Waylon Jennings was playing a large outdoor country festival last summer with his band when he came to a sobering conclusion: He was bored.
"Not every show I play bores me," says Jennings, explaining by phone from his headquarters in Nashville why he has embarked on a solo tour that includes stops today through Sunday at the Westwood Playhouse and Monday and Tuesday at the Crazy Horse in Santa Ana.
"But a lot of my gigs are at fairgrounds, and they're outside, and it's cold. . . . One night I was playing one of those fairs and I thought to myself: 'What am I going to do to excite myself about playing live again?' "
The answer was a series of Broadway-style one-man shows around the country--shows in which he will both sing a few songs and tell a few stories. The intimate, one-man show concept is something of an act of courage for Jennings, 50, a country-music superstar who is used to the security that comes from the aloofness of large arenas.
Jennings got his start as a member of Buddy Holly's band in the '50s. He is the real-life backup band member portrayed in the movie "La Bamba" as losing a coin toss for the extra seat in Holly's ill-fated airplane, although he says the coin-flipping incident is fiction.
Jennings kicked around the country music world as a singer and performer throughout the '50s and '60s. He first gained mass recognition for his anti-establishment blend of country and rock styles in the mid-'70s, with the double-platinum album, "Wanted: the Outlaws," recorded with Willie Nelson, Tompall Glaser and Jennings' wife, Jessi Colter.
Since then, Jennings, whose catalogue numbers 54 albums over 23 years, has charted hit after hit. But despite his hard-won successes in the business, Jennings' private life has had its down side. "I spent 21 years of my life on drugs," Jennings says now, "and I have no excuse for that. I would have been a lot more successful sooner if I had never touched them."
Jennings' drug addiction, as well what he calls his "rough and rowdy days," boozing and brawling around with Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson and other hard-core country music mavericks are just some of the topics he'll touch on in his one-man show--topics that are also the subject of the songs on the new album, an "audiobiography" titled "A Man Called Hoss."
The project came about, Jennings says, when he was approached to write his autobiography. "I hadn't written two pages when I realized there were too many people still alive and I'd end up dead or divorced if I told everything I knew," he says.
A record project seemed more realistic, so Jennings holed up with co-writer Roger Murrah to write the songs for it--starting with the present and last "chapter" of the story, a song called "Where Do We Go From Here?" and working backward to the first, "Littlefield," which talks about growing up in West Texas.
Jennings' solo shows feature him performing all the songs on the album playing electric guitar to recorded backing tracks. In addition, he tells what he calls "war stories" about his career.
The reaction to Jennings' shows has been excellent, he says, but there's one problem: "Willie and I have trained people to jump and hoot and holler at our shows, and now I got to retrain 'em to hush up a bit while I'm talking!"