The original outlaw, Waylon Jennings made his mark on Country Music. 

Born June 15, 1937, Waylon Jennings would be 85 today. He began playing the guitar by the age of eight and performed on the radio by the time he was twelve. He formed his band and dropped out of school by 16, only to return to earn his diploma in his 60s.

In his youth, Jennings spent time as a radio DJ and played bass for Buddy Holly. The story goes that Waylon gave up his seat on the ill-fated airplane that crashed outside Clear Lake, Iowa, after a concert at the Surf Ballroom in 1959.

The tragic accident is known as "the day the music died." Taking the lives of Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Richie Valens while sparing the man who would go on to define Outlaw Country.

Just 21 at the time of the crash, Jennings deeply felt the emotional trauma, guilt, and loss and considered it the turning point of his life.

The 1970s

Album Artwork Courtesy of RCA Victor
Album Artwork Courtesy of RCA Victor
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By the 1970s, Waylon was leaving his mark on country music and American culture. First, Waylon became a household name with a string of solo and duet hits. Then the Highwaymen consisted of Waylon, Willie, Cash, and Kristofferson to again transcend much of country music. 

In 1976, Waylon made history with the #1 album, Wanted! The Outlaws. It was the first album out of Nashville to be platinum-certified, selling over 1 million copies.

Waylon's influence occurred before the powers of the internet and widespread digital distribution. According to Wikipedia, between 1965 and 1991, ninety-six Jennings singles appeared on Billboard's Hot Country Singles chart, and sixteen topped it. Additionally, between 1966 and 1995, fifty-four of his albums charted on Billboard's Top Country Albums, with eleven reaching Number 1.

In 1974 Ramblin Man topped the charts. A year later, Willie and Waylon had a breakthrough hit with their recording of A Good Hearted Woman.

By 1977 Waylon was ready for stardom and even greater widespread appeal with his classic #1 hit, Luckenbach, Texas. Teaming consistently with Willie, they delivered again with Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys. 

These hits would play significantly as the background music of the 1970s.

Then in 1980, Waylon Jennings would again transcend country music by singing the theme song to one of America's top broadcast network television series, The Dukes of Hazzard. The song would become an international #1 hit while Waylon also provided his voice as the show's narrator.

Waylon Jennings Performs The Dukes of Hazzard Theme Song

Just the good ol' boys

Never meaning no harm

Beats all you never saw, been in trouble with the law

Since the day they was born

Happy Birthday, Waylon Jennings!

June 15, 1937 - February 13, 2002

 

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The Best Country Singer From Every State

Some states, like Oklahoma and Texas, are loaded with famous country singers. Others, like Nevada and Maine, are still looking for a real breakthrough artist. See the best and most successful country music artist from all 50 states, starting with Hank Williams and Alabama.