15 Years Ago: Waylon Jennings Dies in Arizona
Fifteen years ago today (Feb. 13, 2002) was a sad day in country music: It was on that date that Waylon Jennings passed away, from complications from diabetes. He was 64 years old.
Jennings was born near Littlefield, Texas, and inherited his love of music from his mother. When he was eight years old, he began playing the guitar, and by the time he was 12, Jennings had his own weekly radio show on local station KVOW. At age 16, Jennings dropped out of school and took a series of odd jobs while focusing on his music career. He began working as a DJ for KVOW, where he also performed on air.
After switching to KDAV in Lubbock, Texas, Jennings met Buddy Holly; the two began working together, and Holly invited Jennings to join his band for his Winter Dance Party Tour. When Holly was killed in a plane crash while on the Winter Dance Party Tour — on a flight that was originally supposed to include Jennings as well — Jennings continued the tour, filling in as the lead singer in Holly’s place.
In 1965, thanks to help from Bobby Bare and Willie Nelson, Jennings signed with RCA Victor, headed by Chet Atkins. The following year, Jennings released his first album on RCA Victor, Folk-Country. The record spawned two singles, including “Stop the World (and Let Me Off),” which landed in the Top 20.
Jennings and Nelson are credited with helping start the outlaw movement in country music, which changed the sound and style of the entire genre. Jennings released 45 studio albums throughout his career, with 20 of them landing in the Top 10. He also had numerous chart-topping hits, including “I’m a Ramblin’ Man,” “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” and “Theme From the Dukes of Hazzard (Good ‘Ol Boys).”
While Jennings enjoyed one of the most successful careers in the history of country music, his personal life remained a struggle. He had a well-documented and lengthy battle with addiction, first to amphetamines, followed by cocaine. Although the singer later went to rehab to get clean, he remained an avid cigarette smoker until 1988.
In October of 2001, Jennings was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Two months later, the tunesmith, who also battled diabetes, had his left foot amputated.
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