Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wail On Waylon

At the time I interviewed Waylon Jennings in 1997 for Vintage Guitar magazine he was suffering the beginning of health problems from diabetes that were more serious than anyone knew. I had been granted the interview on the recommendation of one of Nashville's most recognizable musicians, Fred Newell. Fred was the guitar player on Ralph Emery's Nashville Network television show, Nashville Now. At the time Fred was playing steel guitar with Waylon. I had interviewed Fred and helped him (and his wife) clean out a huge closet full of guitars. Tough duty but someone had to do it. Anyway, he introduced me to Jerry Bridges, Waylon's bass man, guitar man and road manager, who actually lined up the interview. The article can be seen in its entirety at

When the actual interview was over, Waylon asked me, "What is it you do now?" I kind of stammered a bit and told him I played guitar and wrote for a magazine, which I thought was kind of obvious. He laughed and said, "I know that! What is it you do with guitars?" I told him I helped people move high end and celebrity owned instruments and he seemed mildly interested. We parted company and I never really thought about any further contact. Then one day I got a call from him asking if I would come give him an appraisal on a guitar. Of course I was interested so I drove over to his home and had a look at the guitar pictured below.

Turns out it was a 1953 Telecaster, covered in tooled leather, the one used on the television series, Dukes of Hazard. I gave him my opinion and thought I detected a brightening in his eyes behind the sunglasses he was wearing at the , which were suffering from the time to shield his eyes from the toll diabetes was taking on them. To my surprise he asked, "How would you like to move about fifty guitars for me?"

The appraisal he had been given from a reputable source seemed low to him - and extremely low to me. I knew I could do better than the prices he had been given and told him so. He said that maybe we should start with this one and see how it went, then move on to the safe full of instruments he had locked away as well as other band equipment he kept in a storage company.

No sooner had I listed the guitar than I had to leave on a European tour. We flew to Germany, then did one-nighters in Macedonia and Croatia, then back to Germany and the Netherlands for another month's worth of city hopping. I was hard to nail down at the very least so when I did get a call late one night I was on the road and had to retrieve a message to call the US immediately. I was afraid what the news might be but it turned out that my partner, the owner of the small shop I worked out of, had a gentleman who had driven from Michigan to Nashville to pick up the guitar - at the full asking price! I made the arrangements for the man to pick up the guitar and for Waylon to be paid from my late night bed in Wiesbadden, Germany.

When I got home, after trying to catch up on jet lag I visited my partner's store. He told me Waylon's office wanted me to call as soon as I got back. Naturally I did and found that he was offering me the entire collection of guitars he wanted to get rid of. I would need to sift through everything, take pictures and let him decide what he could part with and what would be saved. The next big item was the 1954 Telecaster shown in the picture below.

This was the instrument he was most often associated with and the one he preferred playing in live shows. It had EMG pickups, leather tooling of course and just like the black pick guard '53, it had been fitted with a Scruggs D-tuner to lower the low E string a full tone, a tuning he used often. I have had people tell me quite often that it was in fact the same guitar, with only the pick guard changed. This is absolutely untrue, as the next picture should show without a doubt. If you can't identify the man on the left you need to do your homework.

Things were obviously changed on each guitar to make them more suitable to Waylon's taste and style of playing. These two guitars came directly from his house soon after he had decided to stop all touring. Of course he didn't stop all touring, who ever really does? When he did play sporadic gigs though, he had cut down the size of his gear considerably. His instrument of choice at the time was another Telecaster he had decided to keep (shown at left in picture below) or the Fender Custom Shop Waylon Jennings model held by Fred Newell (pictured right, below.)

We moved a lot of his gear over the next year or so and sadly, Waylon lost his fight with diabetes. I only want to say that having lived among the weasels and back biters in Nashville for several years, it was wonderfully refreshing to work with someone who treated me with the respect and honesty Waylon Jennings did. He did his best to make Nashville a town where musicians and artists could be themselves and not some sugar-coated version of what an A&R man decided they should be. He was successful at it and he opened the door for many others to do the same. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the so-called "Music City" has gone back to the same old formulas that made it so boring in the '60s and lost out on Country greats like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard of the Bakersfield era. The music is different now, but not much different than bad '70s Rock. Hopefully someone will come along again like Waylon, Cash, Willie ...but I wouldn't bet on it. There will only ever be one Waylon Jennings and I can say I was extremely fortunate and proud to have known him.

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