“Stay Away From Nashville” — Willie Nelson Warned Waylon Jennings About The Mainstream Country Music System

Willie Nelson Waylon Jennings country music
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The original outlaws.

Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings were the pioneers and leaders of the country outlaw movement of the 1970’s that largely took place in Austin, Texas.

After leaving Nashville in the early 70’s and many “failed” album releases (by the label’s metrics) and little luck with help of Nashville’s best producers (Chet Atkins, mostly, with Willie), responsible for curating the “Nashville sound” that included strings and a more polished, radio-friendly production, Willie had enough.

He figured moving back to his home state would be worthwhile, and his friend Paul English told him Austin was the place to be after his house burned down in a fire just before Christmas in 1969. He rebuilt it, but ultimately, knew he needed to move and move on with his life and career.

And it ended up being the best decision he ever made in terms of his career, and is also around the time he met his friend Waylon.

Willie And Waylon Meet In Phoenix, Arizona

In the mid-60’s when Waylon was headlining JD’s, “a rowdy dance hall and drinking hole” as Willie puts it, Waylon was a big hit at the night club near Arizona State that college kids loved. Upon their first meeting sometime in 1965, Waylon informed Willie he wanted to move to Nashville and asked for the red headed stranger’s advice.

Waylon wanted to leave Arizona because it was “too f*ckin’ confining for him” and he was ready for a change, which Willie, never one to stay in one place for too long, fully understood. And Willie, who’d had some success as a writer but was struggling to find his voice as an artist there, also had some thoughts about it.

He asked Waylon what he wanted to do in Music City, and detailed the fascinating conversation in his 2015 memoir It’s a Long Story: My Life, to which Waylon stated plainly:

“Cut me some hit records, sell me some hit songs. What do you think, hoss?”

Willie seemed a little hesitant in answering further, already picking up the fact that it would probably fall on deaf ears and Waylon was likely going to do what he wanted no matter what:

“I think you’re gonna do what you’re gonna do, Waylon. But if you’re asking my advice…”

And you can probably see where this is going…

Willie Tells Waylon To “Stay Away” From Nashville

He of course was wanting advice, and Willie told him he needed to “stay away from Nashville,” because record execs and people in the industry would try to change pretty much everything about Waylon, his music, and his way of doing things:

“Well, sir, after having been in Nashville for some time, I don’t see it as your town. Nashville will wanna mold you, and you don’t need no molding.

Nashville will wanna clean you, and you don’t need no cleaning… you need to stay away from Nashville.”

Amen to that, Willie.

Waylon assured Willie he heard him, though the next thing he knew, Waylon had left Phoenix and moved to Nashville, and just like Willie, was signed by Chet Akins to RCA Records.

Of course, it worked out for both of them in the long run, and the pair completely changed the genre with their authentic music and refusal to follow a formula and conform completely to the Music City industry.

It’s probably for the best that Waylon went to Nashville to launch his career, and Willie eventually got him to play in Austin quite a bit, and in the end, they’re both remembered for their trailblazing spirit, undeniably incredible music, and way with words that so few possess.

Along with their timeless lyrics and once-in-a-generation voices, it’s safe to say we’ll never see another Willie Nelson or Waylon Jennings.

Turn it up…

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A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock