“He Was Gearing Up For An Argument” — Willie Nelson Talks About His Reaction To Waylon Jennings’ “Bob Wills Is Still the King”

Willie Nelson country music
WFAA Collection

The other side of the story.

Waylon Jennings famously penned “Bob Wills Is Still the King” after a booking disagreement occurred between him and his fellow outlaw Willie Nelson, which you can read about in-full HERE.

Basically, he wanted to give Willie a piece of his mind, and wrote the song as a letter explaining his feelings

Waylon released the song in 1975 on his Dreaming My Dreams album, and it also appeared in August of 1975 as the B-side of “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way”, the second single from the album, and eventually cracked the Top 10 on the country charts.

In his 2015 memoir It’s a Long Story: My Life, Willie explained that he and Waylon shared a manager at the time, Neil Reshen, who would “sometimes hint that Waylon was having a hard time” with all of his success in Austin.

Needless to say, while they were close friends all the way up until Waylon died, that doesn’t mean things didn’t get competitive between them:

“Waylon saw how my picnics were drawing people from all over and getting national publicity. He saw how my Texas Opry House was one of the hottest venues in the country.

I’d never called myself ‘King of Austin,’ but Waylon heard others use the phrase. I had the feeling that he thought I was getting too much sugar for my own good.”

So when Waylon got booked to record a live album at the Texas Opry House, a venue Willie played and sold out regularly, he had a special song in mind.

Willie explained that Waylon had a “devilish look in his eye,” as he performed “Bob Wills Is Still the King,” which is a song about how Waylon grew up on western swing, with lyrics that go a little something like this:

“You can hear the Grand Ol Opry
In Nashville, Tennessee
It’s the home of country music
On that we all agree

But when you cross that ol’ Red River hoss
That just don’t mean a thing
Once you’re down in Texas
Bob Wills is still the king”

And just to drive it home, Waylon didn’t mince any words in the final verse:

“It’s the home of Willie Nelson
The home of western swing
He’ll be the first to tell you
Bob Wills is still the king…”

Willie says that the crowd went wild for the tune, and when Waylon came off stage, he walked straight towards Willie, which Willie says was to “see if I might be wounded.” Waylon asked Willie what he thought of the song, and willie told him it sounded like “a hit” and “one of [his] best.”

Waylon continued, saying:

“What about the lyrics?”

Willie responded:

“Right on the money.”

Willie explained:

“Waylon looked a little disappointed. He was gearing up for an argument, and I wouldn’t give him one. Truth be told, I really did like the song. And besides, he’d sung the gospel truth; as far as I was concerned, Bob Wills was still the king.

“Besides, if I had illusions about being royalty, I didn’t need Waylon to knock me off my throne. Life was there to do just that.”

I mean, I can only imagine Waylon did want some sort of reaction from Willie seeing as he was open about why he wrote it in the first place, but Willie’s never seemed like one who wants to start a fight or argue, so it pretty much all worked out without much of big to-do.

Of course, Willie was very successful in Austin and put out commercially successful albums like Phases and Stages, but in the mid-70’s, he was dropped by Atlantic Records, where his career had really started to flourish due to him having full creative control of his music.

Willie went on to sign with Columbia in 1975 and release what many consider to be the greatest country album of all-time in Red Headed Stranger, but still, it was far from a smooth ride, even at the height of his career.

And I think the best stories in country music are kinda petty, anyways, and this is one of the best… turn it up:

“Bob Wills Is Still the King”

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock