Back in 1998, the country icon did an interview with the late DJ Johnson for Cosmik Debris (Johnson’s online magazine started in the mid-90’s).
They of course discussed the outlaw movement he helped pioneer alongside Willie Nelson, where he talked about how “inside” his friend Johnny Cash was in terms of following the Nashville formula and “everything they wanted.”
Waylon went on to say that they all ultimately had their own ways of doing things, and even Willie “ran to Austin” when he realized things probably weren’t going to work out for him as an artist in Nashville.
In terms of his own career, Waylon admittedly stayed in Music City and played the game to a certain extent, though he also said that he was confident in knowing that what he had was right and he wasn’t willing to bend to what Nashville producers and executives wanted:
“Now, Willie, he ran to Austin. He did pretty good. You know, he just said ‘to hell with it.’ And that’s what I said. To hell with it.
We were the ones that they were trying to destroy. Willie just went back to Austin, but I didn’t go anywhere. I stayed here and faced up to it.
I knew I had something that was right, and I knew they [Nashville] didn’t.”
And this also led to a discussion about awards shows and how they’re all pretty much rigged (which is still pretty much true but a story for a whole other post), and Waylon says that he had his own personal success well before he had a mainstream radio hit or won a major award.
He explained that most of the Nashville establishment didn’t want him or Willie to have a hit, which eventually led Willie back to Texas and starting a career in Austin, and so they found themselves very much on the outside.
He puts it better than I ever could have, though, in that it really boiled down to the fact that he was “a legend before [he] was ever a hit,” and went about things very differently in order to earn the respect of the industry the way that he did (which was definitely the harder way of doing things):
“One thing is that I wasn’t getting booked that well, and they had control over who got the awards, they had control over who sold. And they really did not want Willie or me, either one, to have a hit record.
They wanted the money, but they didn’t want us to be the ones. Like I told ‘em one time, and I guess it was kind of conceited to say it, but I said ‘you know what, I was a legend before I was ever a hit.’
Which meant that inside the business, meaning my fellow entertainers, everyone thought I was right, and they liked what I did, but outside, nobody had heard.”
Amen to that…
And this, too:
“But you know, the system almost destroyed itself while it was goin’ on trying to destroy us.”
Waylon racked up multiple major awards and #1 hits throughout his career, and even earned himself a spot in the Country Music Hall of Fame, though he didn’t seem to care too much about that, either.
God bless Waylon Jennings; a one of a kind artist and badass outlaw (no matter what he says about liking that title or not) who changed completely changed the game and the country music genre for the better.