Waylon Jennings: Sex, Drugs, & Rockabilly-Part 5
THE EAGLE & RUGUS
Waylon loved his first custom celebrity touring bus, an Eagle, built in Belgium. Eagles had been the chosen wheels of Continental Trailways, a national bus line that was bought by Greyhound in 1987. As touring musicians began to generate more revenue, the Eagle became their first choice for conversion to private coaches. Life on the road was a lot more tolerable inside an Eagle.
With cargo space below, the living quarters above usually featured a lounge area that could seat a dozen passengers. There was a television, a deafening sound system and a four-person booth for games and meals. With its narrow aisle and cramped bunk beds on either side, the mid-section had the feel of an opium den. Not for the claustrophobic, there was only a two-foot clearance between the top and bottom of each bunk. A door separated the star’s suite in the rear section where a double bed, equally powerful sound system, and separate restroom allowed some privacy.
Drivers were usually half-drugged with uppers and desensitized by music played loud. Waylon’s driver, Rugus, was a former chicken hauler. The irony of transitioning from chickens to humans was not lost on those who survived with Rugus behind the wheel. On one winter outing, his passengers were awakened by the sound of his bus challenging a hundred yards of steel guard rail. He said a deer jumped in front of him.
Like most truckers, he popped little white pills, swilled black coffee, and helped keep Alka-Seltzer in business. There were times when he demanded the music be turned down. Mostly, he just drove, and as he delivered us from city to city across the great American landscape, we ate, drank, slept, and played Farkle. As many as six players took turns rolling five dice and collecting points which often led to wild finishes and rewarded the winner with fifteen to twenty bucks. Even from the bench seat across the aisle, watching and waiting to play was good for erasing the miles to the next stop.
“I’VE BEEN ON THE ROAD SINCE KITTY WELLS WAS A GIRL SCOUT”
Moving three dozen people, three buses, and two semi trucks around the country was an expensive exercise in logistics. Waylon’s ticket sales in ‘76 allowed him to move his entourage up from motels to hotels.
When a couple dozen yahoos dressed in denim, boots and very casual street attire descended on a Hilton back then, it turned heads. Everyone was half asleep from the previous night’s show and after-parties in a city three hundred miles forgotten. Waylon’s guitar roadie and bag man was a lanky dude with a prominent nose and a full mustache. He was called Beak and he carried a briefcase full of cash. He would saunter up to the hotel’s front desk and announce, “Waylon Jennings: fifteen rooms and a suite. How much do I owe you?” With that, he would pull out a stack of hundreds. It always made the desk clerk’s day.
Cash in large amounts was part of doing business on the concert circuit. Too many performers had played before getting paid and found promoters missing after the show. There were also the rubber checks that never found funds. Artists in Waylon’s league received a substantial deposit with each signed contract. The balance due was paid in cash before the show began. Beak carried stacks of currency from city to city and if any made it back to Nashville after the exorbitant expenses of touring, it was reported on a specialledger. For the stars, the business purpose of touring was to generate record sales. The well-oiled industry machine combined label support with disc jockey visits and media interviews at every stop. I fed the media eight-by-ten glossy photos, biographies, and t-shirts. Some were lucky enough to get backstage for a handshake and autograph from the man himself. Most were not.
On one stop in Idaho, Waylon’s personal bus pulled up to a sixties-style mom-and-pop motel. Waylon’s mood instantly turned dark: “This is a motor court! Get Lori on the phone!” Back in Nashville, his secretary Lori was ready for the call. She promised him there wasn’t a Hilton within a hundred miles.
Waylon asked me to stop by the adjoining rooms Lori had booked for him and Jessi. It was the first time he and I sat down together, just the two of us. Jessi was in the next room, powdering for the evening show. There was a boxing match on television. Waylon loved the fights and later befriended Muhammad Ali. Waylon himself was a rather formidable presence, so I was grateful for the televised distraction. It was one of few times I saw him with his boots off. As he changed socks, he casually informed me, “I think we’ll do that book.”
