Waylon Jennings died of complications from diabetes on February 12, 2002, at his Arizona home. He was only 64 and had not released an album since 1998's prophetically titled Closing in on the Fire, which suggested he could be as viable a performer and songwriter as his outlaw pals Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash, who was in the midst of his own career revival with producer Rick Rubin and their sparse American Recordings releases. But Jennings was always the odd outlaw out: For all the hits the man had, for all his famous songs ("Rainy Day Woman," "Good Hearted Woman," "This Time," "Bob Wills is Still the King"), he barely had a record deal from the late 1980s till his death. The Littlefield native will probably be forever remembered as the narrator of The Dukes of Hazzard.
Perhaps that explains why there haven't been many posthumous Jennings releases since his death, save for the occasional best-of collection or the 2003 "expanded edition" version of Waylon Live, a double-disc collection of material performed in Dallas and Austin in 1975. But that changes on Tuesday, when a for-now-unknown local label called YMC Records will release Waylon Sings Hank Williams, which consists of 12 tracks Jennings cut in 1985 that, till now, have been stashed away in a closet awaiting a liberator. And that person is Chris Christian, founder of YMC and a longtime musician, producer and label boss who has chosen to inaugurate his new enterprise with a reasonably essential addition to the Jennings catalog--you know, the one that includes the No. 1 hit in 1975, "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way."
Christian, who essentially discovered Amy Grant and has had his songs covered by the likes of Elvis Presley, the Carpenters, B.J. Thomas and Olivia Newton-John (how's that for wide-ranging?), says he got the rights to the dozen tracks from Jessi Colter, Jennings' widow. He simply asked her if there was any of Jennings' material awaiting release, and she offered the Williams material, which includes Waylon's versions of such standards as "Hey Good Lookin'," "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," "Mansion on the Hill" and "Cold Cold Heart." That they've never been available before is astounding; they're as good as anything Jennings recorded during that period, if not before. Colter and Christian felt the same way, which is why the disc will be available on Tuesday, distributed through the giant Universal Music conglomerate, with which YMC has a deal.
"I lived in Nashville 25 years ago and know a lot of people there," Christian says. "I used to play guitar for Chet Atkins, and in those days Waylon was the rebel in town, and Chet was a big influence on Waylon coming to Nashville in the first place. He called Waylon wherever he was and said, 'Get here.' Well, I know the people who run the estate, and from there it was about talking to who you know, and they chose us to put the record out. I was honored. He's an icon, and him singing Hank Williams songs makes it that much better. And since it's the first record released since his passing, it's a significant record. I think for Waylon fans, this is a must-have. On the end of it, we even have a little piece where he's talking about Hank, and that's pretty special."
A sample of "Jambalaya" can be found on YMC's Web site--as can a teaser for the label's next album, an October release of a Christmas album from Ali Lohan, who is, yes, Lindsay's younger sister. (It's her first release, and Christian reminds that Hilary Duff also debuted with a Christmas CD.) Christian, appropriately enough, digs the Christmas record: The label's first releases, which were available during the holidays last year only in Radio Shack outlets, were Christmas releases from the likes of Willie Nelson, Vanessa Williams and the Pointer Sisters. But, he insists, YMC is going to release more than just albums from departed country stars and the pretty-picture siblings of movie stars.
"This is a Dallas label, which is neat," he says. "We're based here, we were founded here, and we have a 45-album distribution deal with Universal. One hope is that by basing a label here, we can solidify some of the musical heritage Dallas deserves--and, hopefully, we can find a Jessica Simpson or Kelly Clarkson. To be honest, I wouldn't mind only signing Dallas acts."
To introduce the label and debut Waylon Sings Hank Williams, YMC is hosting several events this weekend: Tonight at 9 there will be a CD listening party at Billy Bob's Texas, 2520 Rodeo Plaza, in Fort Worth, and another one tomorrow from noon till 1 p.m. at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop in Fort Worth at 140 East Exchange Street. If yer on the Dallas side of things, KHYI-FM (95.3, The Range) will be giving away copies of the disc at Bill's Records & Tapes, 8118 Spring Valley Road, at 3 p.m. Yeah, that's kinda hard to beat. --Robert Wilonsky