I’d love to tell you that I know a lot about Larry Jon Wilson, who died Monday at 69 from a stroke, but truth is I only know him through the bits of his music that have passed under my nose over the years, and from his appearance in the documentary Heartworn Highways. There isn’t a lot to be known about Wilson, because for nearly 30 years of his life, he wanted it that way.
Larry Jon Wilson is the textbook definition of a “Forgotten Outlaw.” His golden era is filled with songs and albums that are as entertaining and influential as anyone’s. Forgotten or not, Wilson was the complete package. He had the moxy and the taste for soul of Waylon Jennings. He had the songwriting, poetic prowess of Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. He had deep, deep pipes that made Johnny Cash sound like a pre-pubescent. And he was a hell of a guitar player. Mix it all together and Larry Jon Wilson was an American original, whose due we can only hope will come posthumously, and whose legend deserves to eternally grow.
And he was an Outlaw plain and simple, maybe more so than most:
“Some people have used the ‘Outlaw’ tag effectively for a career move, but I don’t think ‘career move’ has ever entered my thinking. When I was in Nashville, we did the streets an awful long time, and we weren’t exactly holding prayer meetings. I loved my drinking days… I’m not ashamed of any of it.”
Born in Georgia, Wilson put out four relatively obscure, but critically acclaimed and loyally adored albums between 1975 and 1979 on the Monument imprint of CBS Records: New Beginnings (1975), Let Me Sing My Song to You (1976), Loose Change (1977), and The Sojourner (1979). If you find one of these albums in any format, buy it. They are as rare and highly sought after.
In 1980, Larry left the music business disillusioned after no real commercial success of any sort. His music just didn’t fit in any marketable scene. It was country, but with soulful, funky influences. Wilson’s music maybe was not influential to the outside world, but in the 70’s country Outlaw scene he was an artist the artists listened to. After 1980 he slipped into obscurity, doing voice-over work to pay the bills. Just last year he came out of the shadows to release Larry Jon Wilson which was beginning to spark new interest in his body of work.
Larry was also a champion of the very rare, but very coveted by true audiofiles song trilogy.
Larry Jon Wilson is one of the reasons savingcountrymusic.com exists, to make sure singular talents like this are not forgotten, and that our generation of talent doesn’t slip into obscurity like so many greats before. Do yourself a favor, skip on over to YouTube, ask around for his albums, and discover this artist. He’s one of those type of artists who you might say “name sound familiar,” but when you’re sat down and really exposed to him, all of a sudden a whole new world of music is opened up to you.
You can also read an amazing interview with him by Stephen M. Deusner HERE.
From Heartworn Highways:
My favorite Larry Jon Wilson song: