The country music industry has lost one of its true pioneers.
Waylon Jennings, the hell-raising country singer known for sporting a black cowboy hat and a bad-guy image, died peacefully at his Arizona home Wednesday, his spokeswoman Schatzi Hageman said. He was 64. Jennings suffered from diabetes-related health problems for many years and last year had his left foot amputated.
The musician had a long list of hits spanning four decades, including “I’m a Ramblin’ Man,” “Amanda,” “Lucille,” and his old standards, “Good-Hearted Woman” and “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”–both duets with good friend, Willie Nelson.
Jennings won two Grammy Awards, had 16 country singles that reached No. 1 and his Greatest Hits album sold 4 million copies in 1979.
Jennings also narrated popular ’70s TV show The Dukes of Hazzard and wrote the show’s theme song.
Never quite fitting into the slick Nashville hit-making machine, the rebel Jennings produced his own records, hired his own musicians and took the music to its honky-tonk, western swing roots. He also shied away from award shows and events because he didn’t believe in musicians competing against one another.
“For Waylon, it was always about the music,” Joe Galante, chairman of the RCA Label Group/Nashville, which was Jennings‘ recording home for many years, told Reuters.
“The only spotlight he ever cared about was the one on him while he was on stage. It wasn’t about the awards or events. He was an original and a pioneer in terms of creating his own sound. This is a great loss for the music world.”
Jennings had some luck on his side in 1959. He was scheduled to fly on the chartered plane that crashed and killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. Jennings gave up his seat to Richardson who was sick with the flu and didn’t want to ride in the bus.
The singer told VH1’s Behind the Music that he was haunted by a joke he shared with Holly before the plane took off.
“Buddy was leaning back against the wall in this cane-bottom chair laughing at me. He says, ‘You’re not going on the plane tonight, huh?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Well, I hope your bus freezes up.’ And I said, ‘Well, I hope your plane crashes.’ I was awful young, and it took me a long time to get over that. I felt guilty and couldn’t get it out of my mind for years.”
For actor/singer Kris Kristofferson, that was typical of Jennings.
“Waylon Jennings was an American archetype, the bad guy with a big heart,” Kristofferson told The Associated Press.