralph Mooney - pedal steel guitar; Gordon Payne - lead guitar; Jerry Bridges - bass; Rance Wasson - guitars; Barny Robertson - keyboards
Few artists have had as important an impact on country music as Waylon Jennings. Recorded on his 47th birthday, this second of two appearances recorded at the Centrum Center in Worcester, MA is another gem among live shows that embrace the music of outlaw country. This show also features his wife, Jessi Colter, and while it is not quite as good as the earlier performance (also available here at Wolfgang's Vault), it presents the superstar couple at the height of their popularity, just as Jennings was ending a much-publicized 20-year addiction to cocaine and alcohol.
Opening with "Lonesome On'ry And Mean," Jennings, his wife, and his longtime backup band, deliver a sassy and thoroughly enjoyable set that features their solo hits, their own duets, and songs made famous by the likes of Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash. This isn't quite as good as a Highwaymen show (the supergroup Jennings formed with Nelson, Cash, and Kristofferson in 1985), but it's damn close.
Most of Jennings' finest material is here, as well as some of the best duets he did with his wife. Among the highlights of this brilliant show are "I Can Get Off On You," "Dreaming My Dreams With You," "Good Ol' Boys," "Bob Willis Is Still The King" and "Good Hearted Woman." The band, known as the Waylors, which had backed Jennings and Colter for almost two decades, is exceptional, especially the astounding pedal steel guitar of Ralph Mooney. Among the highlights is an impromptu singing of "Happy Birthday" to Jennings, when they are told by his wife that it is his special day.
Jennings was born in Littlefield, Texas, and dropped out of high school to become a DJ at the age of 15. He moved to Lubbock and became close friends with Buddy Holly, who was also his musical mentor. Holly taught Jennings how to play guitar and bass, and encouraged him to become a writer and singer. Jennings left radio to record for Brunswick Records in 1957, with his first record produced by Holly himself. When Holly needed a new bass player for the Crickets in 1959, he called Jennings, who took the gig. On February 3rd, Jennings gave up his seat on a small private plane that was scheduled to carry himself, Holly, and Ritchie Valens to the next gig. The other star on the tour, the Big Bopper, had the flu, so Jennings infamously let him take his seat on the four-seater plane, which ended up crashing and tragically killing all three stars.
Jennings re-emerged in the 1960s as a country star with the help of Chet Atkins, who signed him to RCA Records. Jennings would remain there for over a decade, and in the 1970s, he develop the "outlaw" country persona, which also included friends Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard, Bobby Bare, and others.
In 1969, he met and married a budding country singer named Mirriam Johnson. For the previous seven years, she had worked and toured with her first husband, rock 'n' roll pioneer Duane Eddy. Jennings encouraged her to write and record, and produced her first records for Capitol. By then, she also adopted the "outlaw" persona, and changed her name to Jessi Colter, chosen because she was actually a descendent of a desperado whose last name was Colter, a one-time member of the Jesse James Gang. Jennings and Colter remained married until Jennings' untimely death in 2002 from diabetes.