My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Waylon Jennings – ‘Goin’ Down Rockin’ – The Last Recordings’

It’s been over a decade (February 2002) since we lost the great Waylon Jennings, and four years since the release of Waylon Forever, the collaboration released by his son Shooter Jennings. Since Waylon had been in poor health during the years immediately prior to his death, I had assumed (and feared) that we’d heard the last new recordings from Ol’ Waylon.

It turns out that I was wrong, and I’ve seldom been so pleased to be wrong about something. In September 2012, Goin’ Down Rockin’: The Last Recordings will be released. The album will include twelve songs, written and recorded by Jennings along with his bassist Robby Turner during the last years of his life.

Jennings recorded the songs only playing his guitar and singing while accompanied by Turner on the bass. Further instrumentation was planned, but it was stopped due to Jennings’ death in 2002. Turner completed the recordings ten years later with the help of members of Jennings’ band The Waylors.

“Goin’ Down Rockin’” is the leadoff track for the album. It is probably my least favorite track in the album, mostly because I don’t like the guitar work on the cut, but even so I like the song. Swamp legend Tony Joe White assists with vocals. Waylon doesn’t appear to be in particularly good voice on this track so I assume it’s one of the last tracks recorded. In a way the song’s chorus perfectly reflects Waylon’s outlook on life:

Spent a little time in the congregation, that’s how I was raised
Spent a little time in trouble, but I do have my ways
If I can’t go down rockin’, I ain’t gonna go down at all

“Belle Of The Ball” has more of a contemporary country sound, with nice steel guitar work. The song is a gentle and reflective ballad about one of the things that did go right. I don’t know if the song is specifically about his wife Jessi Colter but it would certainly fit

A vagabond dreamer, a rhymer and singer of songs
Singing to no one and nowhere to really belong
I met a beautiful lady, a pure Southern belle of the ball
Like Scarlett O’Hara, loved no one and wanted them all

There is a nice you tube video of Shooter Jennings that you can watch until the album becomes available on September 11, 2012.

“If My Harley Was Runnin'” is the lament many of us have felt – nothing in life is working (including personal relationships) and there is no way to run – but watch out because if ever he gets his Harley working as he’ll be long gone. I wasn’t that impressed with the song the first time I heard it, but it certainly has grown on me with repeated playing.

“I Do Believe” is a very reflective song taken at a slow tempo, not overtly religious but very spiritual just the same. Another song that has grown on me with repetition:

In my own way I’m a believer
But not in voices I can’t hear
I believe in a loving father
One I never have to fear
That I should live life at its fullest
Just as long as I am here

“Friends In California” and “The Ways of The World” are just decent country songs, performed well . The latter has the same tempo and pattern as one of Waylon’s biggest hits “Amanda”, a song I think you could easily sing to this melody. “Shakin’ The Blues” is a slow song. Again a decent lyric improved by the fact that Waylon is the artist singing it.

Waylon was always a master at medium fast tempo blues-rockers and “Never Say Die” is no exception. The song is on a par with any similar such songs Waylon recorded in his long and distinguished career

Well, there’s snow on the mountain, a fire down below
No place to hide, but there’s no place to go
Seems like I’m surrounded by the trouble in the air
If there’s any way out I can’t find it anywhere

Chorus: But I’ll never say die
Never say die
I ain’t givin’ in or givin’ up without a try
No, I’ll never say die

I love “Wastin’ Time”, the most solidly country song of the bunch. The best county songs are about troubles, sorrows and laments and no one did them better than Ol’ Waylon

I’ve made up my mind to make my move
It’s just a waste of time to wait on you
I’m set to leave and you’re set in your ways
You can’t change and if you can’t I can’t stay

I’ve been wasting time that I can’t spare
Wastin’ love when you don’t care
And the one conclusion I’ve come to
I’ve been wasting time and a lot of good love on you

“Sad Songs And Waltzes” is an older song that I first heard on a Keith Whitley album some years ago. I very much liked Keith’s version but Waylon has more resignation in his vocals which gives the song a different flavor, so I wouldn’t want to choose between the two versions.

