"The Day the Music Almost Died"
Waylon Jennings Rises From
The Cotton Fields of Littlefield
West Texas Music.....Part II
by: Bobby McDonald
This second installment on West Texas Music is in honor of Buddy Holly's birthday, and tells of his association with Littlefield, Texas, native Waylon Jennings. Currently the Buddy Holly Museum in Lubbock, has an exhibit one display of these two West Texas natives, who influenced music so greatly.
The Buddy Holly Museum in Lubbock.
Cotton is still "king" in the little West Texas town of Littlefield, hometown of Waylon Jennings.
As we mentioned in "Part I," Wayon Jennings gave up his seat on the plane, that fateful February night, in 1959, to "The Big Bopper" and was spared to continue his music. Jennings was playing bass in fellow West Texan, Buddy Holly's band, in February of 1959, when Holly was killed in a plane crash after a performance in Clear Lake, Iowa. Holly had chartered a plane for himself, Tommy Allsup, and Jennings, to travel to the next stop in Fargo, North Dakota, but at the "last minute," Allsup lost a coin toss to Richie Valens and avoided fate, and Jennings gave up his seat to a sick, J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, who was suffering from a cold and complaining about how uncomfortable a long bus trip was going to be for him.
The morning of February 3, 1959, later termed "The Day the Music Died," it was revealed that Holly, Valens, and The Big Bopper, along with the plane's pilot had been killed in a plane crash, following take-off, in an Iowa cornfield.
It was these long rows of cotton, on the High Plains of Texas, near Littlefield, that Waylon Jennings
hoped to escape with his music.
Jennings later revealed that his last words to Holly, were jokingly telling him, "I hope your plane crashes!" And, that the words would haunt him for the rest of his life, despite them just being a joke! Jennings and Allsup continued the two week tour with Jennings performing the vocals, as lead singer.
But before Jennings had "hooked up" with Holly and his band, he'd been reared in the small, Panhandle town of Littlefield, Texas, born in 1937, as the son of William Albert and Lorene Beatrice Shipley Jennings. When he was eight years old, his mother taught him to play the guitar, and she bought him his own instrument. The first tune he learned was "Thirty Pieces of Silver." Jennings never learned to read music, but he practiced almost daily to seek a music career, to avoid a "sentence" to a life in the cotton patch.
At age twelve, he auditioned for a spot on KVOE in Littlefield. Station owner, J.B. McShan, liked his style and hired him for a weekly, thirty-minute program. With this local success, Jennings organized friends and acquaintances from the area and formed The Texas Longhorns Band. The group played a mixture of country and western and bluegrass and many times were not well received in their venues. At age seventeen, Jennings and a band recorded a demo of the song "Stranger in MY Home" and "There'll Be a New Day" at KFYO Radio, in Lubbock.
Jennings dropped out of high school in the tenth grade to pursue his music. Landing a job as a DJ at KFYO and worked for Lubbock Radio Stations KDAV and later KLLL. And it was while working at KDAV that Jennings met Holly, during a broadcast of Sunday Party. Holly arranged for a recording session for Jennings and on September 10th, Jennings recorded "Jolie Blon" and "When Sin Ends Love Begins," with Holly and Tommy Allsup on guitars and Ken Curtis as a saxaphonist. The single was released on Brunswick records in 1959 with limited success. Holly then hired Jennings to play electric bass on his "Winter Party Dance Tour," that would be Holly's last tour.
After Holly's death and finishing up the "Winter Dance Tour," Jennings returned to KLLL in Lubbock and performed locally. However, in 1961, Jennings traveled west to, first Collidge, Arizona, and then on to Phoenix, where he formed a rockabilly band, The Waylors. The group performed in nightclubs and had some local success.
Then, in 1963, Jennings moved to Los Angeles, California, and signed with Herb Alpert of A&M Records. Major success eluded Jennings, although he found some success with his recordings of "Four Strong Winds" and a song he co-wrote with Don Bowman, "Just to Satisfy You." Singer Bobby Bare had covered on these two songs, and he recommended Jennings to Chet Atkins, who signed him to RCA Victor Records, in 1965. On August 21, 1965, Jennings made his first appearance on the Hot Country Songs Chart with "That's the Chance I'll Have to Take." And the same year, he met his friend Willie Nelson. Through the remainder of the 1960's and early 1970's Jennings saw some success with his recordings, as he began to lean toward the "Outlaw" Country Sound.
By 1976, Jennings released the "Wanted" album that he recorded with Nelson, Tompall Glaser, and Jessie Colter, for RCA, and proved to be his first album to go platinum. But, it was in 1977, that Nelson and Jennings released their "signature song," "Luckenbach, Texas," that would define a major work for both artists. Then, in 1978, they released "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys." Jennings also released "I've Always Been Crazy" in 1978.
In 1979, Waylon Jennings released his "Greatest Hits Album" that would be certified gold and and by 2002 would be certified quintuple platinum.
An, in the mid-1980's, Jennings joined Johnny Cash, Kris Kristoferson, and Nelson, as they formed the group The Highwaymen, that proved to be a success for all of the artists. And, in 1985, Jennings joned the USA for Africa charity, to record "We Are the World." By 1990, Jennings released his last Top Ten album, "Tehe Eagle." But, he continued to play his music, his own way!
Jennings' health had deteriorated through the years, following addictions to both alcohol and drugs, and the "hard life" of a musician, on the road. However, he had gone successfully through recovery, but by 2000 diabetes had worsened and he ended most of his touring, to be near his family. By 2001, one of his feet was amputated, and he passed away on February 13, 2002, from diabetic complications.
The young singer from Littlefield, Texas, did manage to "escape the cotton patch" and made a successful music career, appearing on television in movies "The All American Cowboy" and "The Oklahoma City Dolls," and was the major narrator and balladeer on the popular television series The Dukes of Hazzard. Jennings made a number of other cameo television appearances.
Jennings was married four times and was the father of six children, Terry Vance Jennings, Julie Rae Jennings, Buddy Dean Jennings, and Deana Jennings, with his first wife, whom he married at age 18. Then, he adopted a child, Tomi Lynne with his second wife; and he and fourth wife, Jessie Colter, had one son, Waylon Albright "Shooter" Jennings, who followed as a performer, in his father's footsteps, as has a grandson, William "Struggle" Harness.