|Birth name||Wayland Arnold Jennings|
June 15, 1937|
Littlefield, Texas, United States
|Died||February 13, 2002
Chandler, Arizona, United States
|Genres||Country, outlaw country, country rock, progressive country|
|Occupations||Singer-songwriter, musician, actor|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, bass guitar, piano, mandolin|
|Labels||RCA Victor, MCA, Epic|
|Associated acts||Jessi Colter, Willie Nelson, The Highwaymen, Buddy Holly, Andy Griggs|
Signature of Waylon Jennings
Waylon Arnold Jennings (pronounced / /; June 15, 1937 – February 13, 2002) was an American singer, songwriter, musician, and actor. Jennings began playing guitar at 8 and began performing at 12 on KVOW radio. He formed a band, The Texas Longhorns. Jennings worked as a D.J. on KVOW, KDAV, KYTI, and KLLL. In 1958, Buddy Holly arranged Jennings's first recording session, of “Jole Blon” and “When Sin Stops (Love Begins).” Holly hired him to play bass. During the “Winter Dance Party Tour,” in Clear Lake, Iowa, Holly chartered a plane to arrive at the next venue. Jennings gave up his seat in the plane to J. P. Richardson, who was suffering from a cold. The flight that carried Holly, Richardson, and Ritchie Valens crashed, on the day later known as The Day the Music Died. Following the accident, Jennings worked as a D.J. in Coolidge, Arizona, and Phoenix. He formed a rockabilly club band, The Waylors. He recorded for independent label Trend Records, A&M Records before succeeding with RCA Victor after achieving creative control of his records.
During the 1970s, Jennings joined the Outlaw movement. He released critically acclaimed albums Lonesome, On'ry and Mean and Honky Tonk Heroes, followed by hit albums Dreaming My Dreams and Are You Ready for the Country. In 1976 he released the album Wanted! The Outlaws with Willie Nelson, Tompall Glaser, and Jessi Colter, the first platinum country music album. The success of the album was followed by Ol' Waylon, and the hit song “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love).” By the early 1980s, Jennings was struggling with a cocaine addiction, which he quit in 1984. Later he joined the country supergroup The Highwaymen with Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash. During that period, Jennings released the successful album Will the Wolf Survive. He toured less after 1997, to spend more time with his family. Between 1999 and 2001, his appearances were limited by health problems. On February 13, 2002, Jennings died from complications of diabetes.
Jennings also appeared in movies and television series. He was the balladeer for The Dukes of Hazzard; he also composed and sang the show's theme song. In 2001 he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, which he chose not to attend until later on. In 2007 he was posthumously awarded the Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award by the Academy of Country Music.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Music Career
- 3 Music style and image
- 4 Personal life
- 5 Legacy
- 6 Discography
- 7 Awards
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Waylon Arnold Jennings was born on June 15, 1935 on the J.W Bittner farm, near Littlefield, Texas, the seat of Lamb County. The son of Lorene Beatrice (née Shipley) and William Albert Jennings. The Jennings family line descended from Irish and Black-Dutch. Meanwhile, the Shipley family moved from Tennessee and settled in Texas. The Shippley line's ascendance included Cherokee and part Comanche.
His birth name, as appeared on the birth certificate was Wayland, meaning land by the highway. His name was changed after a Baptist preacher visited Jennings's parents and congratulated his mother for naming him after the Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, Texas. Lorene Jennings, who had been unaware of the college, changed the spelling to Waylon. Jennings later expressed in his autobiography, “I didn't like Waylon. It sounded corny and hillbilly, but it's been good to me, and I'm pretty well at peace with it right now.”
After working as a laborer on the Bittner farm, Jennings' father moved the family to Littlefield and established a Produce. When Jennings was eight, his mother taught him to play guitar with the tune "Thirty Pieces of Silver". Jennings used to practice with the guitars of his relatives, until his mother bought him a used Stella, and later ordered a Harmony Patrician. His early influences were Bob Wills, Floyd Tillman, Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams, Carl Smith and Elvis Presley.
