Honky Tonk Heroes

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Honky Tonk Heroes
Studio album by Waylon Jennings
Released July 1973
Recorded 1973, Hillbilly Central Studio; Nashville, Tennessee
Genre Country
Outlaw country
Length 27:21
Label RCA Victor
Producer Waylon Jennings
Tompall Glaser
Waylon Jennings chronology
Lonesome, On'ry and Mean
(1973)
Honky Tonk Heroes
(1973)
This Time
(1974)

Honky Tonk Heroes is a country music album by Waylon Jennings, released in 1973 on RCA Victor. With the exception of "We Had It All", all of the songs on the album were written or co-written by Billy Joe Shaver. The album is considered an important piece in the development of the outlaw sub-genre in country music as it helped revive the honky tonk music of Nashville by injecting a rock and roll attitude.

Jennings had invited the then unknown Shaver to Nashville to write the songs for Jennings' next album after hearing him sing "Willy the Wandering Gypsy and Me" just before the 1972 Dripping Springs Reunion. When Shaver arrived in Nashville he spent six months chasing up Jennings before again convincing him to make an album of his songs. Jennings had renegotiated his contract with RCA Records, who gave him creative control over his work to avoid losing him to Atlantic Records. So when his usual producer, Chet Atkins, was reluctant to release a record consisting of songs written by an unknown songwriter, Jennings replaced him with Tompall Glaser; and the two co-produced the album at Glaser's Hillbilly Central Studio in Nashville. Jennings replaced the typical Nashville session musicians with his own band, The Waylors. The executives of RCA Records were reluctant to release the album, and delayed it until July 1973.

It had a mixed reception by the critics on release, though has gained in status and is now regarded as an important album in outlaw county, and is listed in Robert Dimery's 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. It reached number 14 in Billboard's Top Country albums chart. The singles "You Ask Me To" and "We Had It All" did well, reaching number 8 and 28, respectively.

Background[edit]

During the 1972 Dripping Springs Reunion concert, Billy Joe Shaver impressed Jennings with the song

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Waylon Jennings invited the then unknown Billy Joe Shaver to come to Nashville to record an album of his songs after hearing Shaver sing "Willy the Wandering Gypsy and Me" just before the 1972 Dripping Springs Reunion.[1] When Shaver got to Nashville he spent six months unsuccessfully trying to speak with Jennings who had apparently forgotten the invite; eventually, with the help of local D.J, Roger "Captain Midnight" Schutt, Shaver turned up at a RCA recording session Jennings was doing with Chet Atkins, and tried to confront the singer who merely offered Shaver a $100. Shaver refused the money and told Jennings that he was willing to fight him if he would not listen to his songs. Jennings offered to record "Willy the Wandering Gypsy and Me" and told Shaver to sing another song – if Jennings liked it he would record it and Shaver could sing another; but if he did not like it, Shaver would have to leave. Shaver sang "Ain't No God in Mexico", followed by "Honky Tonk Heroes" and "Old Five and Dimers and Me".[2] Jennings agreed to record an entire album with Shaver.[3][4]

Recording[edit]

By 1973 Atlantic Records was attempting to sign Jennings who, with fellow country singer Willie Nelson, had become dissatisfied with RCA Records because of the company's conservative influence upon their music. Nelson, who had signed with Atlantic, was becoming more popular, and this persuaded RCA to renegotiate with Jennings before it lost another potential success.[5] Waylon Jennings' usual producer, Chet Atkins, was reluctant to record the material of an unknown writer, but since he had creative control, Jennings decided to record the album.[2] Jennings produced the album with the help of Tompall Glaser at his Hillbilly Central Studio in Nashville, Tennessee.[6][7]

The song that entitled the album, was written by Shaver.

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For the recording session, Jennings replaced the typical studio musicians of Nashville sessions with his band, The Waylors. Jennings and Shaver worked on the album for several weeks. Shaver thought that Jennings was not closely following the phrasing of the tunes, and in some cases he played the songs repeatedly, so that Jennings would understand them. When the album was finished, Jennings wanted to be pictured on the cover in a bar with other people to depict the essence of the album. The cover featured Jennings, Shaver, Captain Midnight (who also wrote the liner notes for the album) and Bee Spears.[8][9][10] The album's title came from one of the songs, Honky Tonk Heroes. It was one of Jennings' first albums recorded and released under his creative control.[5] Atkins' only input was his suggestion to add the song "We Had it All", which had previously been a top ten single.[2]

Release and critical reception[edit]

Initially, the executives of RCA records, and Atkins, tried to avoid releasing the album.[11] It was finally released in May 1973,[8] and reached number 14 in Billboard's Top Country Albums and 185 in the Billboard 200.[12] The single, "We Had it All", peaked at number 28 in Billboard's Country Singles,[13] while "You Ask Me To" peaked at number 8.[14]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
The Music Journal Favorable.[15]
Stereo Review Negative.[16]
Allmusic 5/5 stars[17]

It had a mixed reception by the critics on release. The Music Journal remarked the difference of the tracks of the album, with other cowboy songs published previous to the release. It described the album as "certainly brash, lively and down-to-earth. Thoroughly infectious too."[15] Regarding the composition of the songs, Stereo Review wrote: "Billy Joe Shaver songs have [Jennings] in a corral if not in a box ... This is like picking Kris Kristofferson up by the literary ankles, shaking him vigorously, and using every damn nugget that tumbles out."[16]

Legacy[edit]

Honky Tonk Heroes gave Jennings an outlaw image,[18][19] and the album is considered an important piece in the development of the outlaw sub-genre in country music.[20][21] Shaver, who is regarded as helping push forward outlaw country,[22] feels that the album was "the touchstone of the Outlaw movement".[23] Stephen Thomas Erlewine in a retrospective review in Allmusic felt that Jennings had been looking for a musical approach which had roots in country and rock, and Shaver's songs – "sketching an outlaw stance with near defiance and borrowing rock attitude to create the hardest country tunes imaginable" – provided that common ground.[17] Erlewine believed that the album arrived at the right moment to revive the honky tonk music of Nashville by injecting a rock and roll attitude that would produce outlaw country.[17]

Kenneth Burns, in Robert Dimery's 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, says that Honky Tonk Heroes is "one of country music's landmark albums", and points out Jennings' rock and roll roots as bass player for Buddy Holly.[24]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Billy Joe Shaver, except where noted. 

