Country music legend Waylon Jennings died February 13 at his home in Chandler, Arizona, after a long battle with diabetes-related health problems. He was 64. A spokesperson for the family said he died very peacefully in his sleep. A member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and multiple BMI Award-winning writer, Jennings was one of the most influential singers, songwriters, entertainers and personalities in the history of popular music. His unique sound and independent spirit helped inspire much of the best that country music had to offer for four decades, and they will no doubt resonate within the industry for decades to come.
1977 BMI Country Awards: Frances W. Preston, Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter and Neil Reshen of EMI-Full Nelson Music
Jennings sold more than 40 million records worldwide. He had 89 singles that entered the Billboard singles charts, including 53 that landed in the Top 10 and 16 that hit #1. Among his many awards are two Grammys, four CMA Awards, including Male Vocalist of the Year (1975), 15 BMI Country Awards and 5 BMI Pop Awards. His collaboration with Willie Nelson, Tompall Glaser, and Jessi Colter, titled Wanted: The Outlaws , was the first RIAA-certified platinum country album, and lent its name to the "Outlaw" movement. Like his friend Nelson, he often bristled at the boundaries imposed on artists and music by Music Row's method of operation, and he was based for many years in his native Texas. He once said, "It wasn't until I started producing my own records and using my own musicians and working with people who understood what I was about that I first started having any real success." The duo's "Good Hearted Woman" was #1 for three weeks in 1976 and was CMA Single of the Year.
Frances Preston, BMI President and CEO, had this to say about the passing of her friend:
“Waylon was one of the most colorful songwriters I’ve ever known. In spite of the rough, tough image he sought to portray, he was also one of the gentlest people I’ve ever known. That gentleness really surfaced when his son, Shooter, was born and Waylon cherished holding him in the palm of his hand to show him off to his friends. And, of course, Jessi was the delight of his life. When Waylon and Willie and Kris were appearing together, it was one of the most exciting times in country music. Those three gigantic talents fed off each other and shared their souls with the whole world. Waylon, particularly, believed in true country music and hated the plastic country music was about to become. He was my friend and I’ll miss him.”
Jennings was born in Littlefield, Texas, on June 15, 1937. He was a disc jockey at 12 and, as a teenager, began performing regionally with a country band. He dropped out of the 10th grade and moved to Lubbock, Texas in 1954, where he performed on the radio station KLLL. There he met Buddy Holly in 1955 and joined Holly's band, playing bass, in 1958 -59. Holly produced Jennings's first single, a version of the Cajun song "Jole Blon." Jennings' career was nearly cut short by tragedy soon after it began: he was scheduled to fly on the light plane that crashed and killed Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson on February 3, 1959. Jennings had given up his seat on the plane to Richardson, who was ill and wanted to fly rather than travel by bus with those left behind.
In the early ‘60s, Jennings established himself as one of the premiere nightclub entertainers in the Phoenix area. Chet Atkins heard him play in 1965 and signed him to RCA Records. His chart-topping hits included "Are You Sure Hank Done It That Way," "Luckenbach, Texas" (#1 six weeks), "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys" ( #1 four weeks), "I've Always Been Crazy" ( #1 three weeks), "Just To Satisfy You," "Amanda, " "Lucille," and "The Wurlitzer Prize."
His legendary collaborations include his work with wife Jessi Colter, and with Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson in the Highwaymen.
In 1980, Jennings sang the theme for the television show "The Dukes of Hazzard " ("Good Ol Boys," which was a million seller) and was the series' narrator .
He is survived by his wife and six children. Burial service will be private; a memorial service in Nashville is being planned by the family. Fans who wish to send condolences to the family may send them to 1117 17th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37212.
Waylon Jennings' BMI Million-Airs:
"Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way " 1 Million performances
"Good Hearted Woman " 2 Million performances
"Good Ol Boys" (Theme From The Dukes Of Hazzard) 1 Million performances
"Just To Satisfy You " 1 Million performances