“Waymore’s Ghost” (A Working Title/Extended Film Treatment)
Note to Readers: The following post is an extended film treatment (9000+ words) offered to Waylon fans by permission of the publisher. For those unfamiliar with film treatments, the format is mostly description with limited dialog and characters. Because presentation of treatment and scripts usually requires an agent/attorney, I offer it here for anyone who’s interested. It is based on my time as a friend and employee of Waylon Jennings in the Seventies. Comments/feedback greatly appreciated.
WAYMORE’S GHOST (A Working Title ) by Bill Conrad
Scene One: City of Mesa, Arizona Cemetery
A strong, steady wind sounds a few high notes around the entrance sign above the open gates to Mesa, Arizona’s cemetery. It is late afternoon and the sun is going down. The graveyard has several hundred above-ground granite monuments, and like most of Mesa, is flat and almost treeless. The sound of flying gravel under car tires can be heard, increasing in volume and covering the noise of the wind.
Fast approaching through the open gates is a 1976 pumpkin-orange Cadillac convertible. The top is down and two men are in the front seat. The driver has long black hair and a beard. He is wearing a black cowboy hat and is larger than his passenger. Both men appear to be in their late thirties. The Caddy roars down a narrow gravel path between a long row of tombstones. The driver brakes hard, causing more gravel and dust to fly up, then reverses maybe twenty yards and stops.
The two men get out of the car. Both are wearing western-style shirts, jeans, and boots. The larger man, WAYLON JENNINGS, has a cigarette clenched at the corner of his mouth. He is just over six feet tall and somewhat stocky. His companion, RICHIE ALBRIGHT, is a half-foot shorter and proportionally thinner.
They walk without speaking to one of the larger monuments and side by side, stare down at the words cut into the hard, cold stone: “Waylon Jennings / June 15, 1937 – Feb. 13, 2002 / I am My Beloved’s / My Beloved is Mine. / A Loving Son, Husband, Father, and Grandfather. / A Vagabond Dreamer, A Rhymer and Singer of Songs. A Revolutionary in Country Music / Beloved by the World. A laser-etched photo likeness above the script reflects Waylon standing at his own gravesite. He quietly comments, “So it’s come to this, eh hoss? We had a pretty good run though, didn’t we?”
Standing beside him, Richie, his close friend and drummer, responds “Damn right, but I ain’t ready to give it up just yet.”
Waylon smiles at his friend and concedes, “I don’t think I’ve got much choice. You go on back and do some more living, play some more music. Catch up with me further on down the road.”
The two take one last look at the granite marker. The sound of a steady drumbeat begins over the swirling wind, and responding to the steady rhythm, is the roar of a large concert audience. The two men and the Cadillac are no longer part of the empty cemetery.
Richie the drummer is onstage in a large auditorium, kicking the steady beat that has more than ten thousand fans out of their seats and waving their arms.
Waylon Jennings strides from the wings to the microphone at the center of the stage, and begins singing, ” A long time forgotten / Her dreams they just fell by the way..,” the first lines of his hit song, “Good Hearted Woman.”
Scene Two: The Show in Austin
A crowd of ten thousand fans with ages spanning two generations is on its feet and roaring its approval of the music and the moment. All are dressed cowboy casual. Some of the younger men have removed their shirts and are waving them like flags above their heads. Beefy security guards are spread below and in front of the stage. Onstage and backstage, an army of support personnel—road crew, stage crew, drivers, arena managers—move around and through radio jocks, reporters, select groupies and a couple of Hell’s Angels with their identifying vests. Another person present is Waylon’s business manager, NEIL RESHEN, a short, ominous figure of a man known to industry insiders as “Pitbull.” He is the Southerner’s stereotypical image of a hard core New Yorker. Neil is also manager for Willie Nelson, and jazz great, Miles Davis. He enjoys his pitbull persona. One journalist describes him as “Bela Lugosi on meth.”
Some move toward Waylon as he comes off stage and the roar of the crowd drowns out normal speech, even backstage. Waylon obviously enjoys the moment. He is half-soaked with sweat and definitely quite buzzed from his performance and whatever stimulants he inhaled or swallowed before taking the stage. A couple of the girl groupies are allowed to approach and hug their country idol. A roadie hands him a towel as the roar of the crowd continues and demands an encore. One groupie with ample bosom is wearing a t-shirt with his likeness stretched across her chest. Waylon laughs and tells her, “Damn, sweetheart, you in that shirt makes me look like I’ve got the mumps!” Those around who know symptoms of the mumps, laugh with Waylon. The sweet young thing doesn’t quite get it, but smiles sweetly. Waylon says to those around him, “See y’all awhile ago,” and turns to go back onstage. His return elicits a deafening mix of shouts and applause. Over the din, he shouts to them, “We’ve played all we know. Guess we have to do the first one over again!” The band launches into “Bob Wills Is Still The King.”
Scene Three: The Austin Hilton
After the concert, around midnight, three tour buses arrive in tandem at the hotel parking lot. A dozen fans move quickly toward the first bus with its Waylon logo across the rear window. Waylon and Richie step down from the first bus and as Richie joins some band members leaving the second bus, Waylon obliges a few autograph seekers. Waylon’s personal roadie, CRANK, a lanky guy in his late twenties, approaches to escort Waylon to the hotel. . He carries a briefcase full of cash he has collected from the show’s promoter. This cash is used to pay for hotel rooms, tabs, and drugs purchased along the tour route.
Inside the hotel, Crank quickly obtains the key to the suite reserved for Waylon who he calls “Chief.” Another roadie, a shorter, mousey-looking guy in a big Stetson hat, escorts Waylon to the elevator and has already sorted out the local media and fans which will be the first allowed in Waylon’s suite of rooms. One of the cute ones left behind asks Crank what he does for Waylon. He looks down at her innocent young face and replies, “Darlin’, what do you need done?”
