DIARY - 15 FEBRUARY 2002
JUNE 15,1937-FEBRUARY 13, 2002
Way back in the sixties when country wasn't cool in Australia there was
a unashamed hillbilly heroine singing the praises of the cutting edge
of the genre. Ringwood country music archivist and broadcaster Barbara
Dowling delved deep into the roots for stone country artists such as Buck
Owens, Wynn Stewart, Merle Haggard, Tommy Collins and other Bakersfield
Dowling, pioneer judge at Tamworth and Wandong Country Music festivals,
was also carrying the torch for trusty Texan troubadours Ernest Tubb,
Bob Wills, Johnny Bush, Ray Price, George Jones and Shotgun Willie Nelson.
But it was none of the above who turned her lonesome life around - it
was Littlefield legend Waylon Arnold Jennings.
The revered historian tapped into the rich Jennings vein when he played
bass on the fateful 1959 tour which tragically claimed the lives of Buddy
Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens.
It was Ms Dowling who accurately recalled the entire seating arrangements
on that light plane flight which claimed all three heroes in the prime
of their careers.
She knew Waylon spent most of his life living down his final words to
Holly after Jennings gave up his seat to the Big Bopper, J. P Richardson,
on February 3, 1959. "I hope your ol' plane crashes," was the
quote that came back to haunt Waylon whose own radio career began at the
age of 12 in Littlefield and led to his first meeting with Holly shortly
afterwards at KLLL in Lubbock.
Dowling knew Jennings and his fourth wife Jessi Colter - former singing
spouse of Duane Eddy - long before he earned his outlaw tag courtesy of
his boots, fists, dope and kicker country music.
So when four times wed Jennings died at 64 on February 13, 2002, it was
Barbara who was called upon to give her insider insights on the king of
the outlaws on Derek Guile's prestige radio show on ABC radio flagship
- 774 AM, nee 3LO. They didn't call in some garrulous gringo who only
knew Waylon from faded press clips and cyber chat - they dialled a dinkum
At 59 the archivist was just five years younger than the man who met his
maker after a 1988 quadruple heart by-pass, latter day stroke and debilitating
battle with diabetes which claimed his left foot shortly before Christmas
Listeners hung on every word from Ms Dowling as Waylon's major protégé
Billy Joe Shaver learned of the news at a Highway 31 truck stop mid way
between Violet Town and Benalla on his east coast tour with singing Texan
crime novelist Kinky Friedman.
It was a trusted insider giving the insider insight - a talent for which
she had been oft renowned on her Long In The Saddle Sabbath show for more
than seven years on Nu Country FM. Barbara, whose home was long a museum
to Waylon and his peers, agreed to again share her intimate knowledge
of the famed Jennings clan with Nu Country FM in this evocative tribute.
- THROUGH THE EARS AND HEART OF BARBARA DOWLING
I first become aware of Waylon through his involvement with the Lubbock
legend Buddy Holly and had a couple of his records, my interest in him
and his music really burgeoned in the late sixties. It was then that I
set out to find out as much as possible about Waylon and collect as many
of his records and as much memorabilia as I could.
My first meeting with Waylon and his wife Jessi Colter took place in Nashville
on October 20, 1972, shortly after his recovery from hepatitis. The following
week we were in Joplin, Missouri to attend my first Waylon concert. Courtesy
of Bill Anderson, the headliner of the show, we were given complimentary
tickets in the fourth row.
Whilst in Nashville in June 1976 we visited Waylon's Music Row office
for the first time, wall to wall people and one could have floated out
of the building on the fumes that permeated the atmosphere.
On June 4, 1984, we were given a sneak preview of the new Waylon Museum
that was scheduled to open on June 12 on Music Row. Called Waylon's Private
Collection, it has on display two cars given to Waylon from his favourite
country singer George Jones, another given to him by Hank Williams Jr,
the Dukes Of Hazzard car, Waylon's favourite cadillac and a sports car.
Other items include precious stage outfits worn by Waylon and Jessi, Buddy
Holly's motorcycle, an invaluable letter from John Lennon, Muhammad Ali's
boxing gloves and all Waylon's Gold and Platinum records. The museum subsequently
closed a few years ago.