Side one
No. Title Length
1. "Honky Tonk Heroes"   3:36
2. "Old Five and Dimers Like Me"   3:06
3. "Willy the Wandering Gypsy and Me"   3:03
4. "Low Down Freedom"   2:21
5. "Omaha (Shaver, Hillman Hall)"   2:38

All songs written and composed by Billy Joe Shaver, except where noted. 

Side two
No. Title Length
1. "You Ask Me To (Shaver, Waylon Jennings)"   2:31
2. "Ride Me Down Easy"   2:38
3. "Ain't No God in Mexico"   2:00
4. "Black Rose"   2:29
5. "We Had It All (Troy Seals/Donnie Fritts)"   2:44
Bonus tracks
  1. "Slow Rollin' Low" – 2:44
  2. "You Ask Me To" (Billy Joe Shaver, Waylon Jennings) – 2:38

Chart positions[edit]

Album
Chart Peak
position[12]
Billboard Top Country Albums 14
Billboard Top LPs & Tapes 185
Singles
Song Chart Peak
"You Ask Me To" Billboard Hot Country Songs 8[14]
"We Had it All" Billboard Hot Country Songs 28[13]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Shaver, Billy Joe; Reagan, Brad 2005, p. 33.
  2. ^ a b c Shaver, Billy Joe; Reagan, Brad 2005, p. 34.
  3. ^ Country Music Foundation 1998, p. 24.
  4. ^ Braley, Bethany 2005, p. 40.
  5. ^ a b Petrusich 2008, p. 106.
  6. ^ Country Music Foundation 1994, p. 319.
  7. ^ Glaser, Dennis 2011, p. 277.
  8. ^ a b Shaver, Billy Joe; Reagan, Brad 2005, p. 35.
  9. ^ Reid, Jan 1976, p. 213.
  10. ^ Glaser, Dennis 2011, p. 148.
  11. ^ Shaver, Billy Joe; Reagan, Brad 2005, p. 34.
  12. ^ a b "Honky Tonk Heroes Albums chart". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved December 26, 2011. 
  13. ^ a b "Honky Tonk Heroes Singles chart". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved December 26, 2011. 
  14. ^ a b Worth, Fred; Tamerius, Steve 1992, p. 505.
  15. ^ a b Caine, Milton 1973, p. 7.
  16. ^ a b Stereo Review 1974, p. 90.
  17. ^ a b c Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Honky Tonk Heroes". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved December 26, 2011. 
  18. ^ Schutt, Roger (1973). Honky Tonk Heroes (LP). Waylon Jennings. RCA Records. 
  19. ^ Ward, Robert, p. 309.
  20. ^ Pendergast, Tom; Pendergast, Sara 2000, p. 540.
  21. ^ Country Music Foundation 1994, p. 319.
  22. ^ Andrew Dansby (2007). "Cary Baker's conqueroo – Billy Joe Shaver News Clips". conqueroo.com. Retrieved 6 June 2012. 
  23. ^ Billy Joe Shaver, Brad Reagan (1 Mar 2005). Honky Tonk Hero. University of Texas Press. p. 35. Retrieved 6 June 2012. 
  24. ^ Kenneth Burns (5 Dec 2011). 1001 Albums: You Must Hear Before You Die. Hachette UK. Retrieved 14 June 2012. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • Braley, Bethany (2005). "A Fallen Angel Flies". American Cowboy 12 (2). ISSN 1079-3690. 
  • Caine, Milton (1973). The Journal Reviews 31. 
  • Glaser, Dennis (2011). Music City's Defining Decade: Stories, Stars, Songwriters & Scoundrels of the 1970s. Xlibris Corporation. ISBN 978-1-4628-5767-8. 
  • Reid, Jan (1976). "Who Killed Redneck Rock?". Texas Monthly (Emmis Communications) 4 (12). ISSN 0148-7736. 
  • Pendergast, Tom; Pendergast, Sara (2000). St. James encyclopedia of popular culture, Volume 2. St. James Press. ISBN 978-1-55862-402-3. 
  • Petrusich, Amanda (2008). It Still Moves: Lost Songs, Lost Highways, and the Search for the Next American Music. Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-86547-950-0. 
  • Shaver, Billy Joe; Reagan, Brad (2005). Honky Tonk Hero. University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-70613-2. 
  • Ward, Robert (2012). Renegades: My Wild Trip from Professor to New Journalist With Outrageous Visits from Clint Eastwood, Reggie Jackson, Larry Flynt, and Other American Icons. Adams Media. ISBN 9781440533143. 
  • Worth, Fred; Tamerius, Steve (1992). Elvis: His Life From A to Z. Wings Books. ISBN 978-0-517-06634-8. 
  • Country Music Foundation (1994). Country: The Music and the Musicians: From the Beginnings to the '90s. ISBN 978-1-55859-879-9. 
  • Country Music Foundation (1998). The Journal of Country Music 21. 
  • Stereo Review (1974). Popular Discs and Tapes 32. CBS Magazines.