From playing in family gatherings, Jennings went to perform on the Youth Center, making later appearances at the local Jaycees and Lions club. He won a talent show at Channel 13, in Lubbock, Texas, singing "Hey Joe". He later made frequent performances at the Palace Theater in Littlefield, during local talent night.
Beginnings in music
The 12-year-old Jennings auditioned for a spot on KVOW in Littlefield, Texas. Owner J.B. McShan, along with Emil Macha, recorded Jennings's performance. McShan liked his style and hired him for a weekly 30-minute program. Following this successful introduction, Jennings formed his own band. He asked Macha to play bass for him, and gathered other friends and acquaintances to form "The Texas Longhorns". The style of the band, a mixture of country and western and bluegrass, was often not well received.
At age sixteen, after being punished on several occasions, Jennings was convinced to drop out of high school by the superintendent, on the tenth grade. Upon leaving school, he worked for his father on the produce store, taking also temporary jobs. Jennings felt that, besides being his fondest activity, playing music would turn into his career. The next year, Jennings and The Texas Longhorns recorded a demo of the songs “Stranger in My Home” and “There'll Be a New Day” at KFYO radio in Lubbock, Texas. Meanwhile, he drove a truck for the Thomas Land Lumber Company, and the Roberts Lumber Company driving a cement truck. Tired of the owner, and after a minor accident while driving, Jennings quit the job. Jennings and other local musicians would perform at country music station KDAV. During this time, he met Buddy Holly at a Lubbock restaurant. He and Holly later became friends, often coming across each other during local shows; while Jennings would also attend later in 1954 Holly's performances on KDAV's Sunday Party
In addition to performing on air for KVOW, Jennings started to work as a D.J. for the station in 1956, and moved to Lubbock. His program ran for six hours, from four in the afternoon to ten in the evening. Jennings played two hours of country music classics, two of current country and the last two hours were dedicated to mixed recordings. During the last two hours of his show, Jennings would play artists such as Chuck Berry and Little Richard. The owner would reprimand him each time he aired the recordings, and after one day he played two Richard records in a row, he fired him.
During his time at KVOW, Jennings was visited by D.J Sky Corbin, who worked at KLVT in Levelland, Texas. Corbin was impressed with Jennings' voice, and decided to visit him at the station after hearing him sing a jingle to the tune of Hank Snow's "I'm Movin' On". During the visit Jennings expressed his economical struggle to live with a US$50-a week salary. Corbin invited Jennings to visit them at KLVT, where he eventually took Corbin's position after he moved to work to another station. The Corbin family later purchased KLLL, in Lubbock. They changed the format of the station to country, becoming the main competition of KDAV. The Corbins hired Jennings as the first station's D.J.
For the newly created station, Jennings also produced commercials and created jingles with the rest of the D.J's. As their popularity in town increased, the D.J's participated in public appearances, that in Jennings' case included live performances. During a performance, L.O Holley, the father of Buddy Holly approached them with his son's latest record, and requested them to play it at the station. L.O Holley mentioned his son's intention to start producing artists himself, and Corbin recommended him Jennings. After returning from his England tour, Buddy Holly visited KLLL.
During his first recording session in 1958, Jennings was accompanied by Buddy Holly on the guitar and King Curtis on the saxophone
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Holly took Jennings as his first artist. He purchased for him new clothes, and took him to a barber to improve his looks. He arranged a session for Jennings at Norman Petty's recording studios in Clovis, New Mexico. On September 10 Jennings recorded the songs “Jole Blon” and “When Sin Stops (Love Begins)” with Holly and Tommy Allsup on guitars with saxophonist King Curtis. Holly then hired Jennings to play electric bass for him during his “Winter Dance Party Tour.” While the tour was due to start, and Holly vacationed with his wife in Lubbock, Jennings helped him complete his song "You're the One", in December 1958. Jennings and Holly soon left for New York City, arriving on January 15, 1959. Jennings stayed at Holly's apartment by Washington Square Park, on the days prior to a meeting scheduled on the headquarters of the General Artists Corporation, that organized the tour. They later took a train in Grand Central Terminal to Union Station, in Chicago to group with the rest of the band.