I’ve been married a long time so I don’t have any recent experience with barroom angels. Even so, I don’t suspect that things have changed much. Forty years ago “She Was No Good For Me” might have become a radio classic. Even if radio won’t play it today, it’s a fine song:

She was wonderfully wicked and wild
With the looks of a woman
And the ways of a child
She could twist me or turn me
With a look or a smile
And she was just no good for me

Don’t be taken by the look in her eyes
If she looks like an angel
It’s a perfect disguise
And for somebody else she may be
But she was just no good for me

The album ends with “Wrong Road To Nashville” , a song which has a strong Cajun flavoring with Cajun fiddles and rhythm, and a few vocal scats lifted from “Jolie Blon”. Lyrically this song is not that strong, but it is a pleasant aural experience.

Apparently there wasn’t a great backlog of unreleased Waylon Jennings material at the time of his death, so this may be the last Waylon Jennings album of new material. If so, Waylon has exited on a very high note. Kudos to Robby Turner for the exemplary job he did in finishing off the masters in a manner befitting a legend. Kudos also to Waylon Jennings for being that legend.

Grade: A-

13 responses to “Album Review: Waylon Jennings – ‘Goin’ Down Rockin’ – The Last Recordings’

  1. Razor X September 4, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    This will be a Day One purchase for me.

  2. luckyoldsun September 7, 2012 at 7:15 pm

    Paul,

    Maybe I’m wrong, but printing so extensively from the lyrics as you do above seems to convey that these are new songs that have been unearthed.

    In fact, Waylon sang “I Do Believe”–as a solo– on the third Highwayman album back in 1995 and “Never Say Die,””Wastin’ Time” and “No Good For Me” were all cuts on Waylon’s excellent, but commercially dormant, solo CD’s during that decade.

    • Paul W Dennis September 8, 2012 at 12:38 am

      I don’t think I said that these were new songs, although there were a couple of new songs on this album. What this album represents is new recordings. As to the songs you mentioned, they may as well be new songs since few, other than diehard Waylon fans, will have heard them. Even folks like you and I will appreciate the treatments and arrangements on these recordings, at least I did.

      I really do hope that RCA, MCA (or someone) has a stash of unreleased Waylon recordings somewhere, like they did for Jim Reeves and Johnny Cash

  3. luckyoldsun September 8, 2012 at 9:58 am

    I was a big fan of both Cash and Waylon and saw them play both individually and as the Highwaymen.
    I found it somewhat ironic that Cash, who was really washed up as far as being a current recording artist by the late ’70s, enjoyed such a resurgence in the ’90s with the American Recordings series, which consisted almost entirely of covers and reinterpretations of other people’s material. On the other hand, Waylon, who had been charting in the ’80s, made some excellent CDs in the ’90s, consisting of a real mix of self-written songs and covers, and they were almost completely ignored.
    Waylon seemed bitter about how he was frozen out.

    • Ken Johnson September 8, 2012 at 1:09 pm

      Cash had seriously hurt his prestige by releasing mediocre material for most of the 1980’s while Waylon continued to be chart active during most of that period. The Highwaymen provided Cash with a second wind for a time but he was never able to channel it into re-energizing his career with new solo hits. By the early 1990’s the two men were highly regarded as “legends” but gatekeepers at country radio wanted nothing to do with them regardless of how good their new recordings might be. Even Willie Nelson who held superstar status in the 80’s fell from grace. The same prejudice applied to all other aging country acts. Radio was intent on attracting the “young country” audience and music released by older acts definitely did not fit their agenda. Cash’s American Recordings found an audience but it fundamentally was not 1990’s mainstream country fans.

      What evidence do you have that Waylon “seemed bitter about how he was frozen out.?” First that I’ve heard of this.

