As a recording artist, Jessi Colter was both spotlighted and at times overshadowed by her husband, Waylon Jennings. He co-produced her 1970 album, A Country Star is Born, with Chet Atkins; negotiated her inclusion on the multiplatinum anthology, Wanted! The Outlaws, in 1976; and sang with her on five of her 12 singles that charted between 1970 and 1982.
But Colter, whose given name was Miriam Johnson and who observes her 76th birthday Saturday (March 25), had gained musical momentum before she met and married Jennings in her native Phoenix in 1969. Raised in a Pentecostal church, she became its pianist when she was 11. Legendary guitarist Duane Eddy produced a single for her in 1961, the year before he became her first husband.
Colter is a songwriter as well as a musician, a fact made vivid in 1975 when her “I’m Not Lisa,” released on Capitol Records, went No. 1 on the country charts and No. 4 on the pop rankings.
She followed this hit with two more of her own compositions, “What’s Happened to Blue Eyes” (No. 5, 1975) and “It’s Morning (And I Still Love You)” (No. 11, 1976).
However, it was the release of Wanted! The Outlaws that gave Colter her enduring presence in the country music pantheon. Assembled from previously released tracks by Jennings, Colter, Willie Nelson and Tompall Glaser and packaged in Old West décor, the album became both a bestseller and a publicity bonanza for country music in general.
“Suspicious Minds,” Colter’s duet with Jennings, which was her first charted record in 1970 when it had topped out at No. 25, was re-released from Outlaws and zoomed to No. 2. From there on, Colter’s chart numbers declined. Her last single to chart, “Holdin’ On,” came out in 1982 and expired at No. 70.
Leather & Lace, Colter’s 1981 album with Jennings, was certified gold, indicating the sale of half a million copies.
Colter continues to record, sometimes with her and Jennings’ son, Shooter, but no longer confines herself to country music.
Her new memoir, An Outlaw and a Lady, and companion album The Psalms with Patti Smith’s guitarist Lenny Kaye were released in 2017. Price and Colter confirmed in a series of social media that Price is the producer of Colter’s next album.
Here are five of Colter’s most memorable singles:
“I’m Not Lisa”
With Waylon Jennings; written by Mark James
“Maybe You Should Have Been Listening”
Written by Buzz Rabin
“Storms Never Last”
With Jennings; written by Colter