The tour began in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on January 23, 1959. The amount of travel created a logistical problem with the tour. The distance between venues had not been considered when scheduling each performance. Adding to the disarray, the tour buses that were not equipped for the weather broke two times. After a show in Clear Lake, Iowa, Buddy Holly chartered a plane for himself, Jennings and Allsup to avoid a long bus trip to Fargo, North Dakota. Jennings gave up his seat to J. P. Richardson, who was suffering from a cold and complaining about how uncomfortable a long bus trip was for a man of his size. Holly jokingly told Jennings, “I hope your ol' bus freezes up!” Jennings replied, “Well, I hope your ol' plane crashes!” During the early morning hours of February 3, 1959, later known as The Day the Music Died, the charter crashed outside Clear Lake, killing all on board.
Jennings' family heard on the radio that "Buddy Holly and his band had been killed". After calling his family, Jennings called Sky Corbin at KLLL from Fargo to notify that he was alive. The General Artists Corporation promised to pay a first class ticket for Jennings and the band to assist Holly's funeral in Lubbock, in exchange for them playing that night in Moorhead, Minnesota. After the first show, they were originally denied their payment by the venue, and after Jennings' persistence, they were paid. The flights were never paid, and Jennings and Allsup finished the tour for two more weeks, featuring Jennings as the lead singer. They were paid less than half of the original agreed salary, and upon returning to New York, Jennings put Holly's guitar and amplifier in a locker in Grand Central Station and mailed the keys to Maria Elena Holly. Then, he returned to Lubbock. Jennings later admitted that he felt severe guilt and responsibility for the crash.
"Jole Blon" was released on Brunswick in March 1959 with limited success. Now unemployed, he returned to KLLL. Still affected by the death of Holly, his performance at the station worsened. He left the station after being denied a raise, and later worked briefly for the competition, KDAV.
Phoenix and the Nashville Sound
Due to his wife Maxine father's illness, Jennings had to move between Arizona and Texas. While his family lived back in Littlefield, Jennings found a job briefly at KOYL in Odessa, Texas. He moved with his family to Coolidge, Arizona, where the sister of his wife lived. He found a job performing at the "Galloping Goose" bar, where he was heard by Earl Perrin, who offered him a spot on KCKY. Jennings also played during the intermission on drive-in theaters and on bars. After a successful a performance at the Cross Keys Club in Phoenix, Arizona, he was approached by contractors that were building a club for Jimmy D. Musiel, called JD's. Musiel employed Jennings as his main artist and designed the club around his act.
He formed his backing band, The Waylors. The band was composed by bassist Paul Foster, guitarist Jerry Gropp, and drummer Richie Albright. Jennings and his band performed at the newly opened nightspot in Scottsdale, where they soon earned a strong local fanbase. At JD's, Jennings developed his "rock tempered" style of country music, that would define him on his later career.
In 1961, Jennings signed a recording contract with Trend Records, and experienced moderate success with his single, “Another Blue Day.” His friend, Don Bowman took demos of Jennings to Jerry Moss, who at the time was starting A&M Records with associate Herb Alpert. On July 9, 1963, Jennings signed a contract with A&M that granted him five percent of record royalties. He recorded for the company "Love Denied" backed with "Rave On", and "Four Strong Winds" backed with "Just to Satisfy You". He followed recording demos of "The Twelfth of Never", "Kisses Sweeter than Wine" and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right"; while he produced the single "Sing the Girls a Song, Bill", backed with "The Race Is On". The singles were released between April and October 1964.
His records had little success, because A&M's main releases were folk music rather than country. He had a few hits on local radio in Phoenix, with “Four Strong Winds” and “Just To Satisfy You” (co-written with Bowman). Meanwhile, he recorded an album on BAT records, called JD's. After 500 copies were sold at the club, another 500 copies were pressed by the Sounds label. He also played lead guitar for Patsy Montana on a 1964 album.
Singer Bobby Bare heard Jennings' "Just to Satisfy You" on his car radio while passing through Phoenix, eventually recording it and "Four Strong Winds" After stopping in Phoenix to attend to a Jennings performance at JD's, while driving to Las Vegas, Bare stopped and called from a pay phone Chet Atkins, suggesting him to sign Jennings.