The lobby is full of the same crowd that was backstage at the show. Some wander into the hotel lounge for drinks and some take elevators up to the rooms where they will sort themselves into half a dozen rooms for drinks, drugs, and more music—live and recorded, and played loudly. The hallway on the band floor always has a small crowd that is between room parties and maybe a visit to Waylon’s suite on the top floor. Around three A.M., Waylon signals Crank to empty the suite of visitors who have stayed too long. Waylon seated on a comfortable wingback chair, softly beckons to a pretty blonde in her early twenties, “Hey you, come on over here and sit on Uncle Way-Way’s lap.” He pats his thighs and takes a drag from his Marlboro Light. The young fan obediently walks over to this larger-than-life music star.
Scene Four: Three Tour Buses Idling Outside the Hotel / The Ride to Dallas
The low, steady rumble of three diesel engines contrasts with the seven A.M. quiet of this Saturday morning in Austin. Cargo bays are open, waiting to receive luggage and instrument cases. Three drivers huddle together, steam rising from their morning coffee. The Waylon entourage slowly emerges from the hotel and divides itself among the buses. Most everyone seems half awake after room parties that ended at dawn. Tonight’s show is in Dallas, only a couple hundred miles east, so Waylon joins them for the short trip. He often charters a Lear jet for distances greater than four hundred miles. The luxury tour buses, with their lounges up front and sleeping berths in the mid-section, are smaller but almost as comfortable as hotels. Waylon’s personal bus has a private suite in the rear with a double bed. He heads to his quarters, removes his boots and before stretching across the bed, pulls a small brown bottle from a vest pocket. He unscrews the black cap from the container which is only large enough to hold a couple of grams of dry substance.
In the fold between his left thumb pressed against his forefinger, he dumps a small amount of white cocaine powder, places it to a nostril and snorts it into his body. He follows this action with a deep inhale, then falls back on the bed. The sound of the bus accelerating precedes a gentle vibration through its body. Waylon enters a waking dream.
He hears the sound of his mother’s voice as Lorene Jennings begins to recall moments from his youth in Littlefield, Texas. Images from those early years pass through his thoughts.
Scene Five: The Waking Dream
LORENE [from her letter to Conrad, 1977]
“Waylon was born at home on June 15th, 1937 at 10:30 in the morning. Waylon’s dad was farming for my dad so he was born at my folk’s home. My mother wanted me to name him Wade, after one of her early boyfriends. That wouldn’t work, so she said, “Let’s name him Gaylon.” I reminded her we needed a name starting with a “W” because his dad was William. For some reason I still don’t understand, the name Waylon came to mind”.
A knock on the door causes Waylon to wake and sit up on the bed. His road manager, Crank, opens the door a few inches and announces it’s close to lunch time and wants to know if Waylon has any particular food in mind. Waylon asks if there’s a Whataburger in the area. Crank thinks not and says they will find some good barbeque.
Waylon reaches for his white powder and snorts another dose. He stacks a couple of pillows at the head of the bed and lies back down. Just behind his back wall, the bus’s big diesel engine sends another tremble through the vehicle as it accelerates down the highway. Almost instantly, Waylon is transported back to Littlefield.
“Waylon still has a lot of relatives living in Littlefield and they all still love him. There wasn’t music on my side of the family, but his dad knew guitar and played for local dances. Waylon and his brother, Tommy grew up with more music because they were closer. Waylon bought his first guitar himself with his cotton bole picking money. He was eleven or twelve years old. That boy was bornd with an interest in music and singing. His first performance was on a television show in Lubbock, 39 miles east of Littlefield. He won himself a watch.”
The bus engine sounds a higher pitch as it slows to a stop. Crank is at Waylon’s door again, announcing lunch at Whataburger.
Scene Six: The Recording Session
A man’s voice over an intercom calls Waylon’s name. Waylon looks up from tuning his Fender Telecaster. He is inside a recording studio. His drummer, Richie, and three other band members are also in the room with their instruments. Waylon has a cigarette clenched between his teeth, angled up and sending a lazy swirl of smoke into the air. The engineer in the control booth says they are sending out for some food and wants to know what Waylon would like to eat. Waylon isn’t hungry. His long hair is disheveled and oily, in need of shampoo. This usually indicates he’s been up for a few days on a coke binge—”on a roar” his close circle calls the condition. A cloud of Brut, a musky cologne, surrounds him. He adjusts one more string on his guitar, tilts his head down and rolls it to loosen his neck muscles, then says, “Let’s lay one more down.” Richie beats his drumsticks together, setting the rhythm and the song begins.
When the last chord is struck and held, a man beside the engineer speaks over the intercom and says that one is a keeper. Waylon says he needs to go next door to his office and calls for a half-hour supper break. He enters the control booth where two men wearing neckties have arrived. Brandy, an attractive blonde in her twenties, is seated on a plush leather armchair. Waylon exchanges brief handshakes with the men he recognizes from his record label, then motions to the young lady. Another blonde, his secretary Lori, enters the room with an obvious air courier package and a few documents needing Waylon’s signature. He accepts the small box, signs the papers, then tells everyone within earshot, “See y’all awhile ago.” He departs the studio with the first girl trailing behind.
Scene Seven: Lear Jet to NYC.
Waylon, his wife Jessi Colter, drummer Richie Albright, and half a dozen more passengers meet at Nashville’s corporate jet hangar. They board a chartered Lear jet which will deliver them to New York City. The pilot advises them an early winter snow is blanketing Virginia and points north.. Waylon remembers the snowstorm in Iowa, back in 1959 that caused a plane crash and ended the life of his friend Buddy Holly. Waylon was supposed to be on that small chartered airplane. Every time she joins him on an airplane, Jessi can see that painful memory behind Waylon’s eyes . The Lear races down the runway and lifts off with ease, climbing rapidly above the clouds.
