Waylon Jennings is one of a handful of undeniably towering figures in country music history. A true stylist, he brought the charisma of rock and the purity of blues to bear on his distinctive take on country music. In the process, he earned a place on the Mt. Rushmore of modern country legends and left the generations that followed a standard worth striving for.
An album in tribute to such an artist is a high-wire act, an attempt to re-capture lightning in a bottle. Rarely do such projects do justice to the artists they seek to honor.
Judging from the reaction of those at the heart of The Music Inside, Volume I, the first of a three-CD set, this all-star tribute to Waylon is one of the few. Produced by Witt Stewart and featuring Kris Kristofferson, Jamey Johnson, Trace Adkins and the reunited Alabama, among many others, The Music Inside had the full and enthusiastic involvement of Waylon's widow Jessi Colter and his son Shooter Jennings.
Jessi and Shooter were involved every step of the way, approving the project's tracks and contributing a song each on Volume 1, with another from Shooter and two more from Jessi slated for the upcoming volumes.
"This has been a true passion project for a lot of artists and friends who truly wanted to remember and give back to the wonderful man he was," says Shooter.
A Scatter Records release distributed by the Big Machine Label Group, The Music Inside also features Randy Houser, John Hiatt, Patty Griffin, James Otto, Sunny Sweeney and newcomer Chanel Campbell. The breadth and depth of the talent assembled for the project insured the kind of scope and nuance that marked Waylon's work.
"I told every one of them," says Stewart, "to make the song they were doing their own. I wanted their take on it. As I told Randy, 'We're not doing a Waylon karaoke thing here.'"
The public's first listen to the project is its first single, Alabama's take on the classic, "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way," a cut that reminds us how much early Alabama drew on the Waylon sound. It also displays the power of Waylon's legacy in its ability to draw the band out of retirement.
The cuts range from Kristofferson and Griffin's haunting "Rose In Paradise" to Otto's raucous "Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit's Done Got Out Of Hand," from Shooter's heartfelt "Belle of the Ball" to Sweeney and Colter's upbeat "Good Hearted Woman."
"We recorded this album live in the studio," says Stewart. "When you get great musicians and a great song together and let an artist interpret it, then you're just trying to catch a moment."
"Reggie, having played with Waylon so much, just brings that spirit of Waylon to it," says Stewart. "He played on every track on Volume I and was really, along with his wife Jenny Lynn Young, the heart and soul of this project.
"There was a Waylon Jennings music room there, with a piano and a recording console, and I got to thinking about a tribute album for Waylon that might raise some money to upgrade the room. That's when I first reached out to Jessi. In one of our first conversations, we agreed that the only rule would be that we had to be open to letting magic happen, and, time after time, it did."
The unity of Waylon's music and vision changed all of modern music for the better and his legacy resonates as strongly as ever among those who make music. From the beginning, Stewart was aiming to reacquaint the listening public with the impact his genius still has among musicians.
"My goal," he says, "was to make a record that would shine a light on Waylon to younger people. I wanted to find people who love and respect his music and we found a lot of them. But above all, I wanted to make something he would like and be proud of and according to the people who knew and loved him best, we accomplished that."