Reclaiming something lost…
Every once in a great while, a musical event happens that takes us by surprise. In 1985, one of the greatest musical events took place when four talented men came together in the name of music. These men comprised of Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson—also known as The Highwaymen.
It was the Man In Black, Johnny Cash, who assembled the group. Cash was known for hosting impromptu get-togethers of songwriters at his home in Nashville. These famous gatherings often comprised of greats like Roy Orbison, Graham Nash, Bob Dylan, Mickey Newbury, Joni Mitchell and Shel Silverstein as well as Willie, Kris and Waylon.
Towards the end of 1984, Cash and his wife June Carter traveled to Switzerland to tape a Christmas television special. Cash invited Willie, Waylon and Kris to join them. The result was a spontaneous gathering in a hotel room with other musicians, family members, managers and producers.
It was in that hotel room that an idea was conceived. Johnny was in the midst of recording an album and he had a song that he wanted the rest of the guys to sing on. That song was Jimmy Webb’s “The Highwayman.”
In March 1985, all four men met and tried their hand at creating a quartet to the song. Unbeknownst to many, each man found his own position within the verses of the song. Once the song was finished, each sat back knowing that they had assembled and constructed something utterly uncommon. Their combined musical talent created a testimony of resignation that captured traditionalism and mixed it with modern times.
In his career, Johnny Cash followed the unconventional footsteps set forth by Hank Williams Sr. These footsteps often led Cash to write and perform songs that spoke of the truth as they told stories about real people. In a round about way, the other three men were also following those same footsteps.
At the time, the Nashville music scene did not care for these types of songs and entertainers—often labeling them ‘outlaws.’ Country Music has always been controlled by conformity and these four men were not willing to follow that path.
After discovering their natural harmony—Cash, Jennings, Nelson and Kristofferson—realized that they had something. The producer for the song, Chips Moman, encouraged the quartet to continue recording other songs. The result was an album entitled The Highwaymen.
Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson went on to record three albums and toured on and off for ten years as The Highwaymen. Their unprecedented collaboration earned them several awards and accolades including being named country music’s first ‘Super group.’
In 2016, Legacy Recordings released a new album on The Highwaymen called The Best of. This album features a great collection of sixteen songs that these four talented men once recorded. These songs include live versions of “Big River,” “City of New Orleans,” and “The King Is Gone (So Are You).” The album also includes “Silver Stallion,” “Against The Wind,” “Welfare Line,” “The Road Goes On Forever” and a previously unreleased song called “One Too Many Mornings.”
Recently, Sony Music released a nice four disc box set called The Highwaymen Live: American Outlaws. This is a splendid set that includes three audio discs and the fourth disc includes a DVD of a live concert. It is the live concert that captures the comradery of these four multi-talented men.
The live show was recorded on March 14, 1990, at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. The two hour show includes the entire live performance as well as individually recorded interviews with all four men.
As for the audio portion of the box set, the first and second disc includes the entire live performance at Nassau Coliseum. These two discs feature a total of twenty five songs. These songs comprise of “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” “Ring of Fire,” “Good Hearted Woman,” “There Ain’t No Good Chain Gang,” “I Still Miss Someone,” “Ragged Old Flag,” “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way,” “Night Life,” “(Ghost) Riders In The Sky,” “A Boy Named Sue,” “Lukenbach, Texas” and closes with “On The Road Again.”
While the third disc includes six live cuts that were recorded at Farm Aid V, that was held at the Texas Stadium in Irving Texas on March 14, 1992. These songs include “Mystery Train,” “Highwaymen,” “The King Is Gone,” “I’ve Always Been Crazy,” “The Best of All Possible Worlds,” and “City of New Orleans.” The second part of this disc includes tracks recorded on April 24, 1993, during Farm Aid VI in Ames, Iowa. These songs include “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Shipwrecked In The Eighties,” “Desperados Waiting For A Train,” and an intro to the Highwaymen. However, it’s the ending of this disc that is the surprise. The final cut on this audio disc consists of a previously unreleased studio track called “One Too Many Mornings.” It is this song that will hit our list of Top Songs of 2017, while earning a nomination for the Spirit Award’s Song of The Year Award.
Both of these projects are quite elegant in their sophistication and are highly listenable. More so, both projects capture the heart and soul of what real music is and always will be.
On February 13, 2002, Waylon Jennings passed away from complications of diabetes. Then on September 12, 2003, Johnny Cash joined Jennings on that big stage in the sky. Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson continue to carry on the legend of the Outlaw ways, musically, as they tour today.
There will never be another group called The Highwaymen, to grace the stages of this beloved earth. Their combined hearts and souls, helped us face our own lives and mortalities. What they touched in real life can and will forever live on through their music...
I was a highwayman.
Along the coach roads I did ride
With sword and pistol by my side
Many a young maid lost her baubles to my trade
Many a soldier shed his lifeblood on my blade
The bastards hung me in the spring of twenty-five
But I am still alive...
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