Now aware of the new deal, Jennings was not certain to leave his current position at JD's. He seek the advice RCA artist Willie Nelson, who went to see one of his shows. Upon meeting Jennings, and considering his profits at the club, Nelson suggested him to stay in Phoenix and not to move to Nashville. Nonetheless, Jennings decided to accept the offer. He requested Alpert to release him from his contract with A&M. In view of Jennings' need, Alpert accepted. Chet Atkins formally signed Jennings to RCA Victor in 1965. On August 21, Jennings made his first appearance on the Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart with “That's the Chance I'll Have to Take.”
From the album of the same name, the song was a local radio hit for Jennings in Nashville
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In 1966, Jennings released his debut album for RCA Folk-Country, followed by Leavin' Town, and Nashville Rebel. Leavin' Town resulted in significant chart success as the first two singles "Anita, You're Dreaming" and "Time to Burn Again" both peaking at #17 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart. The album's third single, a cover of Gordon Lightfoot's "(That's What You Get) For Lovin' Me", became Jennings' first top 10 single, peaking at #9. Nashville Rebel was the soundtrack to an independent film of the same name, starring Jennings. The single "Green River" charted on Billboard country singles at #11. In 1967 Jennings released a hit single, “Just to Satisfy You.” During an interview, Jennings remarked that the song was a “pretty good example” of the influence of his work with Buddy Holly and rockabilly music. During the next years, Jennings produced midchart albums that sold well, including Just to Satisfy You, that included the same-named hit single of 1967.
In 1972 Jennings released Ladies Love Outlaws. The single that headlined the album became a hit for Jennings, and was his first approach to Outlaw Country. Jennings was accustomed to performing and recording with his own band, The Waylors, a practice that was not encouraged by powerful Nashville producers. Over time, however, Jennings felt limited by the Nashville sound's lack of artistic freedom. The music style publicized as “Countrypolitan” was characterized by orchestral arrangements, and the absence of traditional country music instruments. The producers did not let Jennings play his own guitar or select material to record.
In an interview, Jennings recalled the restrictions of the Nashville establishment: “They wouldn't let you do anything. You had to dress a certain way: you had to do everything a certain way.... They kept trying to destroy me.... I just went about my business and did things my way.... You start messing with my music, I get mean” In 1972 his recording contract was nearing an end. Hepatitis-afflicted Jennings accepted an offer from Neil Reshen to renegotiate his recording and touring contracts. At a meeting in a Nashville airport, Jennings introduced Reshen to Willie Nelson. By the end of the meeting, Reshen had become manager to both singers. Jennings's new deal gained him a $75,000 advance and artistic control. Reshen advised Jennings to keep the beard that he had grown in the hospital, in order to match the image of outlaw country.
By 1973, Nelson had returned to music, finding success with Atlantic Records. Now based in Austin, Texas, Nelson had made inroads into the rock and roll press by attracting a diverse fan base that included the rock music audience. Atlantic Records was now attempting to sign Jennings, but Nelson's rise to popularity persuaded RCA to renegotiate with Jennings before losing another potential success.
In 1973, Jennings released Lonesome, On'ry and Mean and Honky Tonk Heroes, the first albums recorded and released under his creative control. The release of these albums heralded a major turning point for Jennings, kicking off the most critically and commercially successful years of his career. More hit albums followed with This Time and The Ramblin' Man, both released in 1974. The title tracks of both albums topped the Billboard country singles chart, with the self-penned "This Time" becoming Jennings' first #1 single. Dreaming My Dreams, released in 1975, included the #1 single "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way" and was his first album to be certified gold by the RIAA; it was also the first of his next six consecutive, solo studio albums to be certified gold or higher. In 1976, Jennings released Are You Ready for the Country, Jennings wanted the record to be produced by Los Angeles producer Ken Mansfield. Although RCA denied the request, Jennings and The Waylors went to Los Angeles and recorded with Mansfield at his expense. After a month, Jennings presented the master tape to Chet Atkins, who decided to release it. The album hit number one on Billboard's country albums three times the same year, topping the charts for 10 weeks. It was named country album of the year in 1976 by Record World Magazine and it was certified gold by the RIAA.
