Johnny Cash & Waylon Jennings Recall Spending $1,000 A Day At The Peak Of Their Drug Abuse

Johnny Cash & Waylon Jennings country music
Late Night with David Letterman

Always keeping it real.

Way back in 1985, both Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash stopped by Late Night With David Letterman, and while the conversation started out pretty jovial at first, it quickly turned into a heavy one. Letterman recalls that the last time Waylon was on his show, Johnny was sick.

Johnny, with a bit of a smirk, asked:

“Under the weather? Was that when I was in alcohol and drug treatment center?” 

To which Waylon replied:

“No, you were in the hospital. I was still on drugs, you were off of ’em at this point.”

And with a certain element of humor, they both went on to detail more about their struggle with drugs, their reasons for taking drugs, finally getting off them, and then Waylon, who was 11 months sober at this point, said that he used to spend over $1,000 a day on drugs. $1,000 PER DAY.

“You can’t believe what that can do for your taxes, too.”

Pretty wild, eh?

Of course, none of this conversation is meant to glorify the abuse of drugs, but more so to illustrate the kind of power these highly addictive substances can have over you. Waylon and Johnny were more than candid about their struggles throughout their career and perhaps it is part of the reason as to why their music was so relatable.

And here we are, nearly 40 years later, and they’re still two of the realest artists to ever play the game.

And for more from Waylon and Johnny, check out this compilation video featuring various late night interviews from the ’80s and ’90s.

HDEA Raid Inspires “Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out Of Hand”

Waylon Jennings is one of the greatest storytellers of all time. And that’s due in large part to the fact that his songs told honest, authentic, and real life stories about his lived experiences and things that he went through… the good, the bad, and often… the ugly.

One of the more insane stories I’ve heard about him was the time that he got arrested for cocaine possession… or, lack thereof. His son, Terry Jennings, gave more details about the story in his autobiography Waylon: Tales of My Outlaw Dad.

Waylon’s heavy drug use was never a secret, and he often talked about it later in his career once he got sober. For a long time, he took pills, but stopped after Elvis’ death in 1977 at the young age of 42. After that was when he started doing cocaine, often spending $1,500 a day on coke.

Eventually, DEA agents got on his trail after someone sent Waylon an ounce of cocaine as a gift through a private delivery service.

An employee (snitch) at the service was suspicious of what was in the package and opened it, discovering the cocaine that was inside. They then notified the Drug Enforcement Agency about the contents of the package, and the DEA took almost all of it.

But, they left a small amount in there and sent it on to Nashville, hoping they could bust Waylon. It was delivered to Waylon at the studio where he was recording.

In Terry’s book, he wrote:

“Dad took the package into the studio area, opened it, saw what was inside, and went back to work. Next thing you know, DEA agents were coming through the doors and into the control room.”

Waylon’s drummer, Richie Albright, came into contact with them first, and he hit the call button so that Waylon could hear everything inside the recording room, where he could see out but the agents couldn’t see him.

Of course, Waylon jumped into action, tossing it away, where it slid behind some baseboard at the base off the wall and continuing to record the song and work as if nothing was going on. It sounds crazy, but the truth is often stranger than fiction, isn’t it?

The agents waited for him to come out, and eventually showed him they had a warrant. But, there was a problem with it… he was listed as the owner of the studio, except he wasn’t. He rented that studio, but did own his office that was right next door.

So of course, they had to leave and go get a correct warrant before any arrests could be made. During that time, Richie worked to flush the coke down the toilet. He said everyone could hear the toilet flush, and when he walked out of the bathroom, a DEA agent was standing right there with his face bright red because he was so angry they no longer had any evidence or proof of them having cocaine.

Finally, one of the agents straight up asked Waylon where the cocaine was, to which Waylon replied,

“If it ever was here, it’s ain’t here no more.”

Waylon Jennings was stone cold.

