Waylon Jennings’ Family Celebrates the ‘Music Inside’
One of Waylon Jennings' most beloved songs is 'Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?' Fans may be asking 'Are You Sure Waylon Done It This Way?' as a new tribute album, 'The Music Inside, Vol. 1, A Collaboration Dedicated to Waylon Jennings,' hits stores today (February 8). The answer would be a resounding "Yes!" Those involved with the album would no doubt get a nod of approval from the late singer-songwriter, who together with a handful of other outside-the-mainstream artists unwittingly created country music's Outlaw movement of the 1970s.
Many of the artists on the tribute project, which will encompass three albums released over the next year, are setting their own standards in music today. Jamey Johnson, Randy Houser, Sunny Sweeney, James Otto and Waylon's son, Shooter Jennings, are relative newcomers who have risen together in the ranks, while folks such as John Hiatt, Kris Kristofferson,Trace Adkins, Jessi Colter (Waylon's widow, pictured with him above) and supergroup Alabama have blazed trails of their own in country and Americana music.
The core of the release can be attributed to Jessi, Shooter and the man who came to them with the idea for the project -- Witt Stewart. Stewart grew up in Lubbock, Texas, which is the same area where Waylon grew to love music and started to play and develop his sound. The spark for the album happened when Witt went home to take care of his mother for about two years, and had time to reflect on his own love of music that developed in that same area.
"I was in Lubbock, in the same house I was raised in, and I started to reflect on my childhood," Witt tells The Boot. "Then I went over to Lleveland to South Plains College, where there is an area dedicated to Waylon because he did a benefit concert for the college. About that time, I saw the Johnny Cash movie ['Walk the Line'], and I just started thinking it was about time for someone to shine the light on Waylon. To me, Waylon was the guy, so I decided to go to Jessi and do something to shine the light on him."
It took about nine months for the two to get together, but once Jessi heard Witt's enthusiasm and understood that he was passionate about the project, she agreed to come onboard. Plus Witt wouldn't take no for an answer.
"I knew what he was bringing to the table was something we hadn't been part of before, and that was his experience and past history with technology," Jessi tells The Boot. "He was building Scattertunes, which is a great website where you download and get your music. His offer of what he was going to pay the artists and how he was going to treat them was impressive, and I thought it was beginning to make sense. Then, when he told me the song he wanted to start with, I knew I had better listen. I knew in my spirit that there was something going to come along, I just didn't know what or when."
The song Witt proposed to cut first was one of Jessi's compositions, 'Mama.' Witt had read a story in which Waylon commented on the song, and how it had never attained the popularity he thought it should. Witt figured it would be an appropriate first cut for the tribute.
"The song was off my spiritual album," Jessi explains. "It is about my mother, who was an incredible minister and a true woman of God. Her faith was so alive. She operated in the New Testament experience, and I was raised that way."
Jessi's mom heard the song after Jessi cut her original version. She passed away just a year later. "It was part of what her prayer was for me," Jessi notes of the song. "I had left my faith for about 10 years, and the fact she got to hear me sing a song I wrote about God was more to me than my career continuing. The record company wouldn't back me on the spiritual album, which was something Waylon was afraid of when I wanted to do it. But it's OK, I continued with my music and still am involved in working on a couple new albums. So, it's a good time for me right now."
Shooter wasn't too sure about the album either, admitting that he's pretty jaded when it comes to the music business. "I wanted to know what Witt was going to accomplish," Shooter tells The Boot. "He absolutely came in and not only had a dream, but he did a wonderful job. I couldn't be more proud and more shocked at what he has done. The thing that struck me while he was doing the album was that here we have these new guys like Jamey and Randy and Sunny, and they are part of a whole crop of artists who have been influenced by my dad's music since that first tribute album we did in 2003. That just goes to show you the strength of his work."
Shooter cut Waylon's 'Belle of the Ball,' which Jessi says was Waylon's favorite song. "I'm never one to assume, so I asked him what the song was about," says Jessi. "It's such a romantic song, and so beautiful. He told me it was about the music business, and when you think of that phrase, 'at the feet of the lady are lovers without any names,' you understand what he's saying. There are all these people and we don't have a whole lot of originality going on, and that's what it is about."
Shooter acknowledges that there have been other albums dedicated to his dad's music, noting, "They were great tributes to his legacy. But this one has been a true passion project for a lot of artists and friends who truly wanted to remember and give back to the wonderful man he was. Also, in the years since my dad passed away, I've grown as an artist and I feel this is the first time I've been able to give back truly to the man who inspired, influenced and nurtured me and my musical passion."
Despite his growth, Shooter says he can't listen to his cut on the CD because it's his least favorite track. "I was so nervous when I was recording it. I have an instrumental version I love, but I won't listen to the vocals."
One of the songs on the album, 'Rose in Paradise,' is the first song of his dad's that Shooter recorded. As he recalls, he was 13 or 14 at the time, and he cut an industrial version of the tune to send to his dad, who was in Singapore on tour.
"That was the first time he ever heard me sing," Shooter recalls with a laugh.
While Jessi tries to stay aware of what's going on in music these days, she admits that some of the singers Witt wanted on the album were new to her.
"I keep up with the music but I don't watch videos and things like that," she says. "I'll go visit the concerts, and people are so wonderful to me. When Jamey was asked to be on the album, he was barely getting his notice. I was not familiar with Josh Thompson or Justin Moore. I had met James Otto in Phoenix, when he was performing at something a friend of mine was doing. He sang 'Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit Has Done Got Out of Hand,' and I was thinking my friend had found a real winner. Then within a year he had a hit of his own with 'Just Got Started Lovin' You.'"
On the album, James does the song Jessi first heard him sing, and she says he did it just right. "He sang it so straight-ahead, I just love it," she offers.
As for Waylon, Jessi says the song's lyrics show her husband's tremendous sense of humor. "There he was, being accused of having drugs, bringing them in, which he had not done," she explains of the incident that occurred during the heyday of the Outlaw movement, when Waylon, Willie Nelson, Tompall Glaser and others were having hit after hit. A group of them were in the studio when police showed up looking for drugs.
"It was a very strange event," Jessi recalls. "He was there with the police, and he finally just said, 'Don't you think this outlaw bit has gotten out of hand?' The police watch you for two years after an incident like that, so he decided to write the song and just make a joke out of it, which was just like him. He loved singing that song!"
Another track on the first album features Jessi in a duet on 'Good Hearted Woman' with newcomer Sunny Sweeney, a huge fan of Waylon's. "In fact, the first time I met her she had on a Waylon t-shirt. She was just wearing it because she had no idea we were going to be introduced that day," Jessi recalls.
"The artists made the songs their own, and that is what Waylon would have wanted."
'The Music Inside, Vol. 1' is in stores today (February 8). Listen to the album, track-by-track, here. Artists and release dates for the other two albums will be announced in the near future.