And on this date in 1986, he released his first album with MCA Records, Will the Wolf Survive, which eventually became his sixth #1 country album.
Up until this year, Waylon had been with RCA Records since 1966, so moving to a new label made the whole process entirely new for him. In addition to that, he had been drug-free for two years going into the making of this album.
Coming off a successful collaborative project with The Highwaymen, the new label encouraged him to make some tweaks to his signature outlaw country sound.
This was after years of him fighting for creative freedom and having his band in-studio for the recording sessions at his old label, where he would play guitar with them as opposed to just recording vocals. He also didn’t write a single song on the tracklist, which was a massive departure from everything he had ever done previously.
In his book Waylon: An Autobiography, he noted that his own lack of confidence became a big issue during the recording process for this particular album because of all the aforementioned reasons… can you even imagine Waylon Jennings not being 100% confident?
It doesn’t even sound possible, but it was the case as he struggled to find a new identity with this new music:
“Compared with some of my earlier works, it might not have fit people’s expectations of me. That was the point.
It was the first time in years I’d recorded without my band… I didn’t play guitar on the sessions; I was a ‘vocalist.’ Nor did I write any of the songs.”
He caved to pressure from his producer, Jimmy Bowen, as well as music critics, who’d been saying that his outlaw sound was getting stale and boring with all of his life changes, most notably him sobering up.
And he had to fight through all of that to get this album recorded:
“I was trying to sound like what I thought he [Bowen] wanted me to sound like instead of me.
I’d think, what the hell, I sang that good, and in the end, I was imitating myself, trying too hard to satisfy people who thought I had ruined my music by straightening up. Bowen knew that. It was all down to me.”
Though he didn’t write or co-write any of the tracks on this record, he did address his newfound sobriety on songs like “Working Without A Net,” which eventually peaked at #7 on the U.S. Billboard Top Country Albums.
Even in spite of all the struggles Waylon had internally with this project, it became another #1 hit record for him on the country charts.