NASHVILLE, April 17 (UPI) -- "I love the fact that Waylon Jennings could get away with being a redneck country boy from West Texas and make political statements and do what he wanted to do and still be an integral part and a big part of what country has been." Radney Foster likely speaks for many in his estimation of the impact of Jennings' career.
A tribute album to Jennings, "Lonesome, On'ry and Mean," was released this week by Dualtone Records. The collection pairs 15 Jennings tunes with an eclectic mix of singers from Grammy winner Norah Jones to legend Kris Kristofferson to Jennings' former bandmates, The Crickets -- of Buddy Holly and The Crickets fame.
Foster, also a Dualtone artist, is featured on the CD singing "Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)," a tune he said greatly influenced his decision to become a singer/songwriter.
"I remember hearing (that song) on the radio as a kid," Foster said from his Nashville home, "and literally pulling the car over and saying 'That's what I want to do.'"
The variety of singers who wanted to be a part of the album emphasizes the vast influence Jennings, who died at age 64 on Feb. 13, 2002, had on all music.
"It was ingenious," Foster said about Jennings. "He was country enough to still get played on the radio and rock enough to attract the college kids ... I think the difference between him and what's so called progressive country music -- he really loved and revered the true hillbilly essence of country music and yet he found an entirely different way to do it, called rock and roll."
In fact, the 43-year-old Foster has been a Jennings fan since the days when he was growing up in Del Rio, Texas.
"If you were me and you weren't blasting Waylon Jennings out the windows of your pick-up in high school, you were in the wrong town," Foster said.
Foster remained a fan, but also became a friend after he settled in Nashville.
"He always had not only a kind word, but good advice," Foster said. "To the very end, he seemed incredibly full of life ..."
Jennings had a long and successful career, beginning in the mid 1950s when he teamed up with his friend Buddy Holly to play bass with The Crickets. In fact, Holly financed and produced Jennings' first single, "Jole Blon" in 1958, according to "Definitive Country." After the infamous plane crash that took Holly's life, along with others, Jennings ventured out on his own, forming his own band, the Waylors.
In 1965, Jennings moved to Nashville, where Chet Atkins signed the singer to RCA Records. When Jennings first moved to Music City, he lived with Johnny Cash, the beginning of a lifelong personal and professional friendship.
Jennings' string of hits began in the mid-1960s and continued through the '80s, resulting in 16 No. 1 songs and two Grammys. During that period, his 1976 album, "Wanted: The Outlaws," which also featured wife Jessi Colter, Willie Nelson and singer-producer Tompall Glaser, was the first country album to be certified platinum. Jennings also wrote the popular theme to the 1970s' television series "The Dukes of Hazzard."
Always viewed as rough and rowdy, Jennings became even more outspoken in his later years. He he aired his no-nonsense views about political situations, as well as changing business practices in Nashville he felt compromised the music.
When Jennings was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001, his obvious absence from the ceremony was considered by many to be Jennings' vote of opposition to the current country music business.
During the last few years of his life, Jennings suffered from diabetes and had a foot amputated because of complications from the disease.
At the time, he was quoted frequently as saying, true to his personality, "If I had known I was going to live so damn long, I would have taken better care of myself."