A hit for Jennings, the song was released in the album Ol' Waylon
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In 1976 Jennings released the album Wanted! The Outlaws, recorded with Willie Nelson, Tompall Glaser, and Jessie Colter for RCA. The album was the first country music album certified platinum. The following year, RCA issued Ol' Waylon, an album that produced a hit duet with Nelson, “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love).” The album Waylon and Willie followed in 1978, producing the hit single “Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.” Jennings released I've Always Been Crazy, also in 1978. The same year, at the peak of his success, Jennings began to feel limited by the outlaw movement. The “outlaw image” restricted the repertoire he could record, as well as the material that audiences expected from him. Jennings referred to the over-exploitation of the image in the song “Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit Has Done Got Out of Hand?”, denouncing that the movement had become a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” In 1979 he released Greatest Hits, which was certified gold the same year, and quintuple platinum in 2002.
Also in 1979, Jennings joined the cast of the CBS series The Dukes of Hazzard as The Balladeer, a role that saw him function as the narrator for each of the episodes. The only episode to feature him in person was "Welcome, Waylon Jennings", during the seventh season. Jennings played himself, being portrayed as an old friend of the Duke family. For the show, he also wrote and sang the theme song "Good Ol' Boys", which became the biggest hit of his career. Released as a single in promotion with the show, it became Jennings' twelfth single to reach number one on the Billboard Country Singles chart. It was also a crossover hit, peaking at twenty-one on the Billboard Hot 100.
Fragment of the song Highwayman, sung by Jennings with the country supergroup The Highwaymen
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In the mid-1980s, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Nelson, and Jennings formed a successful group called The Highwaymen. Aside from his work with The Highwaymen, Jennings' released a gold album WWII (1982) with Willie Nelson.
In 1985 Jennings joined with USA for Africa to record “We Are the World,” but he left the studio because of a dispute over the song's lyrics that were to be sung in Swahili. Ironically, after Jennings left the session, the idea was dropped at the prompting of Stevie Wonder, who pointed out that Ethiopians did not speak Swahili. By this time, his sales had decreased. After the release of Sweet Mother Texas, Jennings signed with Music Corporation of America. The debut release with the label Will the Wolf Survive (1985) peaked at number one in Billboard's Country albums in 1986. Jennings's initial success tailed off, and in 1990 he signed with Epic Records. His first release, The Eagle, became his final top 10 album.
Also in 1985, Waylon Jennings made a cameo appearance in the live-action children's film Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird. In the movie, he plays a turkey farm truck driver that gives Big Bird a lift. He also sings one of the film's songs, entitled "Ain't No Road Too Long".
In 1993, in collaboration with Rincom Children's Entertainment, Jennings recorded an album of children's songs, Cowboys, Sisters, Rascals & Dirt, which included “Shooter's Theme,” a tribute to his 14-year-old with the theme of “a friend of mine.”
In 1998, Jennings teamed up with Bare, Jerry Reed, and Mel Tillis to form The Old Dogs. The group recorded a double album of songs penned entirely by Shel Silverstein. In mid-1999, Jennings assembled what he referred to as his “hand-picked dream team” and formed Waylon & The Waymore Blues Band. Consisting primarily of former Waylors, the 13-member group performed a limited number of concerts from 1999 to 2001. In January 2000, Jennings recorded what would become his final album at Nashville's historic Ryman Auditorium, Never Say Die: Live.
Music style and image
Jennings was characterized by his “powerful” singing voice, noted by his “rough-edged quality,” as well as his phrasing and texture. Accompanying his vocals, he played guitar. He was recognized for his “spanky-twang” playing. To create his sound, he used a mixture of thumb and fingers during the rhythmic parts, while using picks for the lead runs. He combined hammer-on and pull-off riffs, with eventual upper-fret double stops and modulation effects. Jennings played a 1953 Fender Telecaster, a used guitar purchased as a gift to him by The Waylors. Jennings's bandmates adorned his guitar with a distinctive leather cover that featured a black background with a white floral work. Jennings did further customizing work on the guitar, by filing down the frets to lower the strings on the neck to obtain the slapping sound. Among the other guitars he owned, Jennings used as a backup a 1950 Fender Broadcaster from the mid-1970s, until he gave it as a gift to guitarist Reggie Young in 1993. The leather covers of his guitars were carved by leather artist Terry Lankford.
