Tribute to Waylon Jennings

Here and Now

This story was originally covered by PRI’s Here and Now. For more, listen to the audio above.

“The thing about Waylon that struck me the most about him, more than anyone, was his voice,” says music producer Witt Stewart. “And the way he would phrase his music, and the way his guitar was a part of his vocal, and then, I don’t know, there aren’t many writers that can say so much in so few words. There’s no other voice like it.” Stewart’s appreciation of Waylon Jennings prompted him to produce the album for the country star who died of diabetes complications in 2002. “Waylon: The Music Inside,” includes many of Jennings’ hit songs performed by family, friends, and rising country musicians.

Along with artists like Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, Jennings was a member of “The Outlaws,” a group of musicians who performed outside the corporate music scene. Jennings hoped for more direct communication between musicians, and, to his widow and fellow musician Jessi Colter, the album fulfills that wish. “I think he would love it because it was his desire to gather together the artists.”

Colter talks about her experience performing her late husband’s song, “Belle of the Ball” with son Shooter Jennings for the CD:

It wasn’t hard for me because it was Waylon’s favorite song that he ever wrote, and it really stated his case with the music business, you know –‘I did a new dance and you did the Tennessee waltz–‘ and it was a very artistic, poetic way to describe his romance with music, and with life, and of course, with us — so, it’s a multi-layered song.

It was not difficult for Stewart to find performers interested in helping to produce the tribute. In addition to songs performed by Colter and Shooter Jennings, the album has talents like Willie Nelson, James Otto, Trace Adkins, and Reggie Young, the guitarist who played on almost all of Jennings’ records. The group Alabama reunited for the first time in a decade to perform for the album. Artists are dedicated to Waylon Jennings because, according to Stewart, “He’s not a readers digest, he’s an encyclopedia.”


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