An Outlaw and a Lady
Most people know of Waylon Jennings; in the past, it was common for women’s identity to be closely tied to whomever they were married. Waylon Jenning’s wife was Jessi Colter, however she was way more than Mrs Waylon Jennings. I just finished the Jessi Colter book “an outlaw and a lady” which is the subject of this week’s column.
Jessi Colter was born Mirriam Johnson in Arizona to a minister and a miner. It’s an interesting combination of parents and either the DNA or her upbringing made Colter a person who thinks deeply and completely which explains her expertise as a songwriter. Before Colter became a famous singer, she wrote music for Dottie West and Nancy Sinatra. Colter’s husband, Waylon Jennings, encouraged her to sing her own music and Colter’s first album was produced by Chet Atkins but was not a success. In 1975, she released two albums which featured the single “I’m not Lisa” and “What’s Happened to Blue Eyes?” which were huge hits in both country and pop music.
Colter was raised in a very faithful household. She dealt with the crazy world of music and the addiction of her husband in the same way, patience and love. I was amazed at how she virtually never preached or made ultimatums at Jennings’ during his time of addiction. She just stayed very steady and loved him until he quit the pills and allowed God to fill his heart. Just the story of her relationship with Waylon Jennings’ could have been a book unto itself about how to flourish in a relationship. Colter’s mother was the same in her relationship with Jessi-no ultimatums or shaming-just patience and love.
The book’s title could be interpreted as Waylon taking the place of the outlaw and Jessi Colter taking the place as the lady however Colter played both parts. The Outlaws were a group of musicians that ran contrary to the typical multi-layered, over-produced sound of 60’s and 70’s country music. This group is generally accepted to have been all male except for Jessi Colter. Waylon Jenning, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Tompall Glaser, Merle Haggard, David Allan Coe and Johnny Paycheck were the sentinels of this territory of country music but Colter was its’ Queen.
Good and bad happened to Jessi Colter but she seemed to make all of it seem like just part of life. I think the reason for this is her tremendous faith and the peace it created in her heart. She sometimes sat at the center of a fair amount of tumult but she was always the calm place, the eye of the storm. Maybe that is how she came to write the famous “Storms never last” which is a song I like to hum to myself during tense times. None of these times were ever so sad as when Colter’s husband, Waylon Jennings, passed in 2002. Prior to this, Jennings came to know God through the love of his wife. In her book, Colter tells Jennings that God has forgiven all of his sins and that the point of prayer is “to be more like God” so Jennings should follow God’s example and forgive himself. Jesse must have given Waylon a lot of peace in those finals days.
“An outlaw and a lady” is quite a bit more than a few good stories about country music. It tells the story of redemption, love and patience as reflected by the heart and seen by the eyes of Jessi Colter-wife of an outlaw but a lady in her own right.