Richie Albright–Country’s & Waylon’s Most Iconic Drummer–Has Died

Drums are not considered a featured instrument in the realm of country music, and never have been. It’s an accompaniment; an accessory. Drums weren’t even allowed on stage at the Grand Ole Opry for the first few decades, and when Bob Wills defied the edict, the set had to be placed off stage, lest the crowd see them and be shocked. This leaves the legacy of legendary drummers plying their craft to a select few.

But arguably no drummer had a greater impact on country music than Richie Albright. And no country drummer had a greater impact on music at large than Richie Albright. Not just front his smart and tasteful playing, not just from his signature bass drum heartbeat that laid heavy into the half time, and not just from the critical role he played in helping make the career of Waylon Jennings what it was as Waylon’s right-hand man. It’s from the role he played inspiring an entire generation of “Outlaws” from the past and present to take the music into their own hands, and follow their own drum.

Richie Albright was the most important drummer in country music history, and one of the most influential side players in the genre ever, and did it from an instrument traditionally frowned upon in country music for stepping out, if even being present.

“There’s another way of doing things, and that’s rock ‘n roll,” is the quote attributed to the Baghdad, Arizona-native. This is the title of the sixth chapter of Waylon’s biography, and what Richie conveyed to Waylon after the Hall of Famer was rendered dejected at the direction of his music under the oppressive thumb of producer Chet Atkins, RCA Records, and the Nashville Sound present on Music Row in the early 70s. Waylon was thinking of quitting music altogether, and perhaps becoming a DJ. The quote by Richie inspired him, and inspired an entire generation of country music performers.

It was all about taking notice how rock ‘n roll performers were allowed to write their own songs, record with their own bands, and call their own shots that inspired both Waylon and Richie to put their foot down and demand creative control over their music. And when they won it, it opened the music up, and the possibilities for country emanating from Music Row like never before, and still inspires artists and songwriters looking to fight the system today.

Richie Albright and Waylon Jennings were best friends. They first began playing together in 1961 when Waylon formed his backing band called The Waylors. After Waylon Jennings avoided death in The Day The Music Died while performing in the band of Buddy Holly, he was adrift. Eventually landing in Arizona and a regular gig at JD’s in Tempe, Richie came on the scene. Waylon and Richie moved to Nashville together in 1966, and from there started a musical revolution.

Though there were a few moments during the career of Waylon Jennings the two took breaks from each other, they stayed mostly side by side until Waylon passed away in 2002. And since Waylon used his own band on many of his recordings, Albright appears on many of Waylon’s most iconic songs. Richie tirelessly helped to keep the memory of Waylon alive after his passing, touring with The Waylors even after Waylon’s death, backing up Shooter Jennings and others. It was announced Wednesday morning that Richie Albright died on Tuesday, February 9th at the age of 81.

“To many Richie was an Outlaw, legendary drummer and right-hand man to Waylon Jennings, but to those who knew him best he was a loyal friend, a tireless worker, a loving husband, and a proud father,” a message from his family says. “Richie’s first love and passion was music, which he was blessed to spend more than 50 years devoting his life to. His role in the Outlaw movement will ensure that his legacy will be with us forever. When Richie wasn’t on the road it was impossible to keep him still—even in his last days. His days were spent surveying land and weekends tending to his farm in Leiper’s Fork.”

Making it to #5 on Saving Country Music’s list of the Greatest Drummers of All Time from any genre, and certainly someone who should be considered for inclusion into the Country Music Hall of Fame in the future as a musician, the loss of Richie Albright is titan. His drums currently rest in the Country Music Hall of Fame as part of the museum’s Outlaws and Armadillos exhibit.

Richie Albright is survived by his wife, Linda, his sons, Brian and Trey, his daughter, Richel, and his brother, Jerry. He is preceded in death by his parents, Charles and Margie Albright, and his oldest brother, Charles.

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