A Vagabond Dreamer, A Rhymer and Singer of Songs. A Revolutionary in Country Music Beloved By The World
By Martin Cizmar
You may or may not know already know this, but legendary country outlaw Waylon Jennings is buried in Mesa Cemetery. With Halloween coming up Friday, and a posthumous Jennings album, Waylon Forever, coming out last week and reviewed in this week's paper (reprinted at the end of this post) I thought it was about time to make a pilgrimage to the grave of the man who brought us "Good Hearted Woman," "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way," "Luckenbach, Texas" and, of course, The Dukes of Hazzard theme song.
I met up with my friend Chris Hansen Orf, a New Times freelancer who wrote this coming week's music feature on Strange Young Things (be sure to pick up the paper next Thursday). In addition to being a hell of a guy, Chris is the best country music writer in the Southwest, so he was the man to go with on a trip to see the grave of the first country musician to ever have a platinum record.
Waylon, of course, was born in Texas and started his career as bass player for Buddy Holly. He gave up his seat on the plane that crashed – killing Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper – at the last second. Waylon moved to Phoenix when his career sputtered in the early 60s, making a name for himself playing J.D. Musil’s renowned nightclub and marrying a local girl, Jessia Colter, before heading to Nashville when his career took off. He moved back to the Valley in his later years, passing away in Chandler. Throughout his career Waylon had a lot of ups and downs, but his Outlaw Country albums from the middle 70s helped shape the genre's best music to this day.
(Side note: Waylon is one of two famous people buried in Mesa Cemetery, the other being Ernesto Miranda, who beat the rap after raping a retarded woman because he was not informed of his rights, only to be reconvicted then, after his release, killed in a knife fight. Miranda's suspected killer elected to remain silent and never faced charges. Ironic, no?)
Waylon's grave is marked by a simple stone, large and black, tucked in a group of plots on the southeast corner of 9th and B streets, behind the 6th tree. His stone bears an etched image of him in a full beard and the inscription at the top of this post. Someone had left a copy of one of his greatest hits CDs, a autumnal flower arrangement and $1.76 in change. Talking things over, Chris and I agreed Mesa was the right place for Waylon's remains, even if he was a native Texan.
"This is where he went from just being Buddy Holly's bass player to having his own career," said Chris. "It's fitting he's here in Arizona soil."
He was a great man, we agreed. A man who made his career stand for something, recording some incredible songs along the way. He's sorely missed.
Now, the review...
Waylon Jennings & The 357's Waylon Forever (Vagrant)
With his last works, the American series, Johnny Cash had some of his biggest commercial and critical success, setting the bar ridiculously high for departed country singers. Waylon Forever, billed as the country outlaw's last record, doesn't come close to Cash, though it has a few great moments in it's eight songs. Jennings, who died in Chandler in 2002 and is buried in Mesa, recorded this album with his son Shooter, who rehashed favorites like "Ain't Living Long Like This" and Cream's "White Room" with his using his father's distinctive voice and his own backing band, the 357's in their pool house studio. A gravelly adaption of "Jack of Diamonds" kicks things off, while the ominous ballad "Outlaw Shit," accentuated with feedback and a forlorn peddle steel, really sets the tone for the album. The track's been released before, but this version is the definitive one, produced perfectly and with potent vocals. The other reason to tune is "I Found the Body," an unreleased Jennings tune that has a palpable Neil Young and Crazy Horse vibe, complete with spacey guitars and haunting lyrics. Waylon Forever isn't the kind of send-off that'll do much to enhance Jennings' legacy, but it certainly won't do anything to tarnish it.