The book was a planned autobiography I had pitched to him via earlier correspondence with drummer Richie. I had reminded him that at age thirty-nine he had already lived more than most people twice his age. He liked that thought and was willing to let me help him write about his first four decades. When Waylon later mentioned the book idea to manager Reshen, he was promptly advised to forget about it and furthermore, any book deal would be set up by Reshen with Chet Flippo as a co-author. Flippo was a senior journalist at Rolling Stone. Waylon liked him, but had nixed a recent Rolling Stone cover article by Flippo because the magazine wouldn’t grant Waylon final editorial rights. This demand stemmed from an article in People Magazine which had pissed Waylon off by reporting he was considering a vasectomy. Whether he said it or not was irrelevant. He decided all future interviews would be preceded by a final edit, legal agreement. Even Maddog Reshen couldn’t change his mind about that. As word spread about the editorial demands, fewer feature writers bothered calling. Needless to say, my job as a publicist became easier but often bothersome. Those who read the contract, sometimes warned me that Waylon was committing media suicide. Without their written adoration, how could he remain a superstar?
DRUGS & THE LAW
Fear of flying and fear of trying to score drugs on foreign soil kept Waylon’s tours confined to the continental U.S. It was a sad situation for fans abroad, especially the Brits with their Waylon Jennings Appreciation Society headed by mega-fan, Mick Brady. A fan letter from Sweden dated 1978, asked, “When is Waylon going to tour Europe? It’s been eight years now.”
Waylon’s old friend, Willie Nelson, was popped for pot at the Canadian border back in 1970, and wrote about it in his hit “Me and Paul,” a nod to his drummer and longtime friend, Paul English. Waylon’s own drummer and close friend, Richie Albright, was caught on two occasions with illegal substances. When asked why no foreign tours were booked, Waylon said, “Cause they might not let me back in the States!” His personal drug arrest in 1977 was lamented tongue-in-cheek in his “Don’t Y’all Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out of Hand.”
Before he moved to Nashville in 1964 and shared an apartment with the notoriously wired Johnny Cash, Waylon had already discovered the energy in amphetamines: black beauties, white crosses, and Desoxyn. Jennings and Cash frequented a pill doc in east Nashville. He was known as Doctor Snap. They carefully hid their stashes from each other. When Waylon left town on tour one time, Johnny searched high and low for any drugs his roommate might have left behind. Having no luck in the apartment, a desperate Cash went to Waylon’s new Cadillac. The glove box was locked and Cash was sure there were pills inside. Finding no gentle way in, he pried it open with a screw driver and found no dope inside. Johnny had to wait for Waylon’s return and inevitable wrath. When the day came and Waylon started raising hell, Cash angrily countered, “Damn, Waylon, why did you lock it if there wasn’t anything in it?” Waylon later summed up their enduring friendship: “John and I are closer than brothers. I’d rather be around him than anybody in the whole world. We went through the wild years, the drug scene. We hid them from each other and lied to each other.”
Waylon needed another kind of fix. His decaying teeth caused him constant pain which he fought with over-the-counter Oragel. In 1977, when the money started rolling in, he arranged through Dr. John Young of Athens, Texas, a series of dental visits to end the mouth pain. Dr. John was a sort-of professional groupie who had started flying his private plane to Waylon and Willie concerts as far back as Dripping Springs in 1972. Six years later, the good doctor was charged with illegally prescribing uppers to Waylon and other notables.
Waylon chartered Lear jets for his dental appointments in Texas. He heard me complaining about a Nashville dentist who had tortured me during a root canal. “Come on with me, Bill, and go to my dentist.” We flew that Lear to Texas and I was treated to a golden crown. On the way back to Nashville that same day, he shared his Percodan. That was a day at the dentist I will never forget, and one of several generous gestures he made to me.