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Wednesday
Feb132008

only daddy that’ll walk the line… waymore’s waygone blues

Waymore's Now Waygone Blues When the news that Waylon Jennings was gone broke, I was on my back -- pretending like every muscle in my trunk wasn't throbbing from a particularly virulent strain of the flu that'd knocked the life right out of me. Waylon Jennings -- a real true bona fide rebel, a musical gunslinger, a hard-ridin' beater of odds who lived just outside the law.

Waylon Jennings, one of the first people to make me think of country music as something dangerous, something hard, something that truly packed the intensity of rock and roll. Someone sent me an e-mail noting that "it seems the candle that burns brightest burns out twice as fast."

Maybe. But Waylon Jennings most likely packed just as much, no way more, living in his time on earth than many who attain grand old ages. Fearlessly chasing the night, the songs, the loves, the passions, the wild times, whatever else made sense, Waylon Jennings emerged from the wings of Buddy Holly to become first an edgy mainstream country star -- and then a cornerstone of the "outlaw" movement.

But that's history… and while honoring the facts and the wherefroms is important, it sells Waylon Jennings out pretty short. For Waylon Jennings was about the blaze. Whether it was the way they came down hard on the beat as the bass bounced up and down on Rodney Crowell's "Ain't Living Long Like This" or leaned into the thumpety-thump of the back lounge on bad road in his own piano-plunking, rubbery-bass query about the Silver Eagle bus side of life "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way," it was always about the intensity of the truth, the moment, the build-up.

Growing up a rock & roll girl in Cleveland, country music was about as appealing as a cold shower. Braying, hick-ish, doubleknit leisure suits and white pleather boots -- oh, yeah, baby! I don't think so. Though there were these golf pros, and they were, well, Southern and they did like country music. And so in the name of trolling bars as a young looking 13- and 14-year old, I feigned interest.

And then Waylon Jennings set me free. See, there was a phonky cool bar called Peabody's, which set their bands up in this cavernous basement with an upstairs that let patrons as interested in music as they were the opposite sex play both ends against the middle. One of the regulars was a scrappy local band that went by Deadly Earnest and the Honky Tonk Heros, whose fearless leader understood it wasn't even a hair that separated Waylon from the Stones -- and he would swing from a ripe'n'juicy "It's All Over Now" right into the aforementioned "Ain't Living Long."

It was a couple months before I made the connection. Then there, at Record Theatre all the way out Mayfield Road, I saw him finally. Waylon Jennings, soaked in sweat, black leather vest, hand-tooled guitar, peril and perspiration flying from every pore. I knew this was the kinda guy girls like me weren't supposed to bring home. And I liked what I saw in that same fearful-yet-moth-pulled-to-a-flame-way kids do.

Waylon Jennings. Even the name was perfect. A randy, rowdy howler committed to bearing witness to his side of the tracks. Wild-eyed, wilder-living, there weren't nothing he was afraid of -- and that fearlessness let him swing full-tilt and hard into shuffles and ballads.
When Waylon launched into Neil Young's "Are You Ready For The Country," it was almost a challenge, a line drawn, a gauntlet thrown down. Most importantly, it came off as a query about being man enough to walk the line. And as everyone knows from Waylon's earliest days, he was "The Only Daddy That'll Walk The Line."

"Only Daddy," another Deadly Earnest chestnut I cut my teeth on. It's a killer song of fiesty fidelity from a man whose woman ain't quite getting her man his props -- and while many have suited up to lean into this bad boy, ole Waylon had long ago retired the jersey. In his salt-soaked leather lungs, it's a warning and a pledge and a caution and the kind of aggression that makes making up the best part of getting sideways in the first place.

Waylon Jennings. Lady killer. Not that I got that. At least not back then. But he was a handsome devil, dripping desperation, black eyes flashing, guitar low slung on his hips -- drawing the gaze right to the heart of the matter.

Heck, Waylon remains the only hillbilly singer with his own passage in Pamela Des Barres' golden age groupie memoir I'm With the Band. If you figure Miss Pamela (as she was known during the rein of the GTOs [Frank Zappa's loosely organized band of pretties Girls Together Outrageously]) was a source of solace to Gram Parsons, a consort of Jimmy Page, and a companion to just about every other rock name that mattered, you realize what a long shadow Jennings cast in that world.

Not that it was about sex. Coupling was a by-product. Living fast and feeling the depths of the moment were the raison d'etre… and telling those stuck-on-themselves-city-people how it was was a pretty strong back-up. Not much impressed Waylon Jennings, which is probably why when he was on, it was a complete immersion -- and consequently he "never did toe the mark and I never did walk the line" as he sung on the refrain of the aptly-titled "Never Could Toe The Mark."