      • Razor X September 8, 2012 at 4:42 pm

        I would not go so far as to say that Waylon was bitter, but he was one of the few who spoke out about the way country radio was (and still is) discriminating against older artists. I remember an interview that he gave to one of the news magazine shows — Dateline NBC or Primetime Live, one of those — where the topic came up.

      • luckyoldsun September 9, 2012 at 12:05 am

        What evidence do I have that Waylon seemed bitter?
        Let’s see, he wouldn’t show up for his Hall of Fame induction;
        He had a falling-out with Willie, so that they stopped talking to each other;
        Then there’s the clip on the Highwaymen 3 10th Anniversary CD, where Waylon does his talking blues song “Living Legends” and when he says the line “I ain’t bitter,” Kris laughs uproariously and says “You ain’t bitter?!”

        • Ken Johnson September 9, 2012 at 8:17 am

          Waylon did not show up for his Country Music Hall Of Fame induction because he felt that there were other worthy artists that should have been inducted before him. His boycott was a message to the HOF.

          Waylon & Willie had constant falling outs over the years most of which can be attributed to mutual substance abuse. It was a love/hate relationship.

          Kris was likely just making a joke, Waylon always had an acrimonious relationship with Nashville. Waylon understood the way the music business operated. He did not like it but he accepted the reality. Waylon was a very intelligent guy. Never saw anything that indicated bitterness. Occasional anger or perhaps disappointment but not bitter. According to his wife he was always positive even at the end of his life.

  4. Pingback: She Loves me (She Doesn’t Love You) | just for the records ~another 365 project

  5. pdalpsher September 19, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    The song Belle of the Ball is not about Jessi. It is about the music business. Nashville in particular. This was explained by Jessi in the GAC show about the making of the Music Inside. Shooter recorded it for the Music Inside and it is NOT a love song.

    • cheyenne4800 July 26, 2015 at 11:01 am

      pdalpsher ~ You are sooo correct. “Belle of the Ball” was about Waylon’s music, not a woman. He was talking specifically to Nashville: You did your music your way, and I did mine my way. In other words, “I did my new dance, and you did your Tennessee Waltz.” For more on this, Rob by Turner (producer of “Goin’ Down Rockin’) can confirm this.

  6. WF Caple September 29, 2012 at 11:32 am

    Hit radio and the want for crossover hits became the new focus of Nashville in the late 80’s / early 90’s. It drove the artists like Waylon, Cash, Haggard, Don Williams, and Loretta Lynn, among others to scramble for a place where they could remain vital. Not that Waylon played the Nashville game, but he was still a commercial artist. These songs show that Waylon was still a force artistically and Nashville should be ashamed that they largely turned their backs on the art form in favor of fast profits and play on pop radio. Such is the corporate world.

  7. Ash July 14, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    What is your take on the meaning of Goin down rockin? Mainly the verse: If I can’t be your sugar daddy, I won’t be your Neanderthal. Any thoughts??

    Goin Down Rockin
    One foot on the mountain, the other one in the stream
    All kinds of trouble and I’m caught in between
    I can’t change my way of doin’; it’s gonna lay like it falls
    If I can’t go down rockin’, I ain’t gonna go down at all
    She was a child of acquired money, had that silver spoon
    I knew she had a little wild streak and needed breathing room
    If I can’t be your sugar daddy, I won’t be your Neanderthal
    If I can’t go down rockin’, I ain’t gonna go down at all

    Spent a little time in the congregation, that’s how I was raised
    Spent a little time in trouble, but I do have my ways

    Won’t be your Neanderthal.
    Tonight I had good intentions of crawling into bed
    Resting my body and clearing my head
    But, just about midnight, I got that telephone call
    If I can’t go down rockin’, I ain’t gonna go down at all

    Spent a little time in the congregation, that’s how I was raised
    Spent a little time in trouble, but I do have my ways
    If I can’t go down rockin’, I ain’t gonna go down at all
    If I can’t go down rockin’, I ain’t gonna go down at

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