It’s not every day that new recordings are unearthed that feature Waylon Jennings, but that’s what the new album from Tommy Townsend called Southern Man to be released on April 29th boasts.
Tommy Townsend is a Waylon Jennings understudy who also spent 15 years fronting Waymore’s Outlaws, which was made up of Waylon’s backing band members such as drummer Richie Albright, steel guitarist Fred Newell, Carter and Barny Robertson, and others. The songs of Southern Man comprise recordings that Waylon helped bring to life as a producer, as well as singing backup and playing guitar. Waylon’s touring bass player Jerry “Jigger” Bridges also played a big role in the project.
Southern Man actually comes from two separate sessions some ten years apart. The first batch was recorded in 1988 when Tommy Townsend was still in high school, with the second batch of songs being recorded in the late 90s. But once completed, the album couldn’t find a label home, and so it was shelved until BFD/Audium Nashville heard about the project recently, and decided to release it. The album did receive a limited release via Home Records in 2003, but since went out-of-print.
“It’s so cool that it’s being put out properly. Everything has it’s time and everything has a plan,” says Tommy Townsend. “I don’t know if there’s anything such as luck as it’s all God’s timing.”
Tommy Townsend first met Waylon when he was just a kid and aspiring to be a musician. “Hell’s Angels used to do security for Waylon,” Townsend says about meeting Waylon. “My mom and dad were telling one of the guys that I liked Waylon and he said, ‘Bring Tommy down here to the gate after the show and we’ll let him meet him.’ I remember going on the bus and talking to him for 20-30 minutes. He was asking me questions about playing music and he was as nice as he could be, made me feel right at home.”
Tommy started playing drums when he was five, and picked up the guitar when he was 12. Townsend was playing in a band with his dad and cousins, and had cut a demo tape when he met Waylon for the second time. Bassist Jerry Bridges decided to take Townsend under his wing, and as the pair worked in the studio, Waylon jumped into help where he could. It became a sort of pet project of Jerry Bridges and Waylon.
Jerry Bridges and Waylon collected songs from songwriters such as Dean Dillon, Don Schlitz, Roger Murrah, and Troy Seals for Townsend to record. Jennings sang backup on multiple songs on the record, including “Southern Man” (listen below), “If You Can’t Stand the Heat,” “Holes in My Boots,” and “A Good Love Died Tonight.” Waylon also played guitar on “The Picker” and “Southern Man,” and audio of Waylon introducing Townsend in concert starts off the album.
“Each song I remember doing it, where I was and basically what I was even wearing,” Townsend says of the sessions. “I remember Roger Murrah coming by when I was singing some of his songs and Troy Seals being in the studio.”
It’s fair to say that some of the material of Southern Man does feel a little dated, though this is to be expected when recordings sit on a shelf as long as these did. But they’re also part of the Waylon Jennings legacy that shouldn’t go overlooked. Townsend did re-record and tweak certain parts for this release.
“From the get-go everybody associated me with Waylon and at one point I wanted to get away from that,” says Tommy Townsend about trying to form his own identity. “But everything that happens is always something about him, so I’m going to carry on this mission. I feel like I’m an ambassador, bridging the generations in country music so people won’t forget the pioneers who helped make it what it is today. No matter what I ever do, there will always be Waylon in what I do. I’m going to embrace it, support it and just keep his thing and the Outlaw thing going.”
Southern Man is now available to pre-save.
1. Waylon Jennings Introduction
2. Southern Man
3. A Good Love Died Tonight
4. If You Can’t Stand The Heat
5. Trouble with a Capital “T”
6. Stompin’ Ground
7. Could And Still Do
8. Holes In My Boots
10. Lesson in Lonliness
11. How High This Tree Will Grow