No other genre of American music has an ongoing debate about what it is and what it isn’t like country does, because no other genre has such long-established ties to tradition that so many fans and artists feel must be respected. In their time, artists we consider the very definition of country were accused of being pop, artists like Patsy Cline, and yes, even the great Waylon Jennings.
In the March 1975 issue of Country Song Roundup magazine, Waylon was interviewed by P.J. Russell, the impetus being that a friend of P.J.’s named Marry Jo was accusing Waylon Jennings of not being country, and that Waylon “sounded terrible” and “looked worse.” To the 2013 perspective this might sound like crazy talk; today Waylon Jennings is used as a reference point for what defines real country. But in 1975 when Waylon was first introducing his now signature heavy beat, it sounded foreign compared to the fluffy, polished Nashville Sound that was the current rage.
Waylon, whose handle at the time was the “Nashville Rebel” and came to prominence on RCA as their roster’s “country folk” artist, was in the midst of retooling his sound and taking creative control of his music mere months away from the full onset of country’s Outlaw era. Accused of not being country and wanting to change the country sound, Waylon responded…
I’m not trying to change anything. I’m just trying to sing my kind of music. So people say it’s not country. Some people say I’m trying to be a pop singer. If I’d wanted to cut a pop record, I could have recorded a Buddy Holly song anytime in the past five years and had a pop hit, but I didn’t. I guess if I’m not country and I’m not a Mongolian aviator, I’m just singing Waylon’s music.
There are some people who say I use too heavy of a beat and too many instruments…but if instruments and beats made our music then we’d be in trouble anyway. The soul of the music is in the singer and I don’t believe anybody can really sing country as well as the old boy who’s lived it. Country music is like black man’s blues. They are only a beat apart. It’s the same man, singing the same song, about the same problems, and his loves, his losses, the good and the bad times.