Ol’ Waylon keeps ‘outlaw’ tradition
OL’ WAYLON is a Big Man. In fact, some folks who saw Waylon at the Lansing Civic Center Sunday night may swear that the man is as big as Texas itself.
Makes sense, though. All religious allusions aside, it has often been said that Willie Nelson is the king of Texas. This being the case, Waylon Jennings would have to be the Texas crown prince.
Jennings and Nelson were the prime innovators in the “outlaw” country music movement — a movement that has forever changed the structure of Nashville’s recording assembly line, not to mention the God/Mom/apple pie Nashville image from days of old. As a team, the “outlaws” have created a country mystique that appeals to both “redneck” and “hip” music fans alike.
This cross-section of fandom was evident Sunday night as everyone from cosmic cowboys to Ramones T-shirted rockers to old timers who could remember Hank’s first gigs gathered at the Civic Center. Liberty Bell Productions presented the Texan ramblin’ man as part of a terrific foot stompin’, hand clappin’ triple bill that included Jessi Colter (Waylon’s wife) and Asleep At The Wheel.
The crowd only filled the Civic Center to half its capacity. This was unfortunate, as Asleep At The Wheel opened the show with some of the best all ’round “good time” music Lansing is likely to hear this summer. Asleep At The Wheel is perhaps America’s best existing Texas swing band, and, although reception was slow at first, the band had the audience stomping, clapping, and even dancing by the end of their set. The response was overwhelming enough that the band returned for an encore rendition of Bob Wills’ ‘Take Me Back To Tulsa’.
Jessi Colter followed with her mellower approach to country music. Backed by Jennings’ band, Colter sat at a piano and pumped out song after song, mostly her own compositions. Her set seemed to be more of a time for the audience to sit back, relax, and enjoy, although there was a huge applause of recognition for her ‘I’m Not Lisa’.
The response was anything but slow when the man every one was waiting for finally took the stage. “Here’s Waylon,” said the MC, and the tall, macho figure in black cowboy hat was immediately into a guts and gravel version of Neil Young’s ‘Are You Ready For The Country?’. The crowd whooped their approval, letting the ramblin’ man know that they were definitely ready.
Just the fact that Jennings would open his show with a Neil Young tune demonstrates his “outlaw” break from the C&W tradition. The Jennings legend has steadily built since the ’50s when he was a member of Buddy Holly’s Crickets. (Jennings gave up his seat on the plane that took Holly, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens to their deaths.) Today, he may be recording with Johnny Cash one day, and playing a gig with the Grateful Dead the next.
The legend is partially Jennings’ own creation. The music is as purely American as it comes, and the legend naturally follows in the same vein. Favorites like ‘Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys’, ‘Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way’, and ‘Honky Tonk Heroes’, all performed in Jennings’ inimitable growl, only serve to reinforce the good ol’ hickory wind myth. The singer’s jaded appearance and image tears apart old fashioned Nashville at its roots.
It’s safe to say that by the conclusion of Sunday’s show, Lansing has been captured by a myth almost as big as the state from where it originates.
Oh, and just as an afterthought: Ladies really DO love outlaws! Nothing was more evident Sunday night.
© Bill Holdship, Michigan State News, 12 July 1978