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POP : THE VOICE OF EXPERIENCE : Waylon Jennings' HaRD Living Makes the Songs More Lived-In

January 10, 1991|MIKE BOEHM | Mike Boehm covers pop music for The Times Orange County Edition.

Isn't it great how Clint Black, Garth Brooks, George Strait and most of the rest of country music's new breed of stars are all such good, solid, straightforward, upstanding guys, the sort you'd want as your next-door neighbor?


While the best of the newcomers certainly have their merits, old-line country stars tend to be a lot more colorful--none of them more so than Waylon Jennings.

Jennings, now 53, is one of the ultimate pop music reprobates. When he sings about hard living, you know he's done more than most. When he celebrates personal independence, it is from experience. And when he expresses regrets about having carried the hard-living too far, and crossing the line that separates independence from irresponsibility, you get the sense that these subjects are real issues in his life, not just song fodder. Even though he doesn't write most of his own songs, Jennings always finds material that allows him to take the Walt Whitman approach, singing songs of himself in a baritone voice that is lived-in, but still rich and graceful.

The Texas-bred Jennings got his start in the late '50s playing bass for Buddy Holly's backup band, the Crickets. Holly produced Jennings' first single, a reading of the Cajun waltz standard, Jole Blon. The 1959 plane crash that killed Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper gave Jennings an eerie brush with fate: he had given up his seat on the plane to the Big Bopper at the last minute.

Jennings formed his own band, the Waylors, in 1963, and began to earn a reputation as a hell-raiser of considerable proportions. That reputation served him well in the early '70s, when he teamed with Willie Nelson to spearhead what came to be known as the "Outlaw" movement. Jennings certainly made a believable outlaw--and it helped that he was expert at delivering the lean, forceful, rock- edged style of country that turned against the lush Nashville production conventions of the time.

That clean, basic approach has remained a hallmark of Jennings' style, enabling him to play straight honky-tonk, or branch into rock-oriented material (including a fine version of Los Lobos' "Will the Wolf Survive?" which, in Jennings' hands, becomes yet another song of himself).

Jennings decided in the mid-'80s that he had ingested about as many drugs as one body could take. The heart surgery he underwent two years ago was another reminder that extreme habits have their consequences. But from the evidence of his latest album, "The Eagle," none of those changes have taken away the authoritative voice of experience he brings to a country song.


Waylon Jennings.


Monday and Tuesday, Jan. 14 and 15, at 7 and 10 p.m.


Crazy Horse Steak House, 1580 Brookhollow Drive, Santa Ana.


Take the Costa Mesa Freeway to the Dyer Road exit. From the north, go right on Grand Avenue, then take first right onto Brookhollow Drive; from the south, go left under the overpass, right on Grand and right on Brookhollow.


All shows are sold out.

Where to call

(714) 549-1512.

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