And he wasn't shy about dipping in the barrel of other influences. He'd work Jimmie Rodgers "T. For Texas" into a lather that rivaled Lynyrd Skynyrd's -- and took Albert Collins/(Little) Richard Penniman's "Lucille (You Won't Do Your Daddy's Will)" all the way as both a lament and a frantic frenetic caution. And then there's Okie bluesrat J J Cale who gets the full-on Waylon treatment on his "Clyde"

Indeed, the swarthy, solidly built country singer could bring a ballad to a boil, and make his wistful moments the bittersweet wine people steeped in on the lost nights in lonely bars with beer signs as offertory candles and stale cigarettes as their incense lit to the god of broken hearts, unfinished dreams and memories that on their best nights serve to build bridges to whatever future might be carved out. Waylon Jennings, patron saint of the kickers and the losers and the biker angels, looking for something more at the end of the jukebox's rainbow - and most times coming up a little short, but ultimately with dignity in tact.

To hear Waylon surrender to the brooders' waltz "Dreaming My Dreams With You," a prayer to what might have been evolves into a strength and a conviction that life will do more than just go on. It's not merely about the pain rolling by, but learning to love the moments for what they were -- even if part of the is is "gone." There's a dignity to his admission "I'd rather believe in love/ I've given away as much as I can/ The things that I'm fondest of…" which elevates the ache into something that can deliver and refit a barren soul looking for hydration.
That was one of Waylon's greatest gifts. As bad ass as he was -- take thatKid Rock -- there was a tenderness at the bone. For it's always the toughest guys who're capable of the greatest vulnerability. Let no man mess with the original hardcore hillbilly, not just because they'd be leveled, but because they'd be forced to confront their own emotional stillbornness. And that's a pretty chilling place to be.

In songs like Jennings' "Shine" and Jessie Colter - the woman credited with saving Jennings' life -'s "Storms Never Last," it is the deliverance and redemption that leads. Waylon Jennings had seen, done, snorted and drunk it all -- at least six times over. He chased the night, fought the morning, lived in the present and left the past in the dust.

When the dust settled, Waylon Jennings realized it wasn't the high-timing that mattered, the painted ladies and snuff queens who would be there. Songs were constant companions, Miss Jessie was a woman who would stand by her man, the road would truly go on forever -- and there was much to be savored.

Waylon learned to like vegetables and made friends with an exercycle. He never bought into the Music Row follies -- declining to attend his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame -- and he always found a way to carve out his very own special niche.

Today there was another e-mail, remembering a lunch that had been shared at his home outside Nashville -- talking about an insurgent trying to make peace with a quieter, more balanced place in the world. It was a warm, gentle e-mail… one that fit the man he was becoming.

Which may be the ultimate act of sedition: finding a way to escape the stereotype and live a life that might seem the antithesis. Of course once you've lived the dream, how many times can one repeat? And what happens whenone realizes that the rock and roll fantasy is an empty shell of not too much of anything but cheap thrills and worn-off lipstick?

Twenty some years ago, an underage kid in a pink buttondown sat under a staircase watching a band. She didn't quite understand what she was hearing, just that she liked it -- and she wanted to know more. When Deadly Earnest and his merry men swung into "Bob Wills Is Still The King," it wasn't celebrating a style of music so much as a man who found his own beat...
Though I couldn't have understood the lengths Waylon Jennings charged from the gate, he rocked hard -- and that was more than enough. When the clerk finally explained the sweaty man I sought was a country singer, my brow knit. But I didn't care. I'd heard the way it hit the wall, and I wanted to do that, too.

Who knew all these years later, I'd be in Nashville, Tennessee, sorting through too many memories, feeling too many different emotions all at once? Crying and smiling at the notion that a man who would supply the narrative for the dreadful "Dukes of Hazard," would also be the one to break down everything I ever thought about country music… things that just seemed sorta backwater and embarrassing.

I can't be sure Hank did it that way, but I know for sure Waylon Jennings kept it real, kept it rocking, kept it right where it oughta be. Upstairs, you know he's probably raising hell over the whole chiffon-gown-tilted-halo-and-a-golden-harp thing.

Down here, amongst us mere mortals, it's a much simpler deal. We finally, unequivocally have an answer to the song's title. "Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit's Done Got Out Of Hand?" Absolutely, positively no. Not even close.

As long as people suck longnecks, dance shuffles, shoot out the neon and seek comfort in the dim light of a local tavern, there will always be outlaws. Maybe not as full-tilt and full-throttle, but then again, who knows just how ole Waylon's coming back?

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