Music News

Valley Fever Celebrates Waylon Jennings’ Birth

You can count the number of Valley residents who have made a major splash in country music on one hand, even if that hand has lost a finger in a farm equipment mishap. There's Glendale's Marty Robbins, he of the famous gunfighter ballads, the awesome 'stache, and the part-time gig as a middling NASCAR driver. Then we have Phoenix native Miriam Johnson, better known as Jessi Colter, the only woman in the '70s outlaw country boys club of Waylon, Willie, and Tompall Glaser, and the woman who tamed Waylon's wild ways, married him, and bore him a son, country/rock singer Shooter Jennings. There's Phoenix native Dierks Bentley, whose rockin' country stands out like a rhinestone Stetson among Nashville's current crop of bland pop-country crooners.

Finally, we have Waylon Jennings, the Texas-born baritone who moved west after a gig as Buddy Holly's bass player literally flamed out in a snowy Iowa cornfield in 1959, lived in an apartment near 36th Street and Thomas Road in the early '60s, and became a local superstar playing rock and country in a little dive named JD's, down by the river bottom.

While Texas may lay claim to Waylon, Jennings made his bones here, lived in Chandler during his later years, and is buried in Arizona soil. So, the way we see it, Waylon's ours, and as Monday would have been Jennings' 72nd birthday (he died in 2002 from diabetes complications), DJ Dana will dedicate this Sunday's installment of Valley Fever, her wonderful bi-weekly country music show at Yucca Tap Room, to the Hoss himself.

For DJ Dana, celebrating Waylon's birthday with a musical blowout was a no-brainer. "To me, Waylon represents that notion of making your own rules and forging your own path in life," she says. "I guess that's why he and Willie were labeled 'outlaws' in the '70s. He was truly self-governing when it came to making his music and living his life, and I think that appeals to people, especially in today's manufactured pop star culture.

"[DJ Johnny Volume] and I came up with the Waylon Day idea at the Quarantine show [in March] while we were discussing our mutual love for Waylon and how disappointed we were that we never met him or saw him play live," Dana says. "I know there are a lot of Waylon fans here, and most of the guys that play music at Valley Fever are inspired by him in one way or another, and some of the guys [on the bill] were excited to play this show — they have their own connections to Waylon."

For Dana, whose impressive country vinyl collection of classic country and Southern rock makes the beer taste so much better at Valley Fever, Waylon's music has been a part of the soundtrack for her life since she can remember.

"I remember the Waylon and Willie 8-track my dad had in his Ford Econoline 30 years ago, and that album is in my top five today," she says. "We're hoping that people like my dad, who used to see him at JD's and Frankie's in the '60s, can make it out to our tribute. Each group has chosen a list of his songs to perform, and between DJ Johnny Volume and I, we have enough Waylon records for a month-long set. Chip Hanna will be doing a lot of the old Buddy Holly-era songs, and Steve Larson will be doing some of the later Waylon songs, and we've got everything in between by Rick & Tony Martinez, Dog of the Moon, and Ray Lawrence Jr. At the end, they'll all do some of the classics together, with Tony as Ralph Mooney (Waylon's legendary sideman) on pedal steel.

"I already know it's going to be a hell-raising time!" Dana says.

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Chris Hansen Orf