Ask Jessi Colter about the first time she ever saw Waylon Jennings, and she remembers well. “I had gone in the studio to put down a song. I was married to Duane Eddy at the time. I had some songs done by Chet Atkins at RCA, and Duane said ‘Why don’t do a demo for Waylon?’ We did a song together called ‘Living Proof’ that never came out. I thought he was a nice man,” she recalls.
In his 1996 autobiography, Jennings remembers as Colter was leaving the studio, she turned around and looked at him, “I did look back, but it wasn’t anything seductive or anything like that,” she says adding that “We didn’t see each other again for about two years. He had divorced and I was divorcing. That’s when things started.” The two married in October 1969, and enjoyed one of the strongest marriages in country music history until Jennings’ death in February 2002.
Colter was in Nashville recently to talk about “Goin’ Down Rockin – Waylon Jennings: The Last Recordings,” released this week on Saguaro Road. Recorded in 1999, she says that the recordings were made at a time when Jennings’ restless spirit overtook him. “I remember the night,” she told Billboard. “He hadn’t been feeling well, and the doctor ordered him to stop touring for a short time. He drove down to (band member) Robby Turner’s and said ‘I’m going to put a few things down.’ That’s all I knew about it. I didn’t have a list of what he cut. It was a surprise when Robby showed me the mixes of what was in there. He pulled out a couple of the tracks for the tribute albums that we have [released] and they sounded great. I don’t know if it was a period where he was unsure of what he was going to do next, but it was very special. He was feeling something that night. Robby asked Waylon if he just wanted to put down demos or leave the tracks open. He said, let’s put it to 24-track, so it can be finished.”
The album is a very eclectic mixture of sounds – almost as diverse as the crowd that followed him, Colter says. “‘Wrong Road To Nashville’ is so cajun, and ‘I Do Believe’ is such a heartfelt and expressive view of his relationship with God. Waylon had that thing in him that was so believable when he was explaining how he felt. It was like he had a gear that was tuned to people. His crowds were a mix. There were doctors, lawyers and hoodlums and hippies, a lot of different people at his shows.”
Jennings himself was a mixture, Colter allows. Though some perceived him as an “Outlaw,” most who knew him well said he was quite the opposite. “He was very warm. Even though he was very strong in his principles, he had a great sense of humor. He didn’t want to get serious except with his work or playing cards. He had a working man mentality. He was working in the fields picking cotton at age ten. He loved talking to the working people, and he never thought himself above it. He was the same at the Ritz Hotel in Paris as he was at the Holiday Inn. He always wanted people to feel comfortable.”
Colter also discussed the ways that she and son Shooter are trying to keep Jennings’ memory alive. “Shooter is setting up the new website, which features some beautiful merchandise. He’s also co-producing a movie. Everything isn’t lined up just yet, but it’s in the works. We have a lot of things coming up. Waylon was a dark horse and a mystery. There’s a lot people didn’t know about him, and we’re looking forward to sharing him with the world in every way we know possible.”