A reporter from Rolling Stone magazine, Ben Fong-Torres, is on the flight and expects some interview time with Waylon. Jessi gets up from her seat and invites the journalist to sit beside Waylon who says he will be right back. He walks to the rear of the plane where a curtain separates a small lavatory and galley area. Back there, he swallows a couple of tablets and snorts a dose of cocaine.
When he returns to his seat, he tells Ben they have thirty minutes to talk. The interview begins with the subject of guests on Waylon’s latest album, including Elvis Presley’s lead guitarist, James Burton. Waylon says Burton told him Elvis has let media coverage of his weight gain cause added stress.
WAYLON (To Fong-Torres)
“Hell, he could get pig fat; he will always be the King. Elvis is just so protected he’s lost touch with what’s real. In many ways, he’s still like a teenager. Last time I saw him was in his suite at the Vegas Hilton. He had sent a couple of bodyguards to fetch me and Jessi. We were having a few laughs til his friend Sonny West started waving a pistol around Jessi. I asked Sonny politely to stop doing that, and when it happened a second time, told him, ‘Hoss, if you don’t put that gun away, I’m gonna stick it up your ass.’ He stopped, and I remember Elvis just laughing like a kid.
Reporter Ben wants to approach the subject of Waylon’s early days in music and his first encounter with Buddy Holly. Waylon is obviously reticent to get into that part of his life, especially at forty thousand feet. He offers a little history about getting to know Buddy while Waylon was a deejay at KDAV in Lubbock. Waylon recounts a weekly show called “The Sunday Party” when Buddy’s first trio was known as Buddy, Bob, and Larry. Waylon’s words for Ben trail off. He looks out the small round window beside his seat, then back to Ben, and says, “Maybe later, hoss.” Ben understands this as a signal the interview has ended for now. He thanks Waylon, then rises to change seats with Jessi. Waylon tilts his seat back and closes his eyes.
Sounds and images from his early days in Lubbock with Buddy Holly, and other early musical friends, begin to float across his mind. He feels Jessi’s warm hand gently grasp his and he lets the memories lead him to that fateful night on February 3, 1959, in Clear Lake, Iowa. He remembers how painfully cold it was with a broken heater on the tour bus. The first drummer got frostbite in his feet and had to leave the tour. J.P. Richardson, known as the Big Bopper, had the flu and fairly begged Waylon to give up the seat on a six-passenger, single-engine plane Buddy had chartered to get himself and his band out of the dreaded bus ride to Moorhead, Minnesota. Waylon recalls how grateful Richardson was and what a good guy he was—a disc jockey/musician like Waylon who was enjoying the success of a hit song called “Chantilly Lace.” Buddy teased Waylon about giving up the seat and said “I hope your damned bus freezes up again.” and Waylon teased back, “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes.” Waylon sees the photo of that plane’s wreckage, strewn across a snow-covered and frozen Iowa cornfield. He winces and slowly opens his eyes.
Jessi smiles warmly in his direction and squeezes his hand. He smiles faintly and closes his eyes.
SCENE 8 – NEW YORK CITY
The sound and bump of aircraft wheels meeting the runway in New York City causes Waylon to awake with a start. Jessi smiles at him and the distant gaze on his face.
The private jet taxis to a small hangar where a black limo is waiting to transport them to their hotel.
Taking in the luxury of their suite and its grand view of the city, Waylon and Jessi are interrupted by the arrival of his manager, Neil, who immediately apology to Jessi for scheduling an immediate meeting with RCA Records big wigs. Waylon briefly retreats to the bathroom where he shakes a booster dose from his vial of coke, splashes some water on his face, and glances at the mirror before running a hand through his hair. He rejoins Neil and Jessi, gives her a dramatic kiss on the lips and announces he’s taking his “pitbull” to a showdown at the dog house—a reference to RCA’s famous dog and record player logo.
SCENE 9 – RCA RECORDS CORP. HDQTRS.
Headed into a RCA conference room, Neil advises Waylon to keep his mouth shut: “The first asshole to even clear his throat, loses!” Waylon raises his brow and looks amused.
The meeting with half a dozen top execs quickly get contentious with Neil demanding greatly increased royalties and artistic control for his client, Waylon. There is much back and forth for well over an hour, and then comes the long pause when no one speaks. Eyes look at paperwork, then at other eyes. Waylon has been told to say nothing, but he hasn’t been told he can’t leave the room. He rises from his high back leather chair and looks at everyone sitting, then strides out of the room. Neil looks back at the men in neckties with their expressions of concern and confusion. He smiles wryly.
At the elevators, Neil now presents an evil grin as he sees Waylon walking toward him. He does not speak until they are both on the elevator and the doors close. “You son’bitch, that was brilliant, leaving the room!” Waylon looks puzzled, “What? I had to pee.” His manager informs him the execs thought Waylon was angry, and they caved to all of the demands. Neil tells Waylon that Patty, Neil’s wife is taking Jessi shopping while Waylon has an interview/ “date” with Jane Pauley, the 26 year old, co-host of the “Today Show.” The manager hands his client a few pills and a two-gram brown glass. He smiles up from his half-foot below Waylon—Ratso Rizzo and Joe Buck—and the pair enter a waiting black limo.
SCENE 10 – MEET & GREET
Neil delivers Waylon to a banquet room filled with a few dozen invited guests which include several familiar faces from the RCA meeting. Chet Flippo, another journalist from Rolling Stone magazine is there with Ben Fong-Torres and other media reps, including the cute and perky Miss Pauley. Across the room, surrounded by admirers, is Waylon’s old friend and cohort, Willie Nelson. Waylon is immediately uncomfortable in this environment and with a disapproving face, looks down at Neil who is obviously in his element and pleased to have two of his three stars in the Big Apple. Waylon quickly breaks away for a medicinal trip to the men’s room. When he returns, ready to face the music, Chet Flippo asks him how he’s adjusting to the fame his “Outlaw” country sound has brought.
