Classic Tracks: Waylon Jennings' "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way"

Apr 27, 2010 1:40 PM, By Barbara Schultz


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This month’s “Classic Track,” “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way,” is on Waylon Jennings’ Dreaming My Dreams, the third album he recorded in the studio owned by his friend and fellow Outlaw Tompall Glaser, and the only record he made with legendary engineer/producer Cowboy Jack Clement.

“It was my concept of Waylon Jennings,” Clement says of Dreaming My Dreams. “More earthy, and where he plays guitar himself rather than somebody else playing. He played some nice guitar on that album. He had a sound and a style. When Chet Atkins and some other people produced Waylon, someone else would play guitar and he would just sing. I heard him live and I knew that his real essence was playing guitar and singing at the same time.”

“Jack thought my voice and guitar were one and the same,” Jennings wrote in his 1996 autobiography, Waylon (written with musician/journalist Lenny Kaye). “They were a matched set. Coming from a guy who often said he was a sucker for good voices…that was high praise for my guitar…and when he got to mixing, Jack acted on the music, making it more theatrical, giving it a mystique. It sounded real strange to me when I first heard it back, but I liked it and went with it.”

“Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” definitely has that “mystique.” The combination of layered guitars, thumping bass drum, a roomy reverb sound on Jennings magnificent voice and the singer’s clever original lyrics all create a very un-Nashville song that honors Hank Williams, Jennings’ first musical influence, and takes a tough stand against the status quo.

It’s the same old tune, fiddle and guitar
Where do we take it from here?
Rhinestone suits and new shiny cars
It’s been the same way for years…we need a change

Somebody told me when I came to Nashville,
Son you finally got it made
Old Hank made it here
We’re all sure that you will
But I don’t think that Hank done it this a’way…

Though Jennings taught himself to play guitar listening to “Old Hank” on country radio, his professional career began with early rock ’n’ roll. He was working as a DJ in Lubbock, Texas, when he met his close friend Buddy Holly. Holly produced some of Jennings’ earliest recordings, and in 1959 he asked Jennings (then age 21) to put down his Telecaster, learn the bass guitar and join the Winter Dance Party package tour, which included several other performers.

The rest is one of the saddest, best-known stories in rock ’n’ roll: On “The Day the Music Died,” February 3, 1959, Holly was tired of the frozen confines of a tour bus and chartered a plane to take his band from Clear Lake, Iowa, to Fargo, N.D. Jennings was initially offered a seat on the plane, but gave his place to tour-mate J.P. Richardson (aka, The Big Bopper), who had been ill and dreaded spending another night on a cold bus.

Jennings wrote in Waylon that before leaving for the airport, Holly poked fun at Jennings, accusing his new bass player of being afraid to fly. Jennings wrote: “’Well,’ he said, grinning, ‘I hope your damned bus freezes up again.’ I said, ‘Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes.’”

After Holly’s plane went down, killing him, Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper and the pilot, Jennings was emotionally devastated by the loss of his friend and unsettled by feelings of guilt over the events leading up to the crash. He stayed away from music for a while, and then decided to go back to radio. He wrote later that at that time, he had “no intention of ever playing another note.” But restless as he was, work in Texas was hard to come by and hard to keep, and he ended up moving to Arizona, and playing out to earn a living.

Jennings became a regular performer at a nightclub called J.D.’s in Phoenix. He signed a deal with A&M and scored a few hits regionally. In 1965, Nashville-based musicians Duane Eddy and Bobby Bare heard Jennings and helped convince Chet Atkins to sign Jennings to RCA. Next stop, Nashville.

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