Addiction and recovery
Jennings started to consume amphetamines at the time he lived with Johnny Cash during the mid-1960s. Jennings later stated, “Pills were the artificial energy on which Nashville ran around the clock.” In 1977, Jennings was arrested by federal agents for conspiracy and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. A private courier warned the Drug Enforcement Administration about the package sent to Jennings by a New York colleague that contained 27 grams of cocaine. The DEA and the police went to Jennings's recording studio. They found no evidence, because while they were waiting for a search warrant, Jennings flushed the cocaine. The charges were later dropped and Jennings was released. The episode was recounted in Jennings's song “Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit's Done Got Outta Hand?”
During the early 1980s, his cocaine addiction intensified. Jennings claimed to have spent $1,500 daily to satisfy his addiction, draining his personal finances and leaving him bankrupt with debt of up to $2.5 million. Though he insisted on repaying the debt and did additional tours to earn the funds, his work became less focused and his tours deteriorated. Jennings decided to quit his addictions, leased a home in the Phoenix, Arizona, area and spent a month detoxing himself, intending to start using cocaine again in a more controlled fashion afterward. In 1984 he quit cocaine. By Jennings's own admission in interviews, his son, Shooter Jennings, was the main inspiration to quit permanently.
Illness and death
Jennings's health had been deteriorating for years before his death. Jennings quit cocaine in 1984 and his habit of smoking six packs of cigarettes daily in 1988. The same year he underwent heart bypass surgery. By 2000 his diabetes worsened, and the pain reduced his mobility, forcing Jennings to end most touring. Later the same year he underwent surgery to improve his leg circulation. In December 2001 his left foot was amputated at a hospital in Phoenix, Arizona. On February 13, 2002, Jennings died in his sleep of diabetic complications in Chandler, Arizona. He was buried in the Mesa City Cemetery, in Mesa, Arizona. At the funeral ceremony, on February 15, Jessi Colter sang “Storms Never Last” for the attendees, who included Jennings's close friends and fellow musicians.
Between 1966 and 1995, 54 Jennings albums charted, with 11 reaching number one. Meanwhile between 1965 and 1991, 96 singles charted, with 16 number ones. In October 2001, Jennings was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In one final act of defiance, he did not attend the ceremony and opted instead to send son Buddy Dean Jennings.
On July 6, 2006, Jennings was inducted to Hollywood's Rock Wall in Hollywood, California. On June 20, 2007, Jennings was posthumously awarded the Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award by the Academy of Country Music. Jennings's music had a major influence on several neotraditionalist and alternative country artists, including Hank Williams Jr., The Marshall Tucker Band, Travis Tritt, Steve Earle, Jamey Johnson, John Anderson, his son, Shooter Jennings and Hank Williams III.
In 2008, the first posthumous album by Jennings, Waylon Forever, was released. The album consisted of songs recorded with his son Shooter when he was 16. In 2012, Waylon: The Music Inside a three-volume project, consisting in covers of Jennings's songs by different artists was released. The same year, it was announced for September the release of Goin' Down Rockin': The Last Recordings, a set of 12 songs recorded by Jennings and bassist Robby Turner before his death in 2002. Jennings's family was reluctant to release any new material because they did not feel comfortable at the time. The songs only featured Jennings and Turner on the bass, while further accompaniment would be added later. Ten years after, Turner completed the recordings with the help of former Waylors. The Jennings family approved the release despite the launch of a new business focused on his state. Shooter Jennings arranged deals for a clothing line, while also launching a renewed website, and started talks with different producers about the making of a biopic.
The Wailin' Jennys, a Canadian music group founded in 2002, is a pun on the name Waylon Jennings.
- Jerry "Bo" Coleman
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- Official website
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- USA Today obituary
- Waylon Jennings' Gravesite
- Waylon Jennings at AllMusic