Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll
|Nashville Rebel: Waylon Jennings, 1937-2002.|
Waylon Jennings was addicted, no question about it. Skipping meals and going for days without a bath, Jennings spent hours wallowing in self-absorbed, hedonistic pleasure as bells rang and colors flashed before his eyes. Life was getting out of hand. He’d drive all night after a show in Louisiana just so he could wrap his fingers around his favorite Nashville pinball machine. His habit eventually reached $35,000 a year — in quarters.
Jennings’ childhood in Texas epitomized the drama of country songs. He picked cotton from dusk to dawn, his mother openly wept every time she heard Roy Acuff sing “Wreck on the Highway,” and an alcoholic uncle regularly consumed grapefruit juice with brake fluid. Jennings was an outlaw long before his music was literally marketed as such. Refusing to conform to ideals defined by the Nashville music establishment, Jennings grew his hair long and boycotted the Grand Ole Opry for 10 years because the show did not allow performers to use a full set of drums. His disdain for the music industry took root in his teens when he played with his Texas pal Buddy Holly. Jennings gave up his seat on the doomed airplane that killed Holly, J. P. Richardson [the Big Bopper], and Richie Valens. Holly had teased Jennings about being afraid to fly to the next show 400 miles away, laughing that he hoped the bus Jennings and others were traveling on would freeze. Jennings replied, “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes.” Guilt and remorse about the remark haunted him for years.
The promoter found a local teen who had won a talent show to fill in for Buddy Holly the night of his death. Jennings was convinced to play the show with assurance that he would be flown home to Texas the next day for Holly’s funeral. The flight home never materialized, and the tour proceeded for another three months across the Midwest. At tour’s end, Jennings received only half of what he had agreed to play for; promoters had short-changed the musicians since the stars had been unable to appear.
Jennings revolutionized music, creating an irreverent blend of country and rock ‘n’ roll that introduced a generation of drug-addled hippies to a warped version of 1950s cowboy singers Roy Rogers and Tex Ritter. Music critics branded the sound “Outlaw.” A string of duets with Willie Nelson, including “Good-Hearted Woman,” “Luckenbach, Texas,” and “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” drew an audience that Nashville had failed to snare with its marketing of “folk-country.” In truth, Jennings had never set foot in Luckenbach, and absolutely detested the song because he thought it sounded too much like “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues.”
“I left all my ex-wives. They didn’t leave me,” Jennings bragged in his autobiography. “I went through my marriages like Grant went through Richmond.” The singer boasted that all of Hank Williams, Sr.’s, ex-wives had hit on him, and claimed to have often had several women in one night, hiding them on different floors of the same hotel. Jennings even tried to pick up newscaster Jane Pauley when she interviewed him on NBC’s “Today Show.”
Getting high became a way of life for Waylon Jennings. The Telecaster Cowboy, as he often referred to himself, ate a couple dozen amphetamines a day for 15 years, citing Johnny Cash, Roger Miller, and himself as “world champion pill-takers.” Loretta Lynn used to walk Jennings around the dressing room when he got too high before a show. A friend finally convinced him to take up cocaine to kick the pills. Over the next decade, Jennings spent $1,500 a day feeding his cocaine habit. He ignored a White House meeting with President Jimmy Carter to do drugs with a Washington Redskins football hero, and he shared his cocaine with members of the Oakland Raiders at halftime while the Raiders were trailing the Chiefs 6-0 during the Kenny Stabler years. The Raiders scored 54 points in the second half to win. Jennings played poker and drank beer with Mother Maybelle Carter, introduced Nashville to the 12-string electric guitar, narrated The Dukes of Hazzard (“I aimed the narration at children and it made it work”), and once had a run-in with Grace Slick while filming a television special, calling her a communist for her criticism of America.
In 1984, he took his fourth wife, Jessi Colter, to Arizona, where the couple leased a house in the desert so that Jennings could end his years of cocaine addiction. Jennings, forever the outlaw, kicked the drug his own unique way. Stashing $20,000 worth of coke on his tour bus parked in the driveway of his temporary desert home in case the cocaine urge got too strong, Jennings quit cold turkey. One of his favorite anti-drug quotes was from former boss Chet Atkins at RCA, Jennings’ record company for over 20 years. “You’ve only got so many beats in your heart. Why shorten the number?” &