Sometimes, I forget he was actually a real person because of his larger than life persona and ability to be true to himself 100% of the time, no matter what. The DEA guy sarcastically responded to him, “I’ll bet it ain’t”.

The kicker here, though, is that even though they got rid of all the evidence of cocaine, Waylon was still arrested on August 23rd, 1977 and charged with conspiracy and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.

Before DEA took him away, he called his wife Jessi Colter and told her to get rid of anything and everything that could be used against him as evidence. She wrote about it in her book, An Outlaw And A Lady, remembering that he told her this:

I need you to go through all my things, I mean everything, and flush down the toilet anything that even looks suspicious. Do it now.”

He stayed away from the house until he could get things cleared up, but it terrified Jessi in the meantime as press reports got leaked all over the country about what went down. After Waylon hired two “big-time lawyers” from New York City, all charges were dropped after a preliminary hearing due to the bad warrant, Terry says:

Behind the scenes, the prosecutor told Dad that because of the bad warrant, they had nothing on him.”

The whole ordeal inspired Waylon’s song “Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out of Hand,” and it seems like this time in his life made it hard for Waylon to truly distinguish between the “outlaw” man he portrayed as part of his image, and the real man he was in everyday life.

The song was a solo write by Waylon, and was released in 1978 as the second single from his album I’ve Always Been Crazy, eventually peaking at #5 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart. It took him six years after this incident to finally quit his drug addiction, but once he did, he stayed sober for the rest of his life.

You can watch Waylon explain a little bit of the story himself:

Waylon Jennings Said He Used To Brag About How He Didn’t Drink

Waylon really was one of a kind.

A cornerstone of the outlaw country movement, Waylon Jennings, can tell a story as well as anybody. Especially, from his time on the road and his wild days starting out in country music. From riding Buddy Holly’s motorcycle around in his hotel room, to flushing a ton of cocaine down the toilet during a DEA raid at the studio, he’s seen (and done) it all.

For better of for worse, he truly lived the outlaw life he wrote about in his songs, and that authenticity is what we all loved so much about him.

And I’m sure if he was around today, he’d tell you there is nothing glamourous about being a drug addict, but nevertheless, the man was always extremely candid in interviews about all the shenanigans that went on during his hey day. The good, the bad, and the ugly…

And back in 1988, in an interview with SPIN, he admitted that he actually never drank all that much like one might assume, and he always wore that as a badge of honor, bragging to people about how sober he was.

The only thing was, he had quite bad drug problem for many decades (which he was very public about later on), and at the peak of his using, would often spend $1,500 a day on cocaine:

“I never did drink. That used to be one of my big brags. I would sit around and say, ‘I don’t drink and I never did drink.’ There I’d be just stoned out of my gourd on cocaine, but I was real proud of myself because I never did drink.”

Classic Hoss…

You could always count on him to tell it exactly how it was, and I think his self-awareness and willingness to poke fun at his own imperfections and flaws is actually quite endearing.

Waylon did eventually kick his drug habit when he got a little bit older, thanks in large part to help from his wife Jessi Colter and his son Shooter, but when people would recall stories of drinking with Waylon out on the road (which never actually happened), he’d just smile and nod:

“I’ve had times when people would come up to me and say, ‘Hey, remember when me and you used to get drunk back in Phoenix there?’ And I learned a good lesson: the best thing to say is ‘Yeah, we had a good time, didn’t we?’ Although it never really happened because I never was a drinker.”

There were plenty of times that the outlaw bit did get out of hand, but lucky for us, the country icon lived to tell all the crazy, and almost unbelievable, tales. However for Waylon, as much as he talks openly about the wild days, it was the redemption that he wanted to be remembered for. A living reminder that anybody can come back from rock bottom:

“A person can blow it… can make it, and blow it, and hit bottom doing drugs, and come back and be able to survive that and do something worthwhile.” 

Cue up the “Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got out of Hand”:

Hag, Hoss, Possum Paycheck – Only from Whiskey Riff Shop

Hag Hoss Possum shirt

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock