Waylon Jennings: Sex, Drugs, & Rockabilly-Part 2
BUDDY’S BASS PLAYER
He was born Wayland Arnold Jennings in Littlefield, Texas on June 15, 1937. The name Gaylon came up first, but his dad was William Albert and they wanted to stick with the W.A. initials. By age fourteen, Waylon was already good at singing and strumming a guitar. His gift of gab got him hired at Littlefield’s KVOW as a part-time DJ. He dropped out of high school at sixteen and began frequenting the bright lights of Lubbock, “The Hub of the Plains.”
Like most roads in Texas, Highway 84 from Littlefield to Lubbock was a straight shot, forty miles southeast. Waylon drove that route, down and back, for several years.
In 1954, he first met Buddy Holly, a Lubbock native less than a year older than him. Waylon later wrote in his ’96 book, “Buddy and a guy named Bob Montgomery were a duo, singing mostly country songs. Then Elvis came through like a whirlwind and changed our lives. Buddy added bass player, Larry Welborn and started calling his style ‘Western and Bop.'”
The music business called it “Rockabilly.” Buddy’s musical genius rapidly grouped him with rock’s founding stars: Bill Haley, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley, “The Memphis Flash.” Before his untimely demise, Buddy claimed, “None of us would have made it without Elvis.” Even John Lennon proclaimed, “Before Elvis, there was nothing.” Coincidentally, The Beatles distilled their band name from Holly’s “Crickets.”
Lubbock radio station KLLL, “K-Triple L,” hired Waylon in 1957. He began earning good money as a deejay, and more for singing at sponsors’ grand openings. His ride was a ’56 DeSoto convertible, and the endless Texas horizon was his limit.
When Buddy would blow through Lubbock, he always stopped by KLLL and passed some time singing his latest songs and sharing stories from the road. He liked Waylon’s rich baritone and promised to produce a record for him.
In September of ’58, he kept that promise and produced Waylon’s first single, “Jole Blon.” Three months later, Buddy dropped by the station, handed Waylon an electric bass, and announced “You have two weeks to learn to play that thing.” Waylon replaced Joe B. Mauldin, the Cricket who had quit over a money dispute.
THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED
Billed as “The Winter Dance Party,” a twenty-five-show tour began on January 23, 1959 at George Devine’s Ballroom in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The posters advertised, “Buddy Holly & The Crickets, Ritchie Valens, Dion & The Belmonts, The Big Bopper, and Frankie Sardo.”
Just ten days into the tour, it was so cold the heater on the bus became a block of ice. Buddy decided to charter a four-seater plane to the next stop in Moorhead, MN. It was February 3, 1959 in Clear Lake, Iowa and it was snowing hard. On the bill and riding the success of his hit single, “Chantilly Lace” was disc jockey, J.P. Richardson, “The Big Bopper.” He was ailing with the flu and asked Waylon to give up a seat on the plane and spare him the six-hour bus ride. Richie “La Bamba” Valens had already won a seat in a coin toss with Cricket guitarist, Tommy Allsup. Dion “Runaround Sue” DiMucci was offered a seat for thirty-six dollars, but chose the frozen bus instead.
The Beechcraft Bonanza climbed through the snowstorm and reached a speed of 170 miles per hour when, for some unknown reason, it plummeted to earth, rolled and skidded almost six hundred feet across a frozen cornfield. Holly, Valens, Richardson and the pilot, Roger Peterson, died on initial impact from gross trauma. Later described as “the day the music died,” in Don McLean’s ’71 release, “American Pie,” the tragedy of that plane crash was felt by music fans across America and the Atlantic.
After that fateful night and for the rest of his life, whenever possible, Waylon avoided air travel. He was haunted by his final joking exchange with Holly who had teased him about giving his seat to Richardson.
Waylon recalled, “He asked did I chicken out?”
I told him, “No, The Big Bopper just wanted to go on ahead.
Buddy said, ‘Well, I hope your damned bus freezes up again.’
I said, “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes.”
