Let’s play a name game: Waylon, Willie and Kris. If you're a country music fan you can supply the last name, no problem. But it wasn’t always the case for these three music icons. And it wasn’t always the case that they were accepted as icons -- in fact they were originally outsiders.
A new book from the writer and documentary producer Michael Streissguth called Outlaw: Waylon, Willie, Kris and the Renegades of Nashville, traces the rise of the three country music upstarts -- Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson -- and the way their lives and musical careers intersected.
Michael Streissguth, on the definition of a country outlaw:
The Outlaws were people who made music according to their own vision. They broke with the formula in Nashville. They decide they wanted to use their own songs. They wanted to use the studio musicians that they chose, not the musicians that the producer chose. They wanted to choose their own producers.
On the importance of Nashville as an incubator for the Outlaws:
People don’t always give Nashville credit for having this underground artistic scene that found a home in the West End of Nashville. That was like a glint of San Francisco in the Bible Belt. Lots of experimentation…. That freedom is very important. The times are very important. The neighborhood — the West End in Nashville — is very important.
On the frequent collaborations between Jennings, Nelson, and Kristofferson associated with the Outlaws:
You began to see particularly Waylon and Willie showing up together on record. It happened all the time. But also, the three of them showed up on concert bills as well. It became very common for them to show up, even when Kris was in Hollywood. He always loved having that experience of performing with Waylon and Willie.
On whether the outlaw archetype exists in country music today:
Living outside the written law has always been part and parcel of some people in country music. But I think [the Outlaws] put their own spin on it. It’s very much a cowboy Western thing with a bit of a dark side. We still see that archetype alive today in people like Zac Brown and Jamey Johnson.