Waylon Jennings “Honky Tonk Heroes”


Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#592 in the Series) is Waylon Jennings, Honky Tonk Heroes

The time was late summer 1972 and the somewhat grassroots movement that was to become known as “Outlaw Country” and was rooted in the anti-hero cowboy and celebrated rugged individualism vs. Brylcreem wearing, skinny tie sporting, image conscious country crooning,  was still in its embryonic stages  and had not yet galloped into public awareness.

The place was Dripping Springs, Texas in a field that had been recently outfitted with a stage along with the accompanying infrastructure to put on what was to become an annual event, Willie Nelson’s Summer Picnic. On the bill that day were soon to be country icons Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Waylon Jennings along with the old-timey country acts of the day featuring Loretta Lynn, Tex Ritter with a dash of Leon Russell and John Prine thrown in to give the proceedings a bit of sorely needed coolness.

Waylon Jennings was already well on his way down the “Outlaw Trail” and had just released Lonesome, On’ry, and Mean, an album that many consider to be the quintessential outlaw record and set the ballsy, country blues, truth telling blue print that was to define the new genre. He was in Dripping Springs, of course, to support his friend Willie but he was also on a musical mission to spread the Outlaw Country gospel and gain like-minded recruits, followers and believers along the way.

Every artist, and in this case musical genre, needs a muse to help release the creative hounds and provide inspiration for the ultimate deflowering of the genius held within.   Bob Dylan had Suze Rotelo, Eric Clapton had Patty Boyd, Anita Pallenberg was a muse for Keith Richards, and the muse for Waylon Jennings and the Outlaw movement was the one and only Billy Joe Shaver.

Billy Joe was in town not to perform but at the invitation of his good Friend Kris Kristofferson he was hanging around back stage sitting in on a “guitar pull” where songwriters sit in a circle and play one of their songs for the group.  As he started playing “Willie the Wandering Gypsy and Me” Waylon entered the room, listened to the song in whatever altered state he was in at the time and asked Billy Joe if he had any other cowboy songs like that one in the stable.  Upon receiving an affirmative response from the rogue singer-songwriter Waylon left the room committing, at least to Billy Joe’s ears, to recording an entire albums worth of his cowboy songs.

Of course Waylon Jennings forgot about his promise as soon as it was made and barely remembered who he was when Billy Joe showed up at his recording studio in Nashville to see if the country star would be true to his word.  The answer of course was no and it wasn’t until he was not so subtly told “Waylon, I’ve got those songs, and you’re going to listen to them or I’m going to kick your ass right here in front of God and everybody” that he agreed to some terms.  Slightly hedging his bet, Waylon agreed to record “Wandering Gypsy” and said Billy could play him a song, if he liked it he could play another until he played a song he did not like and then it was time for him to get his ass up and leave. The resulting songs, “Ain’t No God in Mexico”, “Honky Tonk Heroes”, “Old Five and Dimers Like Me”, along with “Willie the Wandering Gypsy and Me” became the backbone of Honky Tonk Heroes.

 Honky Tonk Heroes is the country music album starter kit for those that think they don’t like country music. With his songs Billy Joe Shaver proved to be the perfect complement for the Outlaw Country scene that Jennings was trying to cultivate.  Gritty blues based country rock songs with enough truth in the lyrics to pass any polygraph test and enough ballsy attitude to deliver the outlaw that was so important if this style of music was to capture the public imagination.

The 1-2-3 punch of “Honky Tonk Heroes”, “Old Five and Dimers”, and “Gypsy” is as good as songwriting gets:

Three Fingers Whisky pleasures the drinker/Moving does more than drinking for me/Willie he tells me that doers and thinkers/Say movin’s the closest thing to being free.

Who wouldn’t want to record an entire album of this guy’s songs?  Honky Tonk Heroes’ along with its historical significance is also a solid, consistent effort from front to back. The slower ballad type songs like “You Ask Me To” and “Ride Me Down Easy” are carefully positioned next to the more “on’ry” songs like “Ain’t No God in Mexico” and “We Had it All”.  The album did not fare particularly well when it was released peaking at number 14 on the country charts and an anemic 185 on the billboard charts.

Where it may have been somewhat of a failure on the charts the album did pave the way for an exciting and raw musical genre and introduced us to a musical genius.   Billy Joe Shaver is a living, breathing country song and in some ways the very definition of Lonesome, On’ry, and mean. His mother was severely beaten and left for dead next to a stock tank while Billy Joe was still in the womb, unable to care for him, his mother sent the baby to be raised by his grandmother. He lost parts of three fingers in a saw mill accident, an event he credits with cementing his path as a singer-writer.  Within the span of a couple of years between 1999 and 2000 he lost his wife of 40 years and his mother.  And in 2000, his son and best friend Eddy that played with his dad on five albums and was a rising star in his own right died of a drug overdose in a rent by the hour motel in Waco, Texas

Yesterday, December 31st 2011 is the eleventh anniversary of Eddie Shavers death.

May you rest in peace Eddie Shaver.

— Walt Falconer

Track Listing

Billy Joe Shaver

  1. Honky Tonk Heroes (Shaver) 3:36
  2. Old Five and Dimers (Like Me)(Shaver) 3:06
  3. Willy the Wandering Gypsy and Me (Shaver) 3:03
  4. Low Down Freedom (Shaver) 2:21
  5. Omaha Hall (Shaver) 2:38
  6. You Asked Me To (Jennings, Shaver) 2:31
  7. Ride Me Down Easy (Shaver) 2:38
  8. Ain’t No God in Mexico (Shaver) 2:00
  9. Black Rose (Shaver) 2:29
  10. We Had It All (Fritts, Seals) 2:44
  11. Slow Rollin’ Low (Shaver) 2:44


  • Waylon Jennings – Guitar, Vocals
  • Will Ackerman – Drums
  • Ritchie Albright – Drums, Guitar
  • Joseph Allen – Bass
  • David Briggs – Piano
  • Don Brooks – Harmonica
  • Duke Goff – Bass
  • Jerry Gropp – Guitar,Vocals
  • Lennie Haight – Violin
  • Buddy Harmon – Drums
  • Eddie Hinton – Guitar
  • Dave Kirby – Guitar,
  • Kyle Lehning – Keyboards, Trumpet
  • Andrew McMahon – Organ
  • Ralph Mooney – Guitar
  • Billy Reynolds – Guitar
  • Billy Sanford – Guitar
  • Randy Scruggs – Guitar
  • Dale Sellers – Guitar
  • Bee Spears – Bass
  • Henry Strzeleck – Bass
  • Larry Whitmore – Guitar
  • Tommy Williams – Fiddle
  • Reggie Young – Guitar
  • Steve Young – Guitar


Listen to the album below!

Posted by Larry Carta

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