Earlier this week, I read that Waylon Jennings was born on June 15, 1937, so we would be celebrating his 70th birthday had he not passed away five years ago. That was a good enough reason for me to Google Elvis and Waylon Jennings to see what connection there was between the two. There was some, not as much as usually makes a good Elvisblog article, but here’s what I found.
Jennings was born in the small West Texas town of Littlefield. He dropped out of high school and got a job as a radio disc jockey while still a teenager. When a copy of Elvis’ first Sun Records’ single came into the radio studio, Jennings was impressed. “I looked at that yellow Sun label from Memphis as if it was from Mars.” He was even more impressed with the music. “I thought, what a wild, strange sound… They didn’t know what to call Elvis yet on the radio, though they thought of him as a country artist.”
However, when Elvis later performed in nearby Lubbock for the first time on January 6, 1955, he was billed as the “King of Hillbilly Bop.” Jennings did not make it to that show, but he didn’t miss Elvis’ next appearance in Lubbock on February 13 (now billed as the “Be-Bop Western Star of the Louisiana Hayride”). Jennings used his DJ connections to get free tickets and to go backstage and meet Elvis. He remembers, “[Elvis] was about the hottest thing to hit West Texas… He and Scotty Moore were standing over by the stage, and Elvis was just jumping around everywhere, bouncing and bubbling over with enthusiasm, full of more energy than anybody I ever saw. He was talking to me like he’d known me for a thousand years.”
Waylon Jennings and Elvis crossed paths a few more times in their lives, mostly in Las Vegas. RCA invited Jennings to see one of Elvis’ shows and Elvis requested that Jennings visit with him afterwards. At the time, Jennings wore a leather wristband to aid in the recovery of a fractured arm. The wristband had a metal peace sign in the middle. “Elvis really liked that wristband; I think he wanted it. He kept admiring it – ‘you hillbillies sure know how to dress’ – and calling attention to it.” Jennings never did part with it, but if he had, Elvis would probably have reciprocated with a Cadillac or something (and added another story to the lore of his legendary generosity).
The rest of the Elvis/Waylon connection is in the singing of each other’s songs. There is an interesting bit of trivia on the one Waylon Jennings song that Elvis recorded. Jennings recorded “You Asked Me To” in 1973, and it went to #8 on the Billboard Country Charts. Elvis recorded it for his 1975 album Promised Land, and it was reworked with different instrumentation for the 1980 album Guitar Man. That version was released as a single in 1981, and guess how high it went on the charts? #8 Country, same as Jennings’ version.
Jennings did a medley of “That’s All Right”/”My Baby Left Me” on his 1977 album ‘Ol Waylon. He sang “Suspicious Minds” in a duet with his wife Jesse Coulter on the 1976 album Wanted! The Outlaws. He also performed it on the DVD Waylon Jennings: Live From Austin TX, a recent release of his 1989 appearance on Austin City Limits.
The 1998 CD The Old Dogs featured Jennings, Mel Tillis, Bobby Bare and Jerry Reed. They did an amusing song titled “Elvis Has Left The Building.” That was not Jennings first tribute song to Elvis. On the 1994 CD Waymore’s Blues Part 2, he sang the song “Nobody Knows.” It doesn’t mention Elvis by name, but the message is clear. Here are some of the lyrics:
Well, I nearly got caught at the Burger King
And a couple of times on a plane.
I thought I was safe from detection
With all of the weight I had gained.
But walking around in a jumpsuit
That didn’t work worth a damn.
So, I bought me some Levis and grew a beard,
And you’ll never guess who I am.
Elvisblog hsve noted comments by Pat Boone and Carl Perkins on how handsome Elvis was, but this quote attributed to Waylon Jennings might be the topper: “Elvis may have been the most beautiful man in the world. His face was carved like a stone, chiseled out of rock, he was just that good looking.”
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