Forgotten Outlaw Larry Jon Wilson: 1940-2010
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 read a brief biography of him by CLICKING HERE, and a story on his death HERE.
You can also read an amazing interview with him by Stephen M. Deusner HERE.
From Heartworn Highways:
My favorite Larry Jon Wilson song:
June 24, 2010 @ 12:00 pm
i never heard of him before, but i like what i hear…
June 24, 2010 @ 12:34 pm
How is it I’ve never heard of him?? What a rich storyteller. Thanks Triggerman.
June 24, 2010 @ 1:34 pm
I remember seeing him in Heartworn Highways, and being blown away.
June 24, 2010 @ 1:36 pm
RIP Larry Jon, we’ll miss you.
Martin Luther Presley
June 24, 2010 @ 2:19 pm
Oh man, I didn’t know he died. That’s sad news.
I, too, first heard of him via Heartworn Highways and have his first three LPs on my ipod ever since I had that little thing (still haven’t heard his ‘comeback’ album, though, but only read good reviews. I’m glad he got to make that one.)
I really appreciate these features like the one you did on Willis Alan Ramsey. There are so many great talents that are not necessarily household names, like Richard Dobson, Bill Callery, Steve Young, etc. and whose records are so hard to find, be it vinyl, CD or even digital. The Heartworn Highways DVD and Lyle Lovett’s Step Inside This House did a great job of introducing some of these musicians to relatively young guys like me (1982).
June 24, 2010 @ 2:26 pm
Sadly I don’t have a personal copy of any of his albums. I have friends that have copies that I’ve listened to, I’ve pretty much watched anything on YouTube with his name. Keep waiting for that day I find his albums on vinyl, just like I found Willis Alan Ramsey and old Commander Cody out of print stuff.
June 24, 2010 @ 3:56 pm
Good write up man.. about a year ago I was led on to another forgotten but true outlaw. His name is Billy Don Burns.. look him up
June 24, 2010 @ 6:22 pm
I am truely devistated. About a year ago netflix recomended Heartworn Highways to me. I rented it because of Townes Van Zandt & Guy Clark, but the best preformance by far was Larry Jon Wilson. I’ve found nothing else from him, but even only knowing one song of his he has become one of my favorite artist of all time. He will be missed.
June 24, 2010 @ 7:32 pm
ANOTHER OUTLAW FORGOTTON,REMEMBERED,GONE..I’VE LIVED IN A GOOD ERA OF MUSIC AND ITS SAD I MAY HAVE LIVED TOO LONG TO HEAR WHAT DISRESPECT IS BEING DONE TO COUNTRY MUSIC AND EVEN GOOD ROCK AND ROLLERS CROSSING OVER WHEN WHAT THEY WERE DOING WAS GREAT..SOME CAN CROSS OVER AND DO BOTH BUT SOME JUST FUCKER IT UP..RIP LARRY JON WILSON!!!
June 24, 2010 @ 7:51 pm
hey all. you can get all his albums as .rar files at skydog’s elysium. not really the same as holding the real thing, but at least you can find them.
Martin Luther Presley
June 25, 2010 @ 4:40 am
Yeah, right, Skydog’s Elysium, that’s where I got ’em, too. And you can read the linernotes and info on LJW’s fan page www larry-jon-wilson com. It’ll have to do till some kind soul will re-issue his work, I guess.
Martin Luther Presley
June 25, 2010 @ 4:46 am
And just one more thing:
If you dug Heartworn Highways, do yourself a favor and buy the excellent soundtrack CD from Shout Factory. It’s worth it and one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. A nicely done package, linernotes, songs that were cut-off in the film now complete, etc. I miss some songs from the film, but the CD is 80 min long and really just the best, concentrating on the folky country stuff. There are some of the best performances by Guy Clark, LJW, Steve Earle, DAC, Rodney, TVZ on one single CD. A must have if there ever was one.
June 25, 2010 @ 8:06 am
That’s a shame. His last record was a good one. Another one gone. RIP LJW.
June 26, 2010 @ 3:08 am
I will be playing Larry Jon Wilson on next weeks episode of Blue Ribbon Radio.
DOG BITE HARRIS
June 26, 2010 @ 2:43 pm
HOW DID I NOT KNOW WHO THIS GUY WAS
June 26, 2010 @ 3:14 pm
One word Dog Bite: Nashville.
July 2, 2010 @ 9:37 pm
nice thoughts and well appreciated. he really would appreciate that so many respected his choice to not settle for the mainstream. peace -BTW
July 6, 2010 @ 5:38 am
He was an amazing man and I aleady feel like he is gone.