Waylon Jennings Michael Watts - Essay

Michael Watts

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Waylon Jennings has found himself to be something of a star, not merely of the country circuits, but of the entire ball-game of popular music.

He is more equipped for this than anyone else who has set out from Nashville….

Jennings is happening at a time when country has never been more acceptable in rock music; when the excursions of the Byrds, the [Grateful] Dead and others into C and W areas have prepared rock audiences for an artist like Jennings, who has always been iconoclastic enough to bring in many influences outside country….

A maverick in other words, not only in his musical Catholicism, but in his attitude to Nashville's hierarchy, which can be scathing and contemptuous, and his manner of dress and appearance….

His sense of rebellion, well-publicised, is an infectuous breeding ground in which the styles and tastes of pop and country may mate. But no one has ever questioned his artistic abilities, either….

[The] mood and nature of the South seems an ever-fitting backcloth for a Greek tragedy; the harmonicas straining mournfully are the music, the chorus are those country voices, heavy with grief and resignation. The songs of the South, the white tradition, are dominated by a sense of loss mixed with an acceptance of it. It's as if they've never recovered from their failure in the Civil War.

Perhaps this is why Jennings is so compulsive. He invited our respect because he's the embodiment of peculiarly Southern virtues of manliness and honest emotions when all around is neurosis. Like all great artists his music is himself, and he stands for realness. In a time of sophistication he is simplicity. There but for fate would have gone Buddy Holly. (p. 24)

Michael Watts, "You Gotta Be a Man First, 'fore You Can Be Anything …," in Melody Maker (© IPC Business Press Ltd.), August 11, 1973, pp. 24-5.