“I’ve always been crazy– but it’s kept me from going insane.”

–Waylon Jennings


No one personified the hard-living, honky tonk, maverick life as much as Waylon Jennings did. Born in Littlefield, Texas, in 1937, he played bass with rock-and-roll legend Buddy Holly in the 1950s, roomed and misbehaved with Johnny Cash in the 1960s, and had dozens of top-ten hits along the way—including 1978’s “Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.” But it was as an “Outlaw” that Waylon made his biggest contribution. Along with co-conspirators Willie Nelson, Tompall Glaser, Billy Joe Shaver, and others, the Outlaws streamlined arrangements, eschewed clichéd lyrics, and modernized country music by looking back to its soulful roots and mixing in a shot of rock-and-roll.  Waylon Jennings, Performance Center, Cambridge, MA, 1976  –Image by Henry Horenstein


Circa 1974, College Station, TX — Willie Nelson thrills a young crowd 40,000 strong as he opens his ‘July 4th Picnic’ in College Station, Texas. Crowds of over 150,000 were expected during the three day weekend music fest. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS


Circa 1969, Cummins, Arkansas — Singer Johnny Cash as he chats with some of the inmates and guests during his visit to Cummins Prison in Arkansas.  April 10, 1969. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS


Circa 1972 — Kris Kristofferson & Karen Black (she starred in the iconic films– Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, The Great Gatsby, The Day of the Locust, and Nashville). — Image by © John Springer Collection/CORBIS


Circa 1975, Boston, MA — Jerry Lee Lewis a.k.a. “The Killer” is in the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame, but his roots are deep country and his life pure soap opera. He set his stage piano on fire, married his thirteen-year-old cousin, and endured health problems and family tragedies. The story was told in 1989’s Great Balls of Fire with Dennis Quaid as The Killer. After his rock career died, Lewis was a constant presence on the country chart in the 1960s and 1970s. — Image by © Henry Horenstein/Corbis


Circa 1970, North Hollywood, CA — Waylon Jennings Performing at the Palomino Club — Image by © Michael Ochs Archives/Corbis


Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings on the verge of starting something big, at the Bull Creek Party Barn, Austin, Texas, 1975.  –Image by Scott Newton. 


The rugged profile of the legendary Man in Black — Johnny Cash


Willie Nelson signs an autograph for a young admirer.


Circa 1981, Las Vegas — Singer/songwriter/actor/heartthrob Kris Kristofferson with his Strat on his lap. — Image by © Douglas Kirkland/CORBIS


“Billy Joe Shaver may be the best songwriter alive today”  –Willie Nelson


9/15/1976 — Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash perform a duet on “The Johnny Cash Show.” –Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS


Epic shot of Outlaw Country music legend Waylon Jennings



Waylon Jenning & Johnny Cash back in 1974


Circa 1970s– Music legend Johnny Cash –Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS


Circa 1978, New York, NY — Country-Western stars Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings celebrate at a party at the Rainbow Room in honor of their new album, “Waylon and Willie.” — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS


Johnny Cash playing San Quentin Prison. That is truly a bare-bones band set-up. Checkout the anemic lookin’ drum rig.


Circa 1981 — Kris Kristofferson Pounding a Punching Bag. — Image by © Douglas Kirkland/CORBIS


Circa 1985, Champaign, Illinois– Singer-songwriters Neil Young, Willie Nelson, and John Mellencamp stand together on stage at Farm Aid. –Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS


Circa 1958, London — Jerry Lee Lewis, the American rock and roll singer and pianist. — Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS


Waylon Jennings & Johnny Cash performing live.  I love Waylon’s ol’ custom Fender Tele.  Epic.


Circa 1976, Dallas, TX– Country music legend Willie Nelson –Image by © Philip Gould/CORBIS


Original caption: 5/26/1958-London, England- It was confirmed today by Mr. J.W. Brown, who is the thirty one year old father of Myra, the child bride of the Rock & Roll singer Jerry lee Lewis, who is appearing in this country, that she is only 13 years old and not 15 as was stated when they first arrived in Britain. Mr. Brown, a bass player in the Jerry Lee Lewis Group touring in this country, said he did not know about the wedding when it happened, but that she is know married with his permission. Lewis is shown walking out of the Westbury Hotel where he is staying during his visit to London. — Image by © Bettmann/Corbis


1970s, New York, NY — Willie Nelson performing on “Saturday Night Live” — Image by © Owen Franken/Corbis


Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison.


Circa 1958– Standing atop a piano, rock ‘n’ roll singer Jerry Lee Lewis gives an enthusiastic performance at the Cafe de Paris in New York City. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS


A handsome young Willie Nelson, sans his signature scruff and ponytail.