Y’know, you guys put us into little categories which I don’t like. My name
is Waylon, and it’s Waylon’s music. Over there (he motions toward Willie
Nelson) is Willie, and it’s Willie’s music he plays. It’s not Outlaw or Contemporary
or Folk Country. Hey man, that’s merchandising. You keep it all in little neat categories.
Chet likes the tone and wants to continue, but Neil cuts in and promises to reunite the two men after Jane Pauley gets introduced to Waylon and has her few minutes. Neil catches Pauley’s eye and motions for her to join Waylon at an open booth he has found for them. They are introduced and seated beside each other. Waylon is immediately infatuated by the charming Miss Pauley. His drug combination is adding to the sensory pleasure and their professional conversation takes on a flirtation tone from Waylon. Jane Pauley becomes somewhat uncomfortable and begins to look for an excuse to move on.
He asks if she’s coming to the show that he and “Willie what’s his name” are booked to perform this evening at New York’s Lone Star Cafe. While she’s considering a response, Neil arrives at the booth with Willie who is wearing his trademark grin. All four sit together and Jane says she was just about to ask Waylon to explain what makes a country song great. After a few seconds, Willie asks Waylon if he remembers country legend, Harlan Howard’s definition: “Three chords and the truth.” Waylon smiles, leans against Jane and asks if she would like a cocktail.
SCENE 11 – THE LONE STAR CAFE, FIFTH AVENUE @ 13TH STREET, 1976
The opening of this country rock night club in 1976 with its forty-foot iguana sculpture atop the entrance coincided with the emergence of country music’s “Outlaw” movement.
Waylon and Willie and the boys have arrived across America. Tonight’s show is sold out to industry insiders, the media and select associates. A second show is scheduled for the public. Waylon and Willie take turns performing separately. Jessi Colter (Mrs. Waylon Jennings) sings her hit, “I’m Not Lisa,” and is joined by Waylon for a duet of the Elvis standard, “Caught In A Trap.” Willie then teams up with Waylon on “Mama’s, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” “Bob Wills Is Still The King,” and their tough love anthem, “Good-Hearted Woman.” The normally somewhat jaded crowd of record people and writers is swept away by the raw energy of this new brand of country music.
Around the club’s darker corners, Neil is hard at work, cutting his deals, while New York’s pretend cowboys in their Tony Lama boots and pearl-snap button shirts hustle their own particular prey.
SCENE 12- NASHVILLE: Office
Back in Nashville, it is night time. Waylon is seen in his Cadillac arriving at his office, a former two-story home at the corner of 17th Avenue and Edgehill. His place is near the south end of an old section of town near Vanderbilt University where dozens of stately residences from the early 1900’s have been re-zoned for business—the business of music. Two avenues, 17th and 18th are promoted by the city as “Music Row,” almost a hundred old homes fading with urban decay, now available with tax incentives for country music enterprise.
Waylon parks in the small lot at the rear of the building and enters through the back door. A sign which most everyone ignores reads, “Please Use Front Entrance.” He walks to the front of the old home and climbs stairs beside a heavy wooden banister. The wall on his left is covered with his gold and platinum album awards. At the top of the stairs, he turns right, and enters his office. This is the former master bedroom and has French doors which open to a small second-floor screened porch. The room with its large cluttered desk facing the porch has a wall of built-in bookcases full of special gifts, awards, and collectibles Jessi has arranged for him and his guests to gaze upon. Waylon fires up a Marlboro Light and lays out a fat line of cocaine. He sets his cigarette in an ashtray, picks up a four-inch piece of drinking straw and snorts his drug. Wheeling around in his leather high-back chair, he threads a tape on his reel-to-reel player. He presses “Play” and a mighty blast of music fills the room. From the piles of papers on his desk, he picks up a small pair of wire snips which he uses to cut the strings from a nearby acoustic guitar. As he begins the process of restringing his instrument, a male voice over his telephone intercom announces, “Marsha calling.” Waylon lays the guitar atop his desk, turns down the volume, and picks up the phone.
Scene 13: Burger Boy Drive-In
Through the neon-lit streets of West Nashville, Waylon drives his Cadillac with its spare tire in a “Continental Kit” mounted on the rear chrome bumper. He is smoking and has his front windows down. His long, dark hair is slicked-back greasy, indicating he has been awake, on a “roar,” for several days and has not bathed with more than a wash cloth. Showering has an unwanted tranquilizing effect on him. Two men with salon-styled long hair, ease a glistening black Mercedes to a stop beside him at a traffic light. They appear to be his age, around forty, and obviously know Waylon well enough for one of them to shout at him, “Hey Waymore, Jessi ain’t worried about you crusing in that pimp mobile?”
Waylon pretends a chuckle and shouts back, “Bradley, guys as ugly as you might oughta drive a car like this instead of that drug dealer ride.” The light turns green and the other man in the Mercedes shouts, “Buy some shampoo, ya greaser!” The cars drive in different directions.
The Burger Boy Drive-In is a classic American carhop diner from the fifties. The I.D. sign outside is large and ringed with pink and green neon. The sit-in diner seats a few dozen patrons, and the covered drive-in section out back has a menu with intercom speaker attached to a steel pole beside each of twenty parking spaces. Burger Boy has seen better days.
