Jay Meehan: Waylon, Richie and Shooter
June 16, 2015
The space-time was Salt Lake’s "Mr. Lucky Club" just off Redwood Road late 1973. Waylon Jennings & the Waylors had just finished their first set of the evening on a tour in support of their latest release, "Honky Tonk Heroes," an album chock full of backstory and songs penned by Billy Joe Shaver.
It was then that Richie Albright, Waylon’s drummer and right arm, hopped off the low-riser stage and invited me to tour their new bus between sets. Whatever cachet I had accrued as a low-on-the-food-chain country disc jockey at the time had been well spent, it would seem.
What with a very brief backstage conversation concerning the wide brimmed hat he had sported on the "Heroes" album cover, not to mention even smaller talk with Waylon, I was somewhat taken aback. As I would discover through the years, however, Richie is a quite friendly sort. The hat, by the way, turned up stolen.
In the first place, at the time, having the touring band of a country recording artist on an album cover was more than just news. An epiphany was more like it! A total shift in the paradigm! But prior to the record’s release, with word leaking out that Waylon had been granted complete creative control over the project, including final say on graphics and recording with "his" band, we sort of saw it coming.
Waylon’s creative freedom, similar to that long enjoyed by rock bands, would soon gallop across the country landscape with Willie Nelson’s "Red Headed Stranger" at the head of the posse. Even before they pulled up stakes and journeyed from Nashville to Austin, the newer practitioners of the emerging art form would develop a swagger.
The bus? Well, let’s just say these guys knew how to travel in comfort. Although it wasn’t much more plush than upstairs at Graceland, you could say they were quite doable digs. Before jerking out a couple of brews from the built-in wall fridge, he proudly showed off the bathroom door emblazoned with "HANK" and a large golden star.
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It was what followed next, however, that would stick to my ribs. As response to our laid-back-sofa-and-beer driven discourse on the artistry of Billy Joe Shaver, Richie asked if I’d like to take a listen to their "new" album. "You got something newer than ‘Honky Tonk Heroes?’" I asked, incredulously. As he threaded tape into the (also built-in) reel-to-reel machine, a subtle smirk spread across his face.
What moseyed through my auditory canal along with the bass and drum intro was nothing short of the purest essence of what would come to be known as the "Waylon sound." The phrase "Now that’s a Richie Albright beat" would soon enter the lexicon of most all country drummers worth their salt. To this day, forty some years later, whenever I listen to "This Time," I’m right back on that bus.
The good news is that Richie is coming to Salt Lake City on Friday evening, June 26, to perform at a club called The Royal along with his band "Waymore’s Outlaws" and Waylon’s son "Shooter." Pretty cool in that I was able to set up a phone interview with him for this past Monday which also just happened to be Waylon’s 78th birthday.
Waylon, who passed at 64 back in 2002, is one of those performing artists and guiding lights whose musical and personal auras refuse to dim. Although I do have friends who say it’s best he’s not around to see "Bro-Country" at the top of the charts, I think he’d feed off the shallowness of the scene in general.
Reminiscences about his very early days sitting-in with Waylon in Phoenix at, first, in 1962, a joint called "Frankies" and later when their bands alternated sets at the annual Fourth of July Rodeo in Prescott, where Richie lived, proved quite interesting. It would be in ’64 when Richie would get the call to join Waylon & the Waylors for good, however.
Another tidbit that came out of the phone interview was that, included in the new "Waymore’s Outlaws" CD "Keeping the Spirit Alive," which also dropped Monday and chronicles Waylon’s creative life, is a song Waylon wrote but never recorded called "Reds, White Crosses, and the Blues."
Can’t wait to once again catch Waylon Albright "Shooter" Jennings and also allow that "Waylon sound" with its "Richie beat" to wash over me. This time will be the right time! Friday, June 26, at The Royal.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.