If the phoney, caricature twang and shellac’d gloss of bands like Rascal Flatts is everything I hate about country music then Waylon Jennings sits firmly on the opposite end of the spectrum… with a cigarette hanging from his mouth.
As a kid I hated country music. My dad was a country music fanatic (he hated pop-country too, so good on him) and of course I was too cool to like what my dad was into. I remember seeing Waylon Jennings album covers and asking my dad: “Dad, do you think he showers? He looks like he smells.” My dad said, “Sure he does Rick, but Waylon lives hard”. That was my dad’s way of telling a nine year old that Waylon like-y the drink and drugs.
It really wasn’t until The Beatles and The Rolling Stones that I gave in and said, “OK, this is good… this is really good.”
Now that I’m older and understand that not every song needs to be a thousand miles per hour, super weird or an acrobatic exercise it’s a relief to go back and listen to this old music. They are warm, nostalgic and incredibly organic sounding recordings. This is Waylon and some friends taking over a recording studio and probably leaving it in shambles. The songs feel good — like an old leather chair.
Also, as a 41 year old I recognize the fact that Waylon was infinitely cooler than I’ll ever be.
I don’t claim to know the nuances of Waylon’s career — how he started to where he ended, but Honky Tonk Heroes, released in 1973, is 27 minutes of everything I have ended up loving about Waylon. Twangy in the right places, chugging outlaw country rhythms in others and even a few country ballads — the kind you’d sing around a campfire (assuming I could sing or start a fire). Hell, the closing track “We Had It All” even features a string section. Waylon, you little rascal!
When I started going through my dad’s records I was excited to check out Waylon. Honky Tonk Heroes hits all the beats I imagined from the guy who invented outlaw country: It can rock, has a lot of rich, hollow body tones that are perfect on vinyl and lest we forget: Waylon has the voice of a chain-smoking angel.
Waylon Jennings, Honky Tonk Heroes — 4.5/5