WAYLON JENNINGS – FOLK-COUNTRY
By Paul W. Dennis
During the mid-1960s RCA attempted to catch the dying embers of the ‘Hootenanny’ movement of the early 1960s by positioning their artists to appeal to both country and folk audiences. Obviously this wasn’t a strategy that could be employed for every RCA country artist, but there were some artists such as George Hamilton IV, Bobby Bare and Waylon Jennings who (sort of) straddled the line between folk and country.
Folk-Country was Waylon’s debut album for RCA, released in March 1966, preceded by 1965 chart singles “That’s The Chance I’ll Have To Take”, “Stop The World And Let Me Off” and “Anita You’re Dreaming”. The first two singles would show up on Waylon’s debut album.
Around the time Folk-Country was released, RCA had signed Don Bowman to the label. Bowman and Jennings had been friends for a number of years and Bowman, an extraordinary comic (with a very offbeat sense of humor) and a pretty good songwriter, supplied Waylon with three songs on the debut album.
The album opens up with the Harlan Howard tune “Another Bridge To Burn” which most will remember as a Ray Price classic. Waylon isn’t in Ray’s league as a pure vocalist, but the song definitely works
“Stop The World and Let Me Off” a Carl Belew classic, was Waylon’s first top twenty single, reaching #16. I think Waylon’s version is the definitive version of the song.
Waylon had a hand in writing several songs on this album. “Cindy of New Orleans” was a solo endeavor by Jennings
“Look Into My Teardrops” was one of Conway Twitty’s early efforts to have a country hit. Written by Don Bowman and Harlan Howard, it has always been one of my favorite Conway Twitty recordings. Waylon does a fine job on the song, although the song fits Conway’s voice better.
“Down Came the World” is a Bozo Darnell-Waylon Jennings collaboration
Not everything from the pen of Harlan Howard was a classic, as witness “I Don’t Mind”. It is not a bad song, it’s just nothing special
“Just for You” was a Waylon Jennings, Don Bowman and Jerry “Swamp Dog” Williams collaboration
Don Bowman was the sole writer of “Now Everybody Knows”
The first single off the album was Waylon’s solo composition “That’s the Chance I’ll Have to Take”, which nudged onto the charts at #49. It is an excellent song that might have been a substantial hit had it been released later in Waylon’s career. Quite a few artists covered the song as an album track, most notably Charlie Pride, whose version rivals Waylon’ as the definitive version of the song.
“What Makes a Man Wander” is a Harlan Howard composition that I first heard performed by Harlan’s then-wife Jan Howard. I think the song works a little better sung from the distaff side, but Waylon acquits himself well on the song
The first version of “Man of Constant Sorrow” that I recall hearing was Waylon’s version of the song. WCMS disc jockey “Carolina Charlie” Wiggs liked Waylon’s version of the song and played it occasionally. To this day, I still like Waylon’s understated version of the song better than any of the more bombastic versions.
The album closes with the Harlan Howard composition “What’s Left of Me”
There was a tendency for RCA recording artists to have musical accompaniments that sounded very similar. This was due to the use of RCA’s studio musicians. While RCA had some truly excellent musicians in its stable, the use of these musicians (along with string and choral arrangements) resulted in recordings whose sound the artists could not replicate in live performance. Waylon (along with Willie Nelson and some others) would address this problem in the future, but at this stage of the game, none of them had sufficient leverage (or a sufficient track record) to exert that kind of influence. Truly distinctive voices such as Waylon Jennings and Charley Pride could cut through the background clutter, but most of the smooth voiced vocalists (Eddy Arnold, Stu Phillips, Jim Ed Brown) tended to make recordings that any other similar such artist could have recorded. Even such unique vocalists as Don Gibson and Hank Locklin tended to get lost in the accompaniment.
That said, Waylon’s vocals make any of his albums stand out from the usual RCA fare. I would not regard Folk-Country as one of Waylon’s best albums, but it is a very good one, one that bears repeated play. I’d give it a B+ and I am grading a downward curve. There are many successful performers who never make an album as good as Folk-Country