1959, Waylon Jennings found himself the bass player for
his best friend Buddy Holly on a tour that traveled the
freezing tundra of the upper Midwest. One month later,
Holly was dead and Waylon (alive only because he gave
up his plane seat to the Big Bopper that night), haunted
by the belief that he'd somehow contributed to his friend's
demise, returned to Texas and country music, where he
would find success many years later. Waylon spoke with
Gadfly about the impact Buddy Holly had on him
and on music.
you know Buddy Holly before you became part of his band?
Yeah. We both had bands in West Texas that we were trying
to get started, and we would see each other at talent
shows. Sometimes they would let us open shows. There was
a program called Sunday Party on Sunday afternoon
in Lubbock, on radio station KDAB. The local and area
talent could come in and sing a couple of songs, and we
would run into each other a lot of times there, too. We
just seemed like we were forever running into each other.
We got to be friends. We'd hang out when we had a chance.
he was from Lubbock, Texas, was it odd that Buddy was
playing rock, and not country?
a country band, you know. Buddy was not all that good
as a country entertainer. He just didn't have the voice
to sing country music. He could do rock and pop type things.
He loved good country music; he loved anything that had
a good rhythm to it. He was very smart and ahead of his
times as far as rhythms were concerned. The difference
between his music and regular country music was the groove,
for one thing. He insisted on the groove being right.
how he influenced you musically?
so. That's the first thing I look for.
hear similar grooves in your songs, like "Honky Tonk Heroes."
you can't feel it, then you can't sing it. Not right,
that something you first learned from him?
was. Buddy and I talked about things like Hank Williams
and country music a lot. They depended on a singer in
country music, and not the feeling of it. The feeling
came from the singer, where in rock and roll, you had
to feel it first, then hear it. I think most music is
that way now. You feel it first.
wrote in your autobiography, Waylon, that toward
the end of Buddy's life you were probably closer to him
than anybody. What do you mean by that?
know. We got close because it was almost as if he had
the premonition that he wasn't going to be around. And
he did like me. He liked me a lot and I liked him. We
never had a problem. And he tried to help me. He was trying
to warn me about things and teach me about music as we
went along. He loved music. The last day of his life he
was still excited about music and every song he sang.
I learned that from him and forgot it periodically: When
you do a song, you've got to remember you are going to
be doing that song for the rest of your life. You better
make sure you like it.
Buddy a big brother to you?
were the last person to talk to him before he got on that
plane. It took you years and years to get over his death,
know, I was young, and of course you feel guilty for being
alive. He was dead, and I felt a little bit responsible.
You know, that old country boy thing about a jinx, or
that I had caused it some way.
I were cutting up and teasing with each other. And one
of the last things we said to one another—he said, "I
hope your old bus freezes up going down the road, if you
are not gonna go with us on the plane." I said, "Well,
I hope your plane crashes." A guy by the name of Hi Pockets
Duncan helped me a little with that. He said, "Well, can
you bring him back alive now? Do you have that power?"
I said, "No." And he said, "What makes you think you had
the power to kill him, then?"
did you see Buddy going musically?
As I look
back on it, I think he would have been somewhere between
Bob Seger and Neil Diamond, but probably bigger than both
of them; he was just such a innovator, you know what I
mean, such an original.
definitely moved away from the bebop sound, hadn't he?
moved away from anything. He said, "Don't limit yourself.
Do anything you want to." He did "Well... All Right"—that's
a little country melody. And then you turn around, and
"It Doesn't Matter Any More" and some of those songs were
just pop. They weren't country. They weren't rock and
roll. He said, "Don't limit yourself. Don't let them call
you a hillbilly."
you ever done a song about him?
one on my new album that has something about Buddy Holly
in it. It's called "Old Friends of Mine," and it's about
people I've known through the years. Of course, he's in
it. We were best friends.
actually considered quitting music for a while, right?
saw the rotten part of the music business after Buddy's
death. [The promoters] begged us to stay there and finish
the tour. That night we did the show, and then they wanted
to dock us for the absence of Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper
and Ritchie Valens when it came time to pay. And they
had been crying all day saying, "We'll be broke if you
don't do this." They didn't want to pay us that night
in that auditorium; then they promised us they would fly
us home for his funeral and back and pay us more than
what we would have gotten if we had finished the tour.
But we never even saw a dime until the tour was over.
that be one of the reasons that you didn't become a rock
and roll performer?
No, I just
did what I could. I wouldn't have been able to be a rock
and roll performer. I do some rock and roll things, but
I'm not a rock and roll singer. That's very definitely
a talent. That's not something that's easy.
you play in the studio on any Buddy Holly songs?
No, I never
did do that.
you probably would have, right?
probably, but I wasn't capable of it at that time.
was Buddy Holly's contribution to music?
in a while I run into something, just a little thing,
every once in a while, that I think that he contributed
to. One of the things was writing songs. There weren't
a lot of writers in those days. Too, you listen to his
records, he's right in the groove with his voice and with
his music. He worked at that very consciously, you know.
And he didn't compromise anything. He never compromised
his music in any way. I think a lot of us learned from
that—I know I did. He told me how Nashville was before
I got there—and he said, "Just don't compromise your music.
Do what you do. You are the only one that knows what you're
doing. They don't." He was smart very early. I think he
could have made some great changes in music, in the corporate
structure of it, the way people were treated. I think
Buddy would have been a great guy for the artist. He learned
early where the snakes in the grass are, where the bodies
are buried. He taught me a lot.
There Any More Real Cowboys?
Interviews with Willie
Nelson and Waylon Jennings
By Jayson Whitehead
Holly: Never Fade Away
By Lenny Kaye