It wasn't until 1987 that I met up with Waylon again. On June 9 his then
publicist Susan Hackney took us to his dressing room at the TNN studio
at Opryland in Nashville. We spent forty-five minutes with Waylon and
Jessi and then sat in the wings during the television show Nashville Now
on which they appeared. The show's regular host Ralph Emery was unavailable
and Charley Pride filled in for him and performed Good Hearted Woman with
Two days later we were present at a celebrity auction organised by Jessi
and hosted by Waylon and Jessi. Leroy Van Dyke was the auctioneer and
several items belonging to Waylon and Jessi, along with those of numerous
other artists, went under the hammer.
I made my first visit to the small West Texas town of Littlefield, Waylon's
birthplace, in August 1988 and spoke to his mother by phone and met one
of his three brothers, James D. Jennings. A few days later we spent several
hours with Waylon's brother Tommy Jennings in Nashville; we had met him
briefly back in June 1980. He was very expansive and related numerous
anecdotes pertaining to the Jennings family. We went back to Waylon's
office and were taken on a tour of both downstairs and upstairs. On display
were his gold records and various accolades and awards, in his private
office the Flying W logo was woven into the carpet. The building was originally
a stately home, as were a number of others in the area now being used
Next came Harrah's Casino in Reno, Nevada, where on September 6 we spent
some time backstage with Waylon prior to our attending his early performance
in the showroom. The following evening we visited with Waylon between
shows. We returned to Harrah's Casino in 1990 and attended his early show
on June 22. He noticed us in the audience but we didn't get to talk to
him. Then we were back in Littlefield where the town went all out to honour
On July 3 we were fortunate enough to be invited to the Jennings' family
reunion dinner. When Waylon walked in and spotted us he said, "Here
are the ladies from Australia," came over and gave us a hug and told
us they had been looking for us in Reno. We met up with members of his
family including his mother Lorene, stepfather James Gilbert, brother
Bo plus several aunts, uncles and cousins. At one point in the afternoon
Jessi took us to their brand new luxurious touring bus to do an interview
The next day there was a street parade comprising fifty-three entrants
led by Waylon, Jessi and their son Shooter. The procession went by way
of the newly named Waylon Jennings Boulevard to the campground that had
been dedicated to Waylon, he put his bootprint and autograph in a piece
of cement in the shape of Texas. After the speeches and presentations
Waylon responded by saying, "I've been to a lot of places and I've
learned that when you're young you get tired of looking at the same old
buildings in a small town, you want to leave, and see other places. Then
when you grow up, and you become a man or a woman, you realise that buildings
don't make a town, people do, and that's why Littlefield means so much
to me; it's the people. I am just delighted." Waylon had to leave
for Lubbock airport to fly to Austin to appear at Willie Nelson's 4th
of July Picnic.
Waylon toured Australia for the first time in 1991, as one quarter of
the Highwaymen, along with Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson.
David Trask, Waylon's then road manager, arranged for us to meet up with
Waylon and Jessi backstage after their 22 May concert in Melbourne. We
also took in the concert the following night.
Five weeks later on June 29 we were in the front row at a Waylon concert
in Branson, Missouri. He told the audience about his recent Australian
tour and chatted to us from the stage. In the audience were fellow outlaw
and protégé David Allan Coe and his young baby.
We caught up with Waylon and Jessi again on July 3 in Littlefield at our
second Jennings family reunion. We renewed acquaintances with family members
and met Denver Pyle, who played the part of Uncle Jesse in the Dukes of
Hazzard television series.
The people of Littlefield turned out in force on the morning of July 4th
for the grand parade. Waylon led the one hundred and ten entrants in the
parade driving a convertible in which were Jessi, Shooter, his mother
Throughout the day many activities took place including a horseshoe pitching
contest, chilli cook off, arts and crafts display and the like. In the
afternoon we chatted with Waylon and Jessi before they took part in an
autograph signing session. In the evening a crowd of thirty thousand people
from near and far attended the free concert staged by Waylon and Jessi.
Towards the end of the show Waylon introduced members of his family to
the audience, they included his mother, stepfather, brothers, children,
grand children, nieces and nephews. He ended by saying, "Let's do
this every year".
At the end of May 1992 we visited Waylon's office again. While there a
shipment of the new cassette Ol' Waylon Sings Ol' Hank was delivered and
I was lucky enough to obtain the first copy and his business manager,
Marylou Hyatt wrote a letter stating it was the first copy. Marylou is
an ex-wife of Walter Hyatt - leader of Uncle Walt's Band - which featured
the recently deceased Champ Hood and latter day chart topper David Ball.