An extreme example of the show must go on, and how cold-hearted the tour’s promoters were, occurred the night after the plane crash. Waylon and the survivors were coerced into playing the scheduled event in Moorhead. Agent Irving Field begged them to keep touring until the day before the funeral and promised to fly them home for it. A popular young singer named Bobby Vee, whose hit “Rubber Ball” sounded like a Holly song, was flown in to sing in Buddy’s place. Waylon didn’t want to play and didn’t care about not getting paid, but the agency said Buddy’s widow would not receive any money from the tour if the band didn’t finish it.
“MY DREAM HAD SLIPPED THROUGH MY FINGERS”
After finishing the tour dates, Waylon went home to Texas. He had lost all desire
to play music, and returning to radio work would be a constant reminder of the dream that ended when Buddy died; but wages were required. By then, Waylon was married with two children and one on the way. Buddy Jennings was born thirteen months after the plane crash.
Waylon’s wife, Maxine, had family in Coolidge, Arizona and Waylon wanted out of Texas as much as he wanted steady work. Arizona was as far west as he had ventured in his life. Far enough from Texas and steeped in serenity, Arizona’s horizon felt good to the weary young Texan. In his book, Waylon, he wrote, “When I got there, it was like I stopped pushing toward something and just let myself go.”
He began spinning discs at KCKY and started playing clubs again. The Galloping Goose and Wild Bill’s liked his style and kept him booked. Soon headlining at JDs, a large nightclub just outside Phoenix, his star began to rise. His first album, Live at JD’s,was recorded at Arizona Recorders in 1964, and sold well at the club, its only retail outlet.
That same year, an old friend and fellow songwriter from KLLL days, Don Bowman, introduced Waylon to Herb Alpert who signed him as one of the first artists on up-and-coming A&M Records. Unfortunately, Alpert and Jennings couldn’t find what they were looking for somewhere between folk and country. With no hard feelings, they agreed to tear up the contract. Ironically, Waylon’s first RCA album, less than a year later, was titled, Folk Country. Chet Atkins produced that 1966 release and it climbed to #9 on the country charts. A single from that album, “Stop the World (And Let Me Off)” made it to #16.
JESSI & RAINY DAY WOMEN
Her name was Miriam Eddy–stage name: Jessi Colter. After divorcing Duane Eddy in 1968, she was back in Phoenix, her home town. Duane, with his “twangy” guitar instrumentals, including “Rebel Rouser,” was already a star in the States and Europe. He had produced Jessi’s first recordings, and she toured with him from the beginning of their six-year marriage until they divorced.
Jessi first met Waylon in ‘64 when she was recording in Phoenix. Duane produced the session and invited Waylon to add a vocal track. At that time, Waylon was married to his second wife, Lynne, with whom he adopted a daughter, Tomi Lynne. Sharing a microphone with Jessi ignited a spark that became a slow-burning, eternal flame between the two of them. His marriage to Lynn ended three years later.
The next time Jessi met Waylon, she and Duane were separated. With her brother as escort, she dropped by Waylon’s Phoenix hotel room. It was daylight outside, but mostly dark in his smoke-filled room with no signs of recent maid service. A shirtless Waylon was playing poker with his pals. Jessi later recalled, “I could picture orgies going on in that room, and I thought no way was I going to be anywhere around him.” But his olive-toned skin and etched facial features caught her eye and wouldn’t let go. From that night in the studio, she could still hear the music and feel the heat . Waylon was likewise drawn in by the charming Miss Colter. He could tell she was one woman who might make it through the long haul with him.
There was never any shortage of loose women around Waylon and his band–groupies of all ages, with all sorts of reasons for being there. Waylon called them “Rainy Day Women.” He said, “I craved companionship, and I’ve had my share. I don’t think women’s sex lives have a thing to do with the kinds of human beings they are.”
After all the rainy day women and one-night stands, there was always Jessi. If one ever existed, she was the enduring woman in Tammy Wynette’s classic “Stand By Your Man.” One of Waylon’s true-confession tunes, “So Good Woman,” included the lyrics “You know I’ve run around all my life/ You could’ve done better/ You’ve been a good wife…” Jessi Colter Jennings was Waylon’s “good-hearted woman.” They were married by a justice of the peace in Las Vegas on October 26, 1969. He had recently divorced Barbara, his third wife. Jessi was his fourth and final.