Waylon Jennings and Elvis Presley

Waylon Jennings Remembers Elvis Presley

What if’, I asked my dad one day in the early 1950’s. ‘they mixed black music with white music? Country music and blues?’ ‘That might be something’, Daddy replied.  On a fall morning in 1954, listening to KVOW’s Hillbilly Hit parade, I heard that something. I was taking my brother to school. It was about 8.20, and the reason I remember is that the program was only on for fifteen minutes each day, from 8.15 to 8.30 am.Elvis was singing That’s All Right and Blue Moon Of Kentucky.

The sound went straight up your spine. The way he sang, the singer sounded black. Maybe it was the flapping of the big doghouse bass, all wood thump, and the slapback echo of the guitars wailin’ and frailin’ away. It just climbed right through you. I had grown up hearing Bill Monroe sing Blue Moon Of Kentucky but this was something entirely different.I thought, what a wild, strange sound. Up at the station (Waylon worked as a DJ in Littlefield) I looked at the yelow Sun label from Memphis as if it was from Mars. I started listening for it. They didn’t know what to call Elvis yet on radio, though they thought of him as a country artist. ‘That’s one of our boys there’, they’d say, just to let their listeners know.

But no body was sure what he was going to mean.  One thing for certain. When he came to Lubbock in January of 1955, he was billed as the King of Hillbilly Bop. Dave Stone of KDAV had first booked him for an ungodly little amount, a hundred and fifty dollars or something. Fifty dollars apiece for the three of them.Bill Black, Elvis’ bass player, called Dave to set up some details of the date. He was kind of acting as a manager then. Now Bill Black sounded black; he had that Memphis drawl, and we hadn’t heard many Memphis people. Dave didn’t know what he had gotten himself into; he was talking around it, and finally came out with it. ‘Bill, are you black?”Hell, no, we’re white’, said Bill. That was how it was then, back when black people could write songs but nobody wanted them to sing them.I didn’t get to see Elvis the first time he came through town.

I heard about it up in Littlefield, how he performed at the Fair Park Coliseum with Hank Snow and Martha Carson and stole the show in his red britches, orange sport coat, and white buck shoes.The second time Elvis hit Lubbock, they paid him four thousand dollars. He was part of a ackage tour that also featured Billy Walker, Jimmy and Johnny (although Johnny had already been kickled out of the group and was replaced by Wayne Walker), and Tillman Franks.I got to meet Elvis in Lubbock. Even then, he was about the hottest thing to hit West Texas. They invited me backstage, gave me free tickets, and the whole show was there. He and Scotty Moore were standing over by the stage, and Elvis was just jumping around everywhere, bouncing and bubbling over with enthusiasm, full of more energy than anybody I ever saw. He was talking to me like he’d known me a thousand years.’

I’ll sing you me next thing I’m going to record’, he said. It was Tweedle Dee, the LaVern Baker song. ‘My next single’, though I don’t think he ever recorded it. He did it on the show that night.I was crazy about Elvis. I loved that churning rhythm on the bottom. He didn’t even have drums yet, but the rock ‘n’ roll part was unmistakable. You’d think it was overnight, but he’d been plugging away a long time. He had a hard way to go, because they were fighting him from every corner in the south, calling him names – white trash bebop nigger stuff; though he could pretty well handle himself.We had met formally only a couple of times, mostly in Las Vegas at the tail end of the sixties. RCA invited me to see his show, and he asked me back to visit him. He knew who I was; he called me hillbilly.

I had a wristband on my arm because I had slipped on the pavement and fractured it. They had given me pain pills, but the original cast had turned the wrist in such an odd way that it still hurt all the time. I was on my way to L.A. when I had the bright idea of getting a leather wristband made that would hold the arm tight and keep the elbow from moving. I cut the cast off and through it out the window, and went into the first leather shop I saw. To make it look like something, I had a metal peace sign put in the middle of it. Elvis really like that wristband; I think he wanted it. He keep admiring it – ‘you hillbillies sure know how to dress’ – and calling attention to it, though I wound up keeping it. We talked for a while but I didn’t hang round much.Red west may have been one of the best friends he ever had, and Sonny West, because they cared about him, watched over him, trying to keep him alive. Elvis may have been the most beautiful man in the world. His face was carved like a stone, chiselled out of rock, he was just that good looking, and his voice was unbelievable.He was a phenomenon, and he arrived fully formed. From the first notes of That’s All Right Mama, as otherworldly as they were, he never improved, or even developed. He hardly changed from start to finish, and Colonel Parker didn’t help.

I think a monkey could have managed Elvis, and maybe done a better job. Colonel Tom wanted to manage me once but said I was uncontrollable. He was probably right.Felton Jarvis at RCA, really cared about Elvis. He produced Suspicious Minds, which may be the best record Elvis ever cut, and one time he called me up to see if I could help. ‘He likes you’. Felton said to me. ‘Do you think you could get him interested in music again?’ I told him I didn’t know, and that the only way you could find out was by getting all those yes people away from him and letting him go somewhere and hang out and play music. He might get interested, because I truly believed Elvis liked to sing.Elvis had changed the world and now he was gone. Maybe he didn’t have as much impact on me as Hank Williams or George Jones or Buddy, but most of us marked time Before Elvis and After Elvis.    


Though he (buddy) may have been inspired by Elvis, he new there was an Elvis already, Buddy sounded like himself.       

He did one of my songs once, Just Because You Asked Me Too, imitating my voice. After he died, RCA wanted to put out a duet album with artists who had worked with Elvis, and asked me to sing along on his finished track. I couldn’t handle that. ‘Call Elvis’, I told them. ‘If it’s okay with Elvis, it’s okay with me’.Waylon recorded Suspicious Minds (With wife, Jessi Colter) and That’s All Right / My Baby Left Me as ‘A Medley of Elvis Hits”He was great when he started, and he was still great when he died… Man, he was something!’ – Waylon JenningsNobody knowsIn his song, Nobody Knows, Waylon sang, ‘Nobody knows I’m Elvis, nobody knows this is me. After all of my tries, I’ve got the perfect disguise’. 




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