Waylon pulls into a rear parking space. Most of the outside lights are off and the place seems closed for business. In addition to his Caddy, there are several more parked and empty vehicles. He enters a back door, into a small room where he is greeted by old pals Kris Kristofferson, Shel Silverstein, and Tompall Glaser. Other Nashville characters: Cowboy Jack Clements, Roger “Captain Midnight” Schutt, “Funky” Donnie Fritts, Billy Joe Shaver, and assorted roadies, also crowd the room. Six pinball machines along one wall, an old jukebox, and a few tables with chairs fill most of the remaining space. The room is clouded with cigarette smoke and filled with the sounds of ricocheting pinballs, loud conversation, and George Jones on the jukebox. Tompall is drinking straight from a bottle of Jack Daniels Black Label and passing it to a chosen few. Most of the group is drinking bottled beer. Waylon walks to a glass front cooler and grabs a bottle of Dr. Pepper, then sits on a tall stool in front of an old pinball machine—the type with no flippers, flashing lights, and sound effects. Before he can start his game, Kristofferson approaches with a guy he introduces as Willis Alan Ramsey. Waylon compliments Ramsey’s songwriting and says he has a Ramsey tune in mind for an upcoming session. As Ramsey’s face spreads into a big smile, Kristofferson asks Waylon to recall the story of Johnny Cash taking a screwdriver to the glove box of a brand new Cadillac Waylon had purchased when he and Cash were sharing an apartment. Waylon would rather play pinball, so Kris recounts the scene which ends with Cash’s apology and question: “I’m sorry as hell, Waylon, but why did you lock the box if there was no drugs in it?” Several who have gathered to hear the story erupt in laughter. Waylon smiling, turns from his pinball game and adds, “Nobody could put on a better hangdog face than John Cash. I could never stay mad at that guy.”
One guy Waylon can stay mad at is his friend and business partner, Tompall Glaser, a successful singer and songwriter who is not experiencing the level of success Waylon and Willie are enjoying. Tompall, with his bottle of Jack Black and a handful of what looks like award documents, walks up to Waylon and announces the official formation of country music’s “Outlaw” movement. He places one of the letter-sized, fake parchment awards with Waylon’s name printed thereon, atop the pinball machine’s glass cover. Waylon does not tolerate drunks well, even when they are his friends, and he has never cared for the industry’s “Outlaw” merchandising label. He scolds Tompall in front of all within earshot: “That’s stupid, man! You’re taking the publicity way too seriously. Play your music and forget about that.” Tompall responds with an expression of chagrin, a soft “Fuck you.” and then picks up the award he has offered his friend. Waylon returns to his pinball game and in the din of Burger Boy’s back room, his eyes watch the silver ball move from top to bottom while his mind takes him other places in his past.
SCENE 14 – Brandy’s Apartment
Waylon opens his eyes to find himself in the apartment of Brandy, the blonde who was in the recording studio. Brandy is in her early twenties, tall, and very attractive. Waylon is stretched out on a sofa and seems not fully coherent. Marsha is mostly undressed and towering above him. He calls her name with a questioning tone, “Brandy?” He sits up and she sits on his lap, wrapping one arm around his neck. They kiss, then Waylon says he has to go, he’s leaving for Tulsa in a few hours.
SCENE 15 – Home with Jessi
Waylon’s Caddy cruises through the early dawn light and slows to turn onto a long, curving uphill driveway. His grand two-story Nashville mansion can be seen at the top of the hill. He parks behind the house and walks between a large pool and poolhouse to the home’s rear entrance. Entering through the kitchen, he opens a refrigerator door to see what’s inside.
“Hello, Hoss.” a soft voice greets him. He turns to find Jessi in her robe and smiling sweetly.
“Hey you.” he replies, closing the refrigerator door and moving to give her an embrace.
She detects a perfume scent and with her head turned against his chest, whispers “Someone’s had a hard day on the trail.” She takes his hand, leads him to the great room and his favorite resting chair, a Laz-E-Boy recliner. He rocks back and lets Jessi remove his boots and socks. From a table drawer next to the chair, she removes a bottle of lotion and begins to massage her husband’s feet. Jessi softly sings, “I Thought I Heard You Call My Name,” a sad country ballad.
SCENE 16 – CAIN’S BALLROOM/TULSA, OK.
Singing “I Thought I Heard You Call My Name,” Jessi is onstage at Cain’s Ballroom, the landmark honky-tonk nightclub in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She is lit by a single spotlight and seated at a black grand piano. The venue is sold out with nine hundred paid admissions. [Cain’s is the Oklahoma shrine where Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys brought their Texas Swing music to grateful Okies in the early 1930’s , and everybody who is anybody in country music still wants a turn on the sacred stage.] In front of Jessi, a hundred couples slow dance on the club’s large wooden dance floor. Surrounding the dance space are tables half-occupied with several hundred more patrons. A long bar with a customer on every stool stretches the length of one wall. The sound of a hundred conversations and random club noise gives Jessi’s music a classic live country ambience.
Backstage at Cain’s is almost outside. There are two rooms which adjoin a small bathroom. One room is for band members and doubles as storage space for bar supplies. The other room has a faded gold star on its door and is reserved for the headliner. This area is so crowded, backstage passes have little meaning.
Waylon is on the phone with Neil Reshen in New York. Things aren’t going well for the manager. Neil reports ties severed with Willie Nelson over an accounting dispute, and the threat of divorce by Neil’s wife, Sharon. The muted sound of Jessi’s performance provides an odd contrast to Waylon’s phone conversation, and the constant flow of people passing through his space. Waylon doesn’t want to be on the phone with Neil, but wants to express his own concern with the business problems that caused the split with Willie. Neil senses the tension and cuts Waylon off with a reminder of the fast success they have enjoyed together and the steady supply of stimulants Neil is able to deliver.
The boys are watching, IRS and DEA. I’m on a hotel phone and I know how to keep them off you. Understand? Our agreement is up for renegotiation in ninety days. You’re not happy with me, you can move on with my blessings.
Waylon tells Neil to idle down and deal with Sharon. He reminds Neil he warned him about two-timing a jealous wife. A knock on the dressing room door precedes the road manager Crank leaning his head inside to announce showtime in fifteen minutes. The roadie disappears and Waylon’s pal, Doctor Bob, enters with a wide-eyed young female in tow. Waylon ends his phone conversation with Neil by telling him it’s time to get on stage and earn the manager “some alimony bucks.” He wishes Sid “Good luck with that young thing that’s ending your marriage,” and hangs up. Waylon stands to get a hug from the young groupie in her Waylon t-shirt. He shakes Bob’s hand and invites the pair to sit while he visits the men’s room.
