Waylon Jennings Critical Essays

Introduction

Waylon Jennings 1937–

American songwriter, singer, and musician.

Jennings is well known for his efforts to revitalize country music and is considered one of the leading "outlaws" in the field because of his rebellion against the traditional, rigid sound of Nashville. Jennings combines the unpredictable, independent attitudes of such early country-and-western personalities as Hank Williams and Bob Wills with the country-rock sounds of Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley to create his own rugged, freewheeling style. However, it was not until he gained some control over the production of his albums that Jennings finally reached beyond a strictly country-and-western audience.

Jennings's massive appeal lies in his simple, honest approach to music and the sympathy his songs express for the people who, like himself, refuse to conform to "the way things are going." The warm-hearted rebel populates Jennings's songs, and he reinforces this image through his own sincere attitude and unkempt appearance. His unconventional style has been described as bridging the gap between old Southern-poverty folkways and modern stresses and doubts. Jennings encourages his listeners to go their own ways and attempts to convince them that it is all right to make mistakes and have feelings. In some of his more recent songs, Jennings has objected to the image of the romanticized outlaw with which he and others have been identified. In other songs, he questions the motivations and intentions of record producers and the lifestyles of country music stars. His work also explores the theme of growing old, particularly as it effects him as a performer.

Jennings's reputation as a popular singer rests largely on his ability to personalize almost any song he sings, whether it is written specifically for him or not. He is not a prolific songwriter, and his albums are mostly made up of material written by other artists. Critics agree that it is Jennings's distinctive baritone which sets him apart from other singers in the same field, but some critics feel that his albums are occasionally marred by selections that do not suit Jennings's rough, unpolished vocals. Jennings, however, has voiced his indifference to what the critics have to say, for as he claims, "My music is me. I have to feel which way I should go next. All music is good. There's good in all music and bad in all music too." The formula seems to work, because his popularity continues to grow beyond country-and-western boundaries.