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Waylon Jennings – outlaw for the ages Add to ...

His babies didn't grow up to be cowboys; they turned into a blood-relative American rocker, a dreamy Dutch soul singer and an aromatic Canadian bluegrass trio instead.

February marks the ninth anniversary of the death of country music maverick Waylon Jennings, the rebellious singer who marched to the rhythm of a uniquely thumping bass beat. Earlier this month, the Texas town of Luckenbach held its 36th annual Hug-In, a yearly heart-shaped hootenanny celebrating the values espoused in the Jennings- and Willie Nelson-sung classic Luckenbach, Texas, a map-happy 1977 hit in favour of a farm-friendly life and a return to the "basics of love."

Unofficially, the recording industry has recognized the singer's life and times with the release of albums in February from Winnipeg's Wailin' Jennys ( Bright Morning Stars) and Jennings's own boot-wearing, strong-minded son (Shooter Jennings & Hierophant's railing, conceptual Black Ribbons).

The Motown-signed blue-eyed Dutchman who calls himself Waylon brings his retro-soul rock to the Canadian Music Week festival in early March.

A more straightforward tribute comes in the form of The Music Inside: A Collaboration Dedicated to Waylon Jennings, Volume 1, the first of three instalments of country music from Jennings-appreciating multigenerational stars such as Jamey Johnson, Alabama, John Hiatt, Kris Kristofferson, Patty Griffin and Trace Adkins.

The Music Inside is a project helmed by Shooter Jennings, producer Witt Stewart, guitarist Reggie Young and Waylon's widow Jessi Colter, who sings (with Sunny Sweeney) a fiddled version of Good Hearted Woman.

The project was initially viewed by Colter with weariness and wariness. "I didn't think a tribute album could be anything additional to what we've already done," she says from Arizona, where she and her husband moved from Nashville a year before his death (at age 64, after a long, diabetes-related illness).

Colter has long suffered impromptu salutes to her hit-making husband in the form of cover versions of Jennings-famous material performed in Arizona honky-tonks. "They think they're doing me a favour," she says of the amateurish interpretations of I'm a Ramblin' Man, Theme from the Dukes of Hazzard or Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys. "I hear them and think 'How can I endure this?' "

The tasteful performances and the soulful origins of the tribute project eventually won the widow over. "It's not an agenda or a corporate group," says Colter, who insisted on recording her tracks in her bedroom with analog gear. "It's had its own life."

Her appraisal of the musicianship involved is tip-of-the-10-gallon-hat favourable: "It's almost like they were showing off to Waylon."

But that's nothing new. It's a mark of the legend that artists choose to identify themselves with the name of someone who didn't write many of his own hits. Jennings, who bucked the Nashville establishment in the early 1970s, seized control of his own career and developed a stripped-down country sound, eventually grew tired of his "outlaw" image. Others did not.

The romantic allure of Jennings's cocaine-fuelled self-destructive ways, coupled with his fierce independence, won him worship. Waylon Arnold Jennings was born in the era of Hank Williams, an age which yielded a draw to that seminal singer's damaging lifestyle. Jennings, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Jr. and countless others outside of country music adopted the harrowing way of living, which, in turn, attracted fans. "People respond to that," Colter says. "They know when people are giving up their life and going somewhere they shouldn't.

"They can't take their eyes off it."

Jennings never advocated imitation, believing that those walking in his footsteps would be "stepping in holes" - as if to say, mamas don't let your babies grow up to be Waylon Jennings.

But as to his maverick streak, Jennings, who wrote Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way, understood its attractiveness. "I've never compromised," he said shortly before his death, "and people respect that."

They still do.

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