In the bathroom, with its tired porcelain toilet and sink, Waylon wipes the toilet’s tank cover with a wadded strip of toilet paper, then dumps a pile of cocaine on the white surface. On the wall, there are decades of graffiti commentary. Prominent among the scribblings, Waylon spots one of his song titles, “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?” He smiles, and from a small vest pocket, removes a credit card and a short drinking straw. He uses the card to divide the pile of coke into two long lines, then with the straw, snorts each up alternate nostrils.
Waylon wipes the residue from the tank top, then turns to look at himself in the aging mirror above the sink. He stares at almost forty years of life that started at a snail’s pace in West Texas and built to a frenzied pace over the past fifteen years. The sound of Jessi’s final applause mixes with his thought, then there’s the quiet before his band launches into a song on their own. A knock on the bathroom door is followed by roadie Crank shouting, “Five minutes, Chief.”
When he returns to the room with Dr. Bob and the groupie, Bob is holding the phone receiver to his chest and asks Waylon, “You here for Brandy?” Waylon grimaces and says “Shit, how’d she…?” He takes the phone from Bob and into the receiver says, “Talk fast. I’m on in five minutes.” He listens to Brandy, smiles at the groupie girl staring up at him, and accepts a prescription bottle of pills from Bob. He finds a pause in Brandy’s chatter and interrupts, “First off, I told you that guy is trouble, and second, they’re calling me. I gotta go play music. I’ll call you after the show. Bye.” Now, it’s music from the stage, playing a familiar one-two repetitive beat that has the crowd cheering and ready for Waylon. He tells Bob and his companion to join him again after the show, and strides out of the room and down the hall toward the stage. Before presenting himself to his audience, he swallows a few pills from the bottle Dr. Bob gave him. Waylon begins his song set at Cain’s with “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?”
Scene 17: Cowboy Bar/Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Waylon and his band, The Waylors, are once again playing, “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?” The Cowboy Bar in Jackson Hole, Wyoming is half the size of Cain’s in Tulsa, but oozes with genuine Old West atmosphere. A couple hundred locals and tourists pack the place for Waylon’s occasional shows. It’s standing room only and some folks pay a hundred bucks to get inside.
Waylon’s pedal steel guitarist, Ralph Mooney, a pioneer of the instrument since its beginnings in country music, seems a little out of sorts tonight. When the band slows down the pace and begins Waylon’s hit, “Amanda,” Ralph lays his head down atop his instrument and passes out. The audience cheers, Waylon smiles and speaks softly into his microphone, “The Moon has set.” The band never misses a beat. The cheers for Ralph Mooney continue as Waylon and his remaining five players finish the song “Are You Ready For The Country.” More applause at the song’s end causes Moon to regain consciousness and lift his head. Amid greater crowd noise, Moon stands and slowly leaves the stage. Over the shouts and cheers, Waylon announces, “Ralph Mooney!”, and gestures in Moon’s direction.
Here begins a MONTAGE of larger shows in other cities. Each is similar in size and set-up and reflects the sameness of life on the road. We see the band equipment and lighting that travels from city to city across the country, but we hear different songs from Waylon’s repertoire: “Ain’t Living Long Like This,” Honky Tonk Heroes,” etc. At a couple of venues, we see Willie Nelson walk from the wings and join Waylon on their hit duets, “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” “Good-Hearted Woman,” and “Luckenbach, Texas.” Mixed with the shows and the music are images of life backstage and in the matching hotels. The convoy of buses and semi trucks moves us across a changing landscape that leads to yet another matching venue. Only the marquees with their colored neon and flashing lights are different, with their block letters announcing “Waylon Jennings – SOLD OUT.” There is the endless procession of fans and deejays, and the characters—most wearing cowboy clothes, but some in neckties and others wearing the leather vests of Hell’s Angels.
SCENE 19 – Waylon’s Office
It is night in Nashville. Waylon is in his office, seated at his desk, cigarette in his mouth, with his arms cradling an acoustic guitar. He briefly hums a melody, then speaks to someone unseen, saying it’s best if he goes to a recording session alone because Jessi will probably be there. The person he is addressing is revealed to be Brandy. She is looking quite strung out as she rises from an armchair across the room and tells Waylon she is leaving town and may not return. She walks toward the door and he gets up to stop her. Leaning his guitar against the wall, he moves between her and the door and embraces her. He whispers in her ear, “You do what you gotta do, but if you don’t clean up your act, we don’t have a future.” She doesn’t respond, except to plant a kiss on his lips, then steps back from him and walks out the door. Waylon follows her down the stairs. She turns right and leaves via the front entrance. He stops to watch her disappear, then turns to exit through the back door. Outside, he is approached by Lori, his secretary, who hands him a courier envelope she identifies as “a peace offering from Neil.” He thanks her, then crosses a small parking lot and enters a side door on the old house-turned-recording studio next door. A canvas canopy indentifies the business as American Recording.
SCENE 20 – The Studio Bust
The setting is much like the last studio: an engineer and producer in a control booth behind glass which separates them from a studio filled with mics on stands, portable sound baffles, wires running in all directions, and a few musicians preparing to perform for the recording machine. Waylon is here to record vocal harmony for a track his friend, HANK WILLIAMS, JR. has previously recorded. For the added vocal track, Hank Jr. is in the booth as producer.
