Outlaw at Rest

Written by Douglas Towne Category: History Issue: July 2014
Group Free

Flowers. Coins. Unopened whiskey bottles. Bags of Baken-ets Hot ‘N Spicy pork rinds. These are just a few of the glut of gifts regularly left at the Mesa Cemetery grave site of famed country singer Waylon Jennings. Such presents are regularly removed per cemetery policy, but for all the adulation shown the late country crooner, his headstone is simple but dignified, marking the final resting place of “A vagabond dreamer, a rhymer and singer of songs.”

“It’s not ostentatious at all and just shows what a guy he was,” Mesa Cemetery coordinator Rick Fifield says. “There are some people here who want their name in lights.”

West Texas-bred, Jennings fashioned a six-decade music career that included performing in Buddy Holly’s band and fortuitously giving up his seat on Holly’s chartered plane that crashed in an Iowa cornfield in 1959. Jennings moved to Arizona in 1961, finding work as a disc jockey and musician, and eventually performing with his band, The Waylors, at JD’s nightclub in Tempe (see Arizona Country Roads, page 110).

Disdaining Nashville’s orchestral arrangement-addled “countrypolitan” sound of the early ‘70s, Jennings became known for his honky-tonkier “outlaw country” style. He went on to create many acclaimed recordings, and formed super group The Highwaymen with friends Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. Jennings, who was married to country singer Jessi Colter, died of complications from diabetes in 2002. He was buried in her family plot at Mesa Cemetery.