Waylon Jennings, one of country music’s most distinctive and independent voices, died Wednesday (Feb. 13) at his home in Chandler, Ariz. He was 64.
Jennings had been in ill health with diabetes-related problems. He underwent surgery Dec. 19 at a Phoenix hospital to amputate his left foot, which had become infected because of diabetes. Jennings left the hospital and returned to his home on Jan. 7.
Jennings recorded more than 60 albums and had 16 No. 1 country hits. He joined the Country Music Hall of Fame in October, but did not attend the induction ceremony, sending his son in his place to accept the honor.
Born in Littlefield, Texas, Jennings was on the radio from the age of 14. He moved to Lubbock in 1954 and worked there as a disc jockey. Jennings toured as Buddy Holly’s bass player from 1958-59 and gave up his seat on an airplane that crashed near Mason City, Iowa, on Feb. 3, 1959, killing Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper.
Jennings moved to Nashville in 1965 and scored his first Top 10 country hit, “(That’s What You Get) For Lovin’ Me,” in 1966. His first No. 1 hit, “This Time,” came in 1974.
In the mid ‘70s, Jennings became a standard bearer for country’s “outlaw” movement, a group of renegade singers and songwriters who wrote and recorded songs outside country’s mainstream. A 1976 album, Wanted: The Outlaws, featured Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jennings’ wife Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser. It was named album of the year by the Country Music Association and was the first country album to be certified platinum, for shipments of 1 million copies, by the Recording Industry Association of America.
Throughout the ‘70s Jennings enjoyed a string of hits for RCA including “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love),” “The Wurlitzer Prize (I Don’t Want to Get Over You)” and “I’ve Always Been Crazy.” He was the Country Music Association’s male vocalist of the year in 1975 and he won two Grammys, in 1970 (best country performance by a duo or group, for “MacArthur Park” recorded with the Kimberlys) and in 1977 (best country performance by a duo or group, for “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” with Nelson).
In 1985, Jennings, Nelson, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson formed a super quartet, the Highwaymen, and issued a No. 1 country album, Highwayman. They followed with Highwayman 2 in 1990 and The Road Goes On Forever in 1995.
Jennings married Colter, his fourth wife, in 1969. They had one son, Shooter. They sold their Nashville home and moved to Arizona more than a year ago.
“For Waylon it was always about the music,” said RCA Label Group chief Joe Galante Wednesday. “The only spotlight he ever cared about was the one on him while he was on stage. It wasn’t about the awards or events. He was an original and a pioneer in terms of creating his own sound. This is a great loss for the music world.”
Jennings appeared in the movies Nashville Rebel and MacKintosh and T.J., and he provided the theme song and narration for the long-running TV show Dukes of Hazzard.
“I think you need to play your music and do the best you can with that,” Jennings told CMT news soon after the Hall of Fame ceremony. “That’s what you’ll be remembered for.”