Circa 1971– Kris Kristofferson, posing shirtless for his female fans. –Image by © Condé Nast Archive/Corbis


Circa 1973, Reed Ferry, New Hampshire– Hank Williams Jr., son of Hank Williams Sr., was already a seasoned performer when he first played on the Grand Ole Opry at age 13.  A few years later Hank Jr. recorded “Standing in the Shadow (of a Very Famous Man).”  However Junior proved to have considerable staying power as a singer, songwriter, and entertainer.  He has had dozens of hit records melding honky tonk with Southern rock. –Image by © Henry Horenstein/Corbis


Mid 1950s, Texas– A young Willie Nelson is second from the left. — Image by © Michael Ochs Archives/Corbis


Billy Joe Shaver


From Billy Joe Shaver’s “Honky Tonk Hero: An Autobiography”–

“I was not even born yet when my father first tried to kill me.

It was June and the evening light had started to fade, but it was still hotter than nine kinds of hell. We were outside of Corsicana, a little cotton town in northeast Texas, and I was in my mother’s belly, two months from entering the world.

Buddy Shaver was convinced that my mother, Victory, was cheating on him. That was bullshit, and he probably knew it. But he’d been drinking. My father was half-French, half-Blackfoot Sioux, and one-hundred-percent mean. He drank a lot, and the booze didn’t mix well with his Indian blood. You know there are some guys who are just born naturally strong, with big shoulders and a chiseled upper body even though they never work a lick at it? That was my father, and my mother didn’t have a chance.

It’s just a story I’ve heard, told by family members who don’t enjoy the retelling. But I can see it as clearly as if I was there. They were standing next to a small stock tank with black, still water. It was the middle of nowhere, with no roads or houses in sight. Who knows what he told her to get her out there, or whether she knew what was coming when they stopped there? He held nothing back, yet his cold gray eyes showed no emotion as he beat her within an inch of her life. When she was down, he stomped her with his cowboy boots until she stopped struggling. Then he tossed her limp body into the water like a sack of potatoes. Years later, when I was a grown man, my momma couldn’t stand to be around me when I wore cowboy boots— she never could forget what they did to her that night.

Momma laid there for hours until an old Mexican man showed up to water his cattle. Even though he knew my kinfolk pretty well, he didn’t recognize her at first. He thought she was dead. But she spoke to him through the bruises and the blood, and he threw her over the back of his horse and carried her home.

The violence of that night set the stage for my childhood: It’s the reason my father left, it’s the reason my mother didn’t want me, and it’s the reason I went to live with my loving grandmother. In many ways, I think that night is the reason I write country songs.

When you get right down to it, country music is essentially the blues, and that night introduced me to the blues. In the years since then, they’ve never left me. I’ve lost parts of three fingers, broke my back, suffered a heart attack and a quadruple bypass, had a steel plate put in my neck and 136 stitches in my head, fought drugs and booze, spent the money I had, and buried my wife, son, and mother in the span of one year.

But I’m not here to complain or ask for pity. Life is hard for everybody, just in different ways. I’m not proud of my misfortune— I’m proud of my survival. For years, my family kept a bundle of life insurance on me because they were sure I would be the first to go. But as I write this, at sixty-four years of age, I’m still here and they are all gone.

The question is— why?  That’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

Throughout my career as a songwriter, I’ve just written songs about me— the good and the bad, the funny and the sad. I’ve written songs about other people, but I don’t sing other people’s songs. They’re just little poems about my life, and I’ve never pretended they were anything more. Despite all my ups and downs, I’ve never been to therapy or rehab or any of that stuff. The songs are my therapy.

But after my shows, people always come up to me and thank me for writing those songs. They tell me about their lives, and how a song of mine helped them through a tough patch or made them smile during a difficult time. Sometimes they say I inspired them— that if I can make it through my life, they can damn sure get through theirs. When we’re done talking, I give them a hug and tell them I love them. I know exactly where they are coming from.

My point is, it’s truly a miracle I survived that night by that stock tank, and I don’t mean that the way most people say it— like it’s a lucky break. I think God allowed me to live. He wanted me to tell my story.”

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  1. so great. This is what it’s all about. Check Kris out he’s so Hollywood compared to the other guys. One question why no Merle Haggard?

    • There’s a cool pic of Merle in the Nudie post. Surprisingly, there ain’t a ton of great pics of Merle floatin’ around. His PR people should be strung up by their heels.


      • Merle has gotten a bit reclusive in his older age. Actually I’m not so sure it’s a new thing, he may have been that way his whole life. I got a friend that was working on a documentary on him and he said getting interviews with him was like pulling teeth. Another friend went to do a photoshoot with him and was also telling me about how paranoid he is.

  2. I grew up with my parents listening to all of these guys.

    I remember in the early years, Willie played at a nearby dance hall in Schroeder, Texas. My mom & dad went and when they got home that evening Mom said, “I like that Willie – but his music is sure hard to dance to.”

    My other fond memory is a summer vacation that Dad played “Wanted, The Outlaws” over and over. Jessi Colter even got in on the act with Lookin For Blue Eyes.

    Great memories, great post!