Our next encounter with Waylon was in Littlefield on July 2, following
an Honour Waylon Jennings Committee dinner; he arrived and individually
greeted everyone present. He also signed the letter that Marylou had written
Then on July 3 we participated in another Jennings family reunion. As
well as mingling with those we already knew, we met other family members
for the first time. Afterwards Waylon wandered around the grounds and
took part in a horseshoe-pitching contest.
On July 4 Waylon drove himself and Jessi in a Mercedes convertible in
the parade and Shooter rode a mini replica of Waylon's new touring bus.
In the evening we attended the Waylon and Jessi live show performance
on the newly constructed outdoor stage.
In Littlefield on July 1, 1993, I was taken to a private dinner for the
Waylon Committee. Waylon arrived late in the night, the committee presented
him with gifts and he chatted to us all for a while before leaving.
The next morning, July 2, we set off for the Jennings family reunion dinner.
We caught up with Waylon's relatives again, Jessi had a long talk to me
and I had an interview with Waylon. Because the 4th was falling on a Sunday
and Littlefield is in the Bible belt, the celebrations were held on July
3 instead. Waylon, Jessi and Shooter rode in the parade in the morning
along with Denver Pyle and his wife Tippy and in the afternoon they all
took part in an autograph signing session.
Willie Nelson didn't arrive in town in time for the parade but was on
hand for the autograph session after which he played against the finalists
in the domino tournament. He didn't win though. That night Jessi opened
the show and when she came to the end of her act she was proclaimed as
an adopted daughter of the city of Littlefield and presented with the
key to the city. Waylon was next and when it came time to introduce his
band, he had a new member. Shooter has been playing tom toms with the
band for the summer. On stage Waylon announced to the estimated crowd
of more than forty thousand that next year Johnny Cash and June Carter
Cash would be there. He finished off with two duets with Willie, and after
changing over bands Willie went on to entertain for about three hours.
However, Waylon didn't return to Littlefield in 1994. Instead, along with
Willie Nelson and Billy Joe Shaver, Waylon toured Australia for the second
time. Prior to the Melbourne concert on April 10, I spent time backstage
with Waylon and Jessi.
In 1995, instead of the regular 4th of July celebrations in Littlefield,
Waylon played during the Denim Festival over the Labor Day weekend.
On the evening of 3 September, despite being plagued by illness which
necessitated him visiting the emergency room of the local hospital, Waylon
still managed to perform a short bracket then he duetted with Johnny Cash
and with Jessi at the end of her set. Waylon's brother Tommy Jennings
was next. This was his first appearance on stage in front of a hometown
crowd since he left Littlefield more than thirty years earlier.
A brilliant performance by Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash closed the
show. An estimated thirty thousand plus people, including myself, attended
the outdoor event.
Later in the month I called in at his office. I didn't get to meet up
with Waylon in Littlefield but thanks to Jerry 'Jigger' Bridges we had
a long visit with Waylon, Jessi and other members of the entourage backstage
before the Highwaymen concert in Melbourne on November 18, 1995.
Ironically as things have turned out this was the last occasion that I
spoke to Waylon.
I planned attending another Waylon concert in 1996 but it was cancelled
owing to his health, as was another concert I was to attend with friends
in Chicago in August 1997. On these two trips we made visits to Littlefield
and Waylon's office.
Waylon, who moved back to Arizona about two years before his death, and
his music played a very important role in my life. It has enabled me to
establish friendships in America and other parts of the world.
Waylon's passing will leave a large chasm in my life but my memories and
his music will live on forever. It's even more ironic that Waylon died
18 days after Harlan Howard who earned a large swag of royalties generated
by Jennings' recording of more than 40 of his songs.
Harlan, 74 and one of the last of the previous generation's hell raisers,
was honoured by Waylon on his 1967 album, 'Waylon Sings Ol Harlan'. Howard,
beset with arthritis and heart problems for the past two years, is now
reunited with his hell raising mate Waylon.
"Harlan had some health problems but continued to rock on,"
his fifth wife Melanie recalled, "I guess God wanted him there to
see Waylon and all of his other buddies."
With only 17 days and a few state borders separating their death locales
they should find each other pretty quickly.
The flight to hillbilly heaven is a joyous flight with an equally memorable
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