Willie and Waylon (Payne) Are Back on Stage Together

Well this is pretty darn cool.

Those who know their Outlaw country history and their behind-the-scenes songwriters probably know the name Waylon Payne, or at least they should. He’s the son of Willie Nelson’s legendary electric guitarist Jody Payne (RIP, 2013), as well as legendary country singer Sammi Smith (RIP, 2005). And yes, the younger Payne was named directly after Waylon Jennings when he was born in 1972.

A Grammy-nominated songwriter, Waylon Payne has been one of the names you turn to when you need a ringer of a song to really anchor a record, and that is what names like Miranda Lambert, Lee Ann Womack, Wade Bowen, Charlie Robison, Pam Tillis, Ashley Monroe, Aaron Lewis, and many more have been doing for years.

Waylon Payne also has a solo career. For a while Payne was part of the popular “Eastbound and Down” country night at the King Club in Hollywood where performers would swap classic country songs. He released the critically-acclaimed album Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me in 2020, and the album The Drifter as a major label release through Republic Universal in 2004.

Payne has been an actor as well, including in important roles. In the award-winning Johnny Cash film I Walk The Line, Payne played Jerry Lee Lewis. He also played country great Hank Garland in a small film called Crazy. He’s also made numerous television appearances, including on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

Raised by his aunt and uncle due to the heavy touring schedules of his parents, Payne attended seminary after high school and was on track to become a minister before catching the music bug. He also was in constant conflict with members of his family and the music industry because he happened to be gay. But the Willie Nelson family was always there for Waylon with open arms, and that’s one of the reasons touring with the outfit as a guitarist is a full circle moment.

Beginning on September 8th when Willie Nelson & Family played in Raleigh, North Carolina as part of this year’s traveling Outlaw Music Festival, Waylon Payne joined Willie Nelson’s band filling the shoes of his father who died in 2013. Payne will continue to be part of Willie’s Family Band at least through September 23rd at Farm Aid in Indiana.

“I don’t know what made them think of me, but I’m sure glad they did,” Payne told The Tennessean (paywalled). “I’m sure it had something to do with Willie’s wife Annie, so thank you to her. I’ve worked real hard to get here and I want to sit down and make music with my hero and I can’t think of anything better than sitting next to him even if it’s only for two weeks. If they want to make it permanent, I will say ‘yes.’ I mean, who’s got anything better to do than play with Willie Nelson?”

As legendary lighting director Bud Rock said during the show in Raleigh, “First time I’ve seen these 2 names together on my Lighting Console in over 30 years.”

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