First Appeared in The Music Box, January 2007, Volume 14, #1
Written by John Metzger
The recently released, four-disc, 92-track box set Nashville Rebel provided a comprehensive overview of Waylon Jennings’ career. Although it isn’t nearly as essential, the separately issued but similarly titled DVD is an interesting addendum to the project. All of the material on the 20-track video was recorded during a 14-year stretch of time that spanned from 1970 until 1984, and it therefore covers the crucial period when Jennings was transformed from a Nashville hit-maker to a country renegade to a superstar. Fittingly, the program begins in 1970 with a snippet from the Johnny Cash Show, and after a brief reminiscence with Cash regarding the apartment that they once had shared, a clean-cut Jennings took the stage to lead his band through Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line. The performance itself was tentative and unremarkable. Yet, within the context of Nashville Rebel, it effectively sets up everything that follows.
Save for a few promotional videos and a pair of television commercials that are tacked onto the end of the collection, the rest of Nashville Rebel was culled from a trio of sources: Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, some previously unseen footage that was shot by Cowboy Jack Clement, and a live performance at Opryland. When Jennings launched into a cover of Billy Joe Shaver’s Honky Tonk Heroes on Kirshner’s long-running television program in 1974, it immediately was apparent how much he had changed his approach. Aside from the obvious alterations that he made to his physical appearance, the music itself embraced a tougher, edgier sound. Via its galloping rhythms and tangled guitars, it lent a rock-oriented potency to the seductive rolling groove of J.J. Cale’s Louisiana Women as well as the jam-friendly, Shaver-penned Slow Rollin’ Low.
The material that was taken from Clement’s archives is equally solid. Jennings’ band provided a driving, locomotive chug to both Lonesome, On’ry and Mean and I’m a Ramblin’ Man, while his heartfelt rendering of Willie Nelson’s It’s Not Supposed to Be That Way served to highlight the artistic interplay that had been taking place between the two country outlaws. One of the finest vocal performances on Nashville Rebel occurred during a solo acoustic rendition of Waymore’s Blues. Unfortunately, the music broke down midstream as Jennings and his wife Jessi Colter, who was seated on a bench next to him, began to banter about the meaning of the song.
By the time of his Opryland appearance in 1978, Jennings had become a major artist, and his now-familiar logo was splashed in bright lights across the back of the stage. Initially, his performance was as subdued as the assembled theater crowd, and the delivery of his crowd-pleasing hits Luckenbach, Texas; Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys; and Good Hearted Woman was considerably more polished than Nashville Rebel’s earlier selections. However, with renditions of Neil Young’s Are You Ready for the Country and Jennings’ own Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way, he and his band regained their momentum, and they finished the show with a renewed sense of determination and purpose. More of a historical document than it is a vital viewing experience, Nashville Rebel, nonetheless, proves to be an entertaining journey through Jennings’ most influential years as an artist. ½
Nashville Rebel is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box