[5 December 2008]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
The fact that Waylon Jennings’ first Austin City Limits performance was recorded in 1984 seems a little late, given that he had been a Texas-sized superstar for years by then. You wonder why he hadn’t played the show before, and that leads to wondering why he finally consented to do it when he did.
No one can say for sure why he decided to be on the show, but the story goes that Waylon Jennings was booked to play Aquafest and a deal was struck so that he agreed to stay and tape Austin City Limits the next day. It was a Tuesday and taping began at 11AM, which is a little early for outlaws and musicians, but Waylon Jennings put on one hell of a show anyway.
Coming in at just 41 minutes, Waylon Jennings Live from Austin, TX ‘84 features songs not included in the originally aired, 30-minute program. It’s also worth noting that this performance shares only four songs with his second Austin City Limits visit in 1989. There’s no preamble as Waylon walks out in his big black hat and asks the audience the musical question, “Are you ready for the country?”
The crowd is ready, and the band swings seamlessly into “Clyde”, a top ten hit for Jennings, written by J.J. Cale. After a brief “thank you”, Jennings launches into several of the songs that helped create his outlaw image in the ‘70s. “I Can Get off on You” (“Take back the weed, take back the cocaine baby / Take back the pills, take back the whiskey too”) and “People Up In Texas” (“The lifestyle up in Texas is just go on out and live life for all it’s worth”) show Jennings and his band, The Waylors — Gary Scruggs on guitar and harmonica, Ralph Mooney on pedal steel guitar, Floyd Domino on piano, Jerry Bridges on bass and Dan Mustoe on drums — loose and clearly having fun, as do later songs such as “Honky Tonk Heroes,” which was written by Billy Joe Shaver, and Jennings’s own send up of the outlaw persona “Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out of Hand”.
But he is also obviously enjoying the softer and sweeter songs. The gorgeous “It’s Not Supposed to Be That Way” is introduced with the simple statement, “This is my favorite Willie Nelson song.” Jennings also tells the audience “I guess this is my favorite song I ever recorded” as he strums the delicate, swaying intro to “Dreaming My Dreams With You”, which is arguably the high point of the set with its sorrowful steel playing and Jennings’ solemn tone.
Of course, things can’t stay too serious for long, and up next Jennings sets up fan favorite “Good Hearted Woman” by saying “Here’s a song me ‘n Willie wrote for his wife, Connie and my wife…” and here he pauses just long enough for the audience to catch on, “…Jesse.” It’s entertaining because, you know, good timin’ men are forgetful like that.
The show continues with the bleary barfly anthem “I May Be Used (But Baby I Ain’t Used Up)” and the-barroom-is-about-to-close tear-jerker “Let’s Turn Back the Years”. After lovingly introducing each of the players on stage, the song that “started it all,” “Honky Tonk Heroes” launches a stomping final set. “I Ain’t Living Long Like This” showcases some of Jennings hottest guitar licks and he steps off the stage wiping sweat from his beneath hat band. But it ain’t over until he comes back to admit “I’ve Always Been Crazy” to thrilled fans.
Waylon Jennings Live from Austin, TX ‘84 doesn’t have any special features (although you can access individual songs from the main menu), but it doesn’t need any. An incendiary performance on an iconic stage from a larger-than-life legend is special enough.