Jessi Colter Shares Her "Wild Ride" of Life and Music With Waylon Jennings
"There's never enough of Waylon," said Jessi Colter, Waylon Jennings' wife and musical partner for more than 30 years. "I describe Waylon sometimes as he was no different whether it was the Ritz in Paris or the Holiday Inn. There's no difference."
Colter, the dark-haired beauty wearing a necklace displaying a small photo of the two, recently sat down with CMT.com to share stories of her husband, who died in 2002. Speaking with unwavering respect and wonder, she went on, "He was just so deep in it -- music, the desire for music, chasing the song."
The newly-released and second installment in the trilogy collection, The Music Inside: A Collaboration Dedicated to Waylon Jennings, Volume II, has been three years in the making with sessions taking place everywhere from her living room to Los Angeles to Austin and six different studios in Nashville. And with the third volume nearly completed, she couldn't be prouder of the outcome or the outpouring of respect from the contributing artists.
"How it's been done, how artful it is, it just stands head and shoulders above anything else I've heard that's been called a tribute because this is more of a collaboration," she said. "This is something that's been meant to be -- these songs and this honor given to Waylon."
Though at first reluctant of the idea for another tribute album -- RCA and Dualtone both released all-star albums of Jennings' hits in 2003 -- Colter put her trust and respect into producer Witt Stewart's compelling idea.
"He did it in a very similar way if Waylon were in that side of the market place, [the way] he may have done it," she detailed. "It just kept coming -- kind of signs that we were on the right track."
The 11-song album features artists like Dierks Bentley, Pat Green, Jack Ingram, Montgomery Gentry, Hank Williams Jr., Jewel and newer acts such as Colt Ford, Justin Moore, Josh Thompson and Wyatt McCubbin.
As well as explaining how the compilation transpired, Colter also opened up about what life was like with one of country music's original Outlaws, delving into not only his musical path but also his essence.
You recorded the song "Mama" in your living room. What an intimate setting.
Yes, in my living room. It was. The Chickering piano that I'm playing, Waylon bought for me. It's a beautiful ash baby grand and [was a gift] in the days that we were livin', runnin' the road. The beautiful truck that he had called Miss Jessi -- it was a 1969 Mack -- backs up to my house on Christmas Eve and unloads this beautiful ash, French grand. And I played that on this song. I play it all the time.
Not only are there a few of Waylon's friends on the album like Hank Jr., but there are also country newcomers. What do you think they brought to this collection?
You know what I heard? Respect. They have their styles now to the point that they can do something like that. ... So I just think it's a major challenge for a new artist to do one of his songs and keep their own identity and add something to it. You either can or can't, and they seemed like they could.
I've heard you describe Waylon as a dark horse. Can you elaborate on that?
I listen to the Kentucky Derby a lot and the ones that aren't expected to finish first. And it seemed like he had to do so much in spite of things. It's not like he just got on the river and floated down. His vision, his determination, was just indefatigable. You couldn't stop him. He stayed under the radar even though he was huge and broke records. He wasn't out there for fame, and there were many opportunities and managers, many things that just didn't all line up. He believed in lining up the signs. If something was presented to him and he ran into say, three obstacles, he'd drop it because he would want to change the chain of events.
Perhaps because of all he had been through, I don't know. But he was that way. If he ran into too many obstacles, if he was going to travel somewhere, the flights, the booker -- he kind of counted the cost and checked the odds. But being a dark horse, he just always did things you wouldn't expect. You could not predict him because he was creative. He was on another channel. Even when he came off drugs in the end, it had nothing to do with drugs. He was just on his own channel, and the last thing you would think he would do, he would do.
You were not only Waylon's musical partner at times, but you were his partner in life. Kris Kristofferson described you both as "a beautiful love affair." Can you put into words what life was like with Waylon?
It was fun. It was exciting. It was a wild ride in the early years, and yet he kind of made things settle. He had strength about him -- something about him that almost would stamp things. That's just how it was.
I was raised by a mother who had given herself to the world. It was like she was a missionary. We had people in our home all the time. We had prisoners that would stop in, and she would feed them and things like that. So I shared her in a different way. Waylon was a man you shared with the world. He would never be just yours. So perhaps my early life prepared me somewhat to balance that because it's not easy.
I respected his maestro. I understood his maestro. Even though at times I had to sacrifice what I really needed or wanted, it mattered to me more that he be able to follow his strong mind in it. And I followed mine. When I cut my spiritual album, he really didn't want me to do it, but I had to do it. I did what I had to do, and I loved having Shooter late in life. I loved trying to nurture his children and my children. So I did what I wanted to do. I didn't curtail myself because of Waylon. That's what I wanted to do, and I integrated all of that and being with him and singing.
It just all worked out because he had been through so much. There were times that he would praise me, and I'd say, "I can't understand why you would praise me." He'd say, "Jessi, I've known trouble." ... I was his fourth wife, and he had tried with these different women that didn't really understand him. (laughs) I just loved him. ... I loved him! He really entertained me. He made me laugh. He made me feel loved. He inspired me.