While Waylon Jennings was still a few years shy of the so called Outlaw movement of Country Music that he would be forever identified with, the title of this film is suitable enough for the tall Texan in his one and only leading role. It’s a B film that mixes the plot of Jailhouse Rock with the typical country music concert film of the era.
Waylon’s just out of the military and with his guitar and duffel bag is seen hitchhiking over the opening credits. I must warn you this is a young Waylon. Before the beard and long hair became his trademark look. Hitching a ride, he’s quickly beat up, robbed and left bloodied on the side of the road. In a matter of a quick cut, he’s seen recuperating in the bed of a roadside filling station run by an old timer and his kindly daughter, Mary Frann. Romance is in the air for the wanna be country singer with a guitar case full of lyrics and tunes. It won’t be long before Waylon and Mary are given a shotgun wedding by her father who catches the pair in the act that only married couples should be engaging in.
It’s at a country dance hosted by Hee Haw’s Archie Campbell that Waylon gets up and sings the title track, Nashville Rebel. Sitting in the crowd is a slick would be producer played by Gordon Oas-Heim. Gordon is a graduate of the Herschell Gordon Lewis stock company which should help you visualize the budget of this production directed by the unknown Jay Sheridan. He’s a low life scam artist who promises Waylon a future on the Grand Ole Opry and stardom. Contacts are quickly drawn up and it’s off to Nashville where we can see some historic sites like The Ernest Tubb Record Shop, The Ryman Auditorium and Tootsies.
Time for some guest acts to make appearances. How about Tex Ritter, The Wilburn Brothers, Chet Atkins who produced Waylon early on and Loretta Lynn. Waylon is the fast rising star and Tex warns him with a drawl, “Don’t go wild boy.” If only Tex knew what the 1970’s held in store for the real life Waylon! The Porter Wagoner Show is put to good use as well allowing Porter to sing a song and then bring on Waylon as a guest on the popular TV show that Porter hosted for a number of years. It’s here that Waylon plugs a new song from his latest RCA Victor release. Once again art imitates life as Waylon was on the record label in actuality.
Off the stage Waylon is having marital problems with his small town sweetheart and is coming around to realize that he’s in a bum deal with his manager who is looking after himself as opposed to his chart rising singer. A debut performance at the Opry also allows the well known Sonny James to sing a number before The Hoss takes to the stage. We also get to see the class act, Faron Young give his rendition of Sweet Dreams, the song made famous by Patsy Cline.
No surprises here as Waylon will overcome some demons and find an even balance between love and fame and while it’s not much more than a drive in movie, it’s a window to the past in Nashville and the early days of one of it’s greatest stars who went on to a long career with hit songs including Rambling Man, Good Hearted Woman and the Dukes of Hazzard them among so many others. He’d also join in song with Willie, Johnny and Kris as a member of The Highwayman. Though Waylon would appear in a couple of novelty films with his singing pals, he never made a film during the 70’s when he looked the part of any hell raising western outlaw. Too bad. Could have made for a great anti hero on screen or one vicious opponent to western film stars of the decade.
Waylon has long been one of my music heroes so finally getting to see this title was fun even if the movie itself doesn’t have too much to offer beyond some classic country music that is so far removed from today’s radio experience it’s a crime. I saw him a few times in concert during the 80’s and 90’s and he never failed to impress. Pretty sure my Dad had the soundtrack to this one on LP and no you shouldn’t be surprised to see that I have an original one sheet here in the vault because of Waylon’s presence on the poster. I’ll also refer you to a live take I did a couple years back where I talked about the Highwaymen on film and even sing a Waylon and Willie classic. Yes I did say sing! Give it a look but please, be kind.
A fine tribute, Mike.