As Waylon listens to the recorded music through his earphones, he sees three men in jackets and ties enter the control booth. He cannot hear their words, but can tell they were not invited. The engineer stops the music and Hank Jr. presses the talkback button so Waylon can hear what’s being said in the booth. After a brief exchange between Junior and the agents, Waylon realizes these men have identified themselves as drug agents and they have tracked a package of drugs to this location. They don’t have a warrant, but one is being processed, and no one is allowed to leave the building. Hank Jr. adds that he has told them this session costs a couple hundred bucks an hour so they can sit tight while session continues. He tells the engineer to roll it again for Waylon and to “crank it up.”
As “All My Rowdy Friends” blasts over the powerful studio system, Waylon removes his latest cocaine shipment from the courier envelope. It is wrapped in newspaper. He is behind a music stand and cannot be seen by the narcs. They actually seem to be enjoying the music and chat from Hank Jr. Waylon tightly crushes the newspaper and its contents and discreetly tosses the suspect package behind a sound baffle next to the wall.
Waylon’s drummer, Richie, enters the studio and pretends to adjust the microphone in front of Waylon. He whispers, “Where is it?” and Waylon offers a glance in the direction he discarded the evidence. Richie offers a thumbs-up to Hank Jr. behind the glass and the loud music is stopped. While Hank and Waylon discuss the next take scheduled, Richie deftly retrieves the package and saunters out of the studio.
As the recording begins, only the sound of drumsticks and the drummer counting off the beat is heard. One of the agents thinks to check on Richie’s whereabouts and as he opens the door to the hallway, the sound of a flushing toilet can be heard. Richie is standing between the agent and the bathroom door. The other two agents join the first in a mad dash to the toilet. Richie acts surprised as he blocks their progress. Too late! The first agent shoves his hand into the swirling toilet water and is only able to retrieve a bit of soggy New York Times. All three agents turn with disgusted expressions on their faces to meet the “oh well” shrugs of Waylon, Hank Jr., and Richie. The lead agent announces, “Waylon Jennings, I’m placing you under arrest for possession and conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine.”
SCENE 21 – After the Bust/The Lawyer’s Office
The front page of The Nashville Banner on Wednesday, August 24th, 1977 reads: “Waylon Faces Federal Cocaine Charge.” Waylon’s high has reached a new low. He and manager Neil Reshen are seated beside each other in front of a large desk. They are the only two people in a plush wood-paneled office. There is a palpable silence which leads to Waylon demanding to know how this situation started. Neil swears this mess was caused by his over-eager assistant and while Neil was enjoying a long weekend with his mistress, cocaine was shipped without his knowledge. Waylon suggests the drug agents in New York were tipped off by Neil’s scorned and estranged spouse, but Neil does not respond to this accusation, instead assures Waylon the fed’s case was weakened when Richie flushed the Nashville evidence. Waylon is not placated. He is busted and wire services are announcing the news to the world. A large, bald-headed man in suit and tie enters the office and introduces himself as DALE ELDRIDGE. He tells Waylon and Neil that he doesn’t know much about country music, but he knows the law, and the feds have a flimsy case.
SCENE 22: After the bust
Waylon withdraws even more from his limited social scene, and passes more time alone in his office. He plays almost no recorded music, but can occasionally be heard softly strumming his acoustic guitar. [A hit tune, “Don’t Y’all Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out of Hand,” comes from this seclusion.]
Richie makes a brief attempt to suggest easing back on the coke. [Richie has battled his own overuse of recreational drugs, but like Willie Nelson, mainly smokes marijuana.] His suggestion that cutting back actually improves the high, does not impress Waylon.
SCENE 23: Broke Again
Neil’s corruption begins to unfold through bill collectors contacting the Nashville office. The IRS sends agents who threaten to seize the building and other assets. This action forces Neil to bring in two accountants from a local CPA firm. Miss Bilbrey and Miss Thigpen set up shop at 1117 17th Avenue, and begin a thorough daily audit of Waylon’s cash flow.
Uncle Sam doesn’t want to kill the golden goose. Neil assures Waylon that more shows will resolve the cash crunch. All revenue must be reported to the ladies monitoring business. T-shirt sales—a cash cow— have been funding much of his drug habit. How to pay for dope now becomes a challenge.
He also needs to end his relationship with Brandy who has graduated to shooting drugs and continues to hang out with junkies. But Brandy always arrives with the white powder and kisses for her superstar.
Scene 24: Singing for Uncle Sam
The stage becomes Waylon’s primary refuge from troubled times. To the fans, after his drug bust headlines splash across continents, he has become bigger than life. Even the old fans see cocaine as the country star’s trendy transition from pills to powder. Surely, stars as busy as Waylon deserve some immunity.
Coming off-stage after a show at the 1977 Kansas State Fair, Waylon is greeted by his Texas dentist-dealer, Dr. John. The two make their way to a dressing room and instruct chief roadie, Crank, to give them some privacy. The doc produces a baggie half full of cocaine powder which Waylon accepts with a smile. When Waylon dips his long, right thumbnail into the bag and proceeds to snort the drug, Dr. John tells him to sit down, there’s more bad news: Brandy is dead from a drug overdose in her Nashville apartment. Waylon is not surprised. All he can say is “Let’s get out of here.” and with a surrounding security escort, including a pair of Hell’s Angels, he and Dr.John are rushed to the star’s bus.
The routine and the monotony of the road is good for numbing the reality of death and a federal drug trial. Waylon’s bus is idling in the parking lot of a Bar-B-Que Drive-In when Crank calls him to speak with Neil on a payphone. Finally, some good news: drug charges have been dropped and prosecutor Hal Hardin’s eight-word statement for the court is “Waylon uses drugs, but he’s not a criminal.”
Scene 25: Down Home in Littlefield
The Jennings family annual picnic in Littlefield, Texas is attended by Waylon, Jessi, and his band members. As his fame has grown, so has the gathering. Several hundred people mix and mingle around a makeshift stage and dozens of food tables. Waylon is standing with his two brothers, Tommy and Bo, and several fans, reciting one of his favorite short jokes:
A man walks into a doctor’s office with a duck on his head.