  3. Hey. this. was. awesome.
    but, i was kinda disappointed to see no pics of the Highwaymen from the mid 80’s.
    But still, fantastic article, and as always, epic shots. Thanks!

    • I agree- I’m also disappointed how bad the photos of The Highwaymen are back then. The best example is Jim McGuire’s and even that one… well, it may be the best. Still digging.

  4. Thank you for a splendid morning read.
    Add George and Waylon and Johnny Paycheck to this pantheon; and you’ve got the reason that country once mattered.
    Billy Joe Shaver’s got chunks of modern CMA winners in his stool. 🙂

      • Glad someone else mentioned Paycheck, a genuine contemporary of the outlaw movement. And maybe the wildest mother in the bunch.

        As for that quote at the top of the post, the correct wording is “I’ve always been crazy….” A very different intention and tone when heard that way.

  5. GOD do people sleep on Jerry Lee Lewis!

    His music is so freakin cool and one of the only white rock N roll singers that I would put up against someone like say Chuck Berry. Did you see him at the most recent Rock n Roll Hall of Fame induction concert? God, that guy is hanging on a still killin it.

    I wish I could see him in concert.

  6. JP, I check your page every day man, Top Marks! you are one cool cat!

    I’ve been lucky enough to see the killer play a few times…most memorable show was in the early 90’s on Beal St. (with James Burton !!! on guitar) JLL kicked the bench out from behind him and everything. Same road trip, I visited JLL’s ranch in Nesbit (you could pay for a tour at the time) and had the man personally sign a 1957 tops trading card for me. No crowd, just me and my girl at the time.

    BTW, dont sleep on Kris. The man looks polished but has gone toe to toe with the best of em’. Another true and lliving legend.


  7. “Willie Nelson’s trusty nylon strung acoustic axe– Trigger.  He’s sure ’nuff played the stew out of it.”

    – great photo. it was shot by Mike Schreiber.

  8. Good stuff. This is the very reason I’ve held on to my original “Remember Me? I Was At Willy Nelson’s Fourth Of July Picnic ’76” bumper sticker for so long. And it’s gonna go on the bumper of my outlaw-country ’73 F250 longbed as soon as the CB gets hooked up.

  9. I second the motion of adding Johnny Paycheck and Merle, but that’s just nitpicking an already awesome post. These guys are what country music is supposed to be about. None of that pop country beach cowboy cut off t-shirt fake patriot pro-ignorance shit that comes out now. I always look to Hank III and his lot for new country worth hearing, old traditions never die, they just don’t get the pop chart numbers sometimes.

  10. Always liked their vibe as exemplified by the classic lyrics “Got my name painted on my shirt, ain’t no ordinary guy I don’t have to work, I don’t have to work…” but man, did they ever work!

  11. Willie Nelson’s photo makes me smile.

    Jerry Lee Lewis is such a bad boy I actually really like his cover of Ray’s “What’d I Say.” And while Jerry’s definitely one of the first, and still baddest, bad boys of rock and roll, I feel that Gene Vincent deserves some credit too. Aside from being arrested merely for performing some of his songs, he did originate the “leather jacket” image for rock, after all.

    Great post!


  13. I feel kinda lucky in one sense but pissed I didn’t take better advantage of it, but I used to hang out at Waylon’s house before him and Jessi moved out to Arizona permanently. One of my exes was friends with Shooter and my first date with her was at his house in Nashville. It was weird pulling into the drive and walking around to the pool house where they were hanging out and passing a General Lee in the driveway. One day I went over to meet up with Shooter and walked into the living room looking for him and Waylon was sitting there watching TV. I just said hi and he said, “you looking for Shooter?” Then he told me he was in the pool house. That was the extent of our conversation. Oh well. He wasn’t around much. Got to meet Jessi a few times…she is an absolute saint.

  14. Does anyone know where I could find a print of that photo of Johnny Cash at the prison in Arkansas? I love that shot and have never seen it before…

  15. achem… ok soooo what has two thumbs and *hearts* billy joe shaver ……
    this girl….
    thanks for including him…he def. belongs on the list… 🙂

    i thought you were pretty darn cool before this post now i think… youre prob my publicist…in which case call me next week 😉

  16. The uncredited photo of Waylon Jennings captioned “Epic shot of Outlaw Country music legend Waylon Jennings” was taken backstage at the Armadillo World Headquarters on December 1st, 1972. The date, perspective, and quality of the photo suggest it was taken by renowned Austin photographer Burton Wilson, who was house photographer at AWHQ during its reign as Austin’s premier music venue, and birthplace of the “cosmic cowboy” scene.

    Burton has published two collections of his photos, covering everyone from the then-unknown and now-revered blues legend Big Joe Williams to a pensive, more thoughtful Janis Joplin than anyone’s ever seen, and a baby-faced Bruce Springsteen on his first big concert tour through Texas. The books are well worth tracking down, if you can find ’em.

    I have no dog in this hunt outside the fact that I’ve known Burton for over a decade, and would like to see the man get his due.

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