The duck says, “Doc, can you get this man off my ass.”
Jessi arrives for the punch line and laughter. She wraps an arm around Waylon and whispers to him and his brothers, she’s pregnant.
Scene 26: Waylon Albright “Shooter” Jennings is born in Nashville
Shooter Jennings is born on May 19, 1979. Waylon, Jessi, and June Cash are playing spades on Jessi’s belly during the early contractions. Johnny Cash arrives just prior to delivery. Shooter’s birth, for his drug-addicted, forty-two year old megastar dad, begins a slow wake-up call.
That same year, Waylon is hired to write a theme song and provide voiceover narration for the new sitcom, Dukes of Hazzard. The television gig lasts until the popular show ends production in 1985.
Scene 27: Parting Ways With Maddog
Neil “Maddog” Reshen has managed to “manage” Waylon several years past the bust. The tangled web has finally become unwoven. When the long over-due split occurs, a final meeting with the man who once bragged, “We manage the unmanageable” goes down like this:
Y’know, when I first agreed to let you represent me,
I was broke and flat on my back in a hospital.
You helped me sell a lot of records and tickets to shows.
You became my dealer, and that’s where I fucked up.
(Neil attempts to comment, but Waylon won’t allow it.)
I was too stoned to see through the drugs. You
were cooking the books, not paying the bills.
(Neil wants to counter. Waylon shouts him down.)
Shut up and listen, ’cause you know it’s over between us.
There’s no way I snorted all the profits. Here I am, broke again.
I owe Lear Jet over a quarter of a million dollars. The IRS
threatened to padlock my office. I knew I should have quit you
when Willie did, but he didn’t have a thousand-dollar-a-day
coke habit like I did and still do.
Scene 28: New Manager with An Old Plan
In 1981, two million dollars in debt, Waylon hires as manager an old acquaintance in Hollywood, California, a theatrical agent named Bill Robinson whose main client is James Garner of Maverick fame.
Robinson is “a Waylon fan” with a basic plan: Waylon must slash payroll and all unnecessary assets related to business. He will get off the Lear jets and back on the bus to perform as many dates as physically possible. The cocaine budget is still an annual six-figure expense that will somehow have to be eliminated. Figuring out somehow, is a death-defying three years away.
Scene 29: Failing Health
Chest pains begin to manifest in 1982. [Recurring laryngitis caused by drugs and cigarettes, has already caused poor and canceled shows, and delayed recording sessions.] Shortness of breath and dizzy spells are making life an unpleasant proposition. Waylon knows he has to change his ways or cash in his chips. The final “straw” drops in ’83 when he walks into his Nashville bedroom and finds three-year-old Shooter holding a cut-off drinking straw. The little boy pretends to be daddy with a habit and a straw to his nose.
Scene 30: Cold Turkey in Arizona
End of March, 1984: Waylon, Jessi, and Shooter retreat to a rented house outside Phoenix. Waylon begins a 30-day solo detox. Before going cold turkey, he indulges in a day-long cocaine binge. In case he fails to kick his habit, he stashes $20,000.worth of the drug on his bus parked on the property. With Jessi and Shooter and a housekeeper who prepares his favorites meals and treats, he succeeds in surviving the painful withdrawal effects and knows he has finally conquered his addiction. Part of the celebration includes tossing the fall-back stash on the bus into a brisk Arizona breeze.
Scene 31: Big Bird and Cash for a Caddy
Waylon phones his manager, Bill Robinson, to accept the invitation from Sesame Street which includes singing on the show and a bit part in the feature film Follow That Bird. Before leaving Arizona, Waylon and Jessi relive one of his favorite childhood memories when they visit a local Cadillac dealer and pay $45,000 in one hundred dollar bills for a gold 1985 Seville. After entertaining a gathering crowd on the showroom floor by pulling all 450 bills from Jessi’s bra, Waylon tells the onlookers that as a kid he saw a bootlegger in Littlefield pay cash from his girlfriend’s brassiere for a Caddy.
Scene 32: The Highwaymen
A brilliant collaboration takes place in December of 1984 in Montreaux, Switzerland. Johnny Cash invites Waylon, Willie and Kris Kristofferson to join him there for an annual Cash Family & Friends television special. The four stars enjoy the gathering and music so much they decide to record an album together. What happens next results in three albums and multiple international tours featuring the four country music giants know collectively as the Highwaymen.
Scene 33: The Quad By-Pass
The recurring chest pains finally slow Waylon down enough to get him hospitalized. His surgeon performs a quadruple by-pass. Waylon wakes post-op to find Johnny Cash smiling at him. The old friends exchange sarcastic remarks, including one about Cash’s unhealthy look. A physician examines Cash and determines the star is also in the early stages of cardiac arrest. Before leaving Nashville Baptist, he is checked in to the room next to Waylon’s and undergoes his own bypass surgery.
Scene 34: Sweet Home Arizona
Waylon and Jessi realize the life as country stars in Nashville is fading with the arrival of a younger crowd. They don’t want to be part of the bus tour stops that carry the silver-topper fans past the homes of yesterday’s stars. They both regard southern Arizona as their first home, and schedule the movers for the long haul west to Chandler, just south of Phoenix.
Scene 35: Just In Time for the Hall of Fame
In the living room of his Chandler spread, Waylon sits, worn out and very thin. His son Buddy, now 41, is receiving instructions for a trip to Nashville where he will stand in for his dad at the CMA Hall of Fame induction ceremony. This scene intercuts Buddy’s nervous note reading in front of the CMA invited, an Waylon in a wheelchair being rolled into a Phoenix hospital.
Scene 36: Mesa Arizona Cemetery
The same cemetery from Scene One. This time, the ’85 gold Seville drives slowly to Waylon’s gravesite. The Cadillac stops and Jessi steps out with flowers. Cue Waylon’s “I